Workshop’s lesson: See the forest by seeing the trees

John Edington, far right, a retired University of Illinois professor, provides tree identification techniques for several people who attended a forestry workshop hosted by the Crawford County Soil and Water Conservation District.

It is important to be able to identify which trees are growing in a forest in order to utilize the woodland most effectively.

That message was presented to over 20 individuals who attended a forestry workshop, coordinated by the Crawford County Soil and Water Conservation District. The workshop was held at the Herman Family Farm near Palestine, and the instructors were Ray Herman and John Edington, who offered information about tree identification and timber stand improvement (TSI).

Herman spoke of his family’s work in managing the Herman Family Tree Farm for profit (through the selling of timber), as well as for recreational purposes (outdoor activities including hunting).

“As a landowner who wants quality timber and wildlife, knowing my trees lets me do timber stand improvement (TSI) to promote crop trees for logs,”said Herman.

He added that by recognizing trees that produce certain fruit, flower and seed, he can select those certain tree types to foster and thereby bring about an increase in various wildlife species.

Edington, who served as a professor for 34 years at the University of Illinois, said that historically the survival of Illinois’ people was dependant on their ability to identify trees.

“For example, if an individual was proficient at finding wild apple, plum and persimmon trees, food could be obtained. One could know the lay of the land by noticing which tree species are most abundant. For example, sycamore stands are characteristic of wet areas,” he said.

Edington offered interesting insights into the nature of various trees and provided a Power Point presentation revealing terminology needed for tree identification. Terms such as “opposite, alternate and whorled” indicate pattern of branching or stem arrangement, “simple or compound” indicates leaf arrangement, “furrowed, exfoliated, interlaced” indicates bark textures, and “nut, berry, samara” indicates fruit type.

Spurred by an attendee’s question about whether alternate names for ironwood and musclewood were “hop hornbeam” and “hornbeam,” Edington told of one of his experiences as a forestry researcher.

“Some confusion resulted from the use of common names in documentation. While I was doing research in the forests of Wisconsin, I saw in historical records that the name ‘popple’ indicated yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis); but I discovered in Tennessee that ‘popple’ is a name for yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). So, I always required that my students used scientific names.”

Herman noted that over the years he and his family have improved their woodland’s tree population and diversity by planting saplings of mast-producing trees (primarily oaks) and by planting oak acorns, hickory nuts and various tree seeds.

TSI has included efforts to eradicate invasive species and to thin out undesirable competitive trees. Herman noted good forest management practices have resulted in an increase in the species and number of wildlife, such as various songbirds, turkey, deer, squirrel, etc.

“Even flying squirrels have been sighted here,” Herman added.

The workshop’s attendees had the opportunity to get out in the woods, where they viewed the forest ecosystem and caught sight of wildlife and attempted to apply the learned identification techniques.

One attendee, Jim Gillespie, owner of a woodland in Crawford County, said he appreciated the wealth of knowledge offered by Herman and Edington and appreciated hearing concerns among the participants.

“We are worried about the possibility of tree damage by herbicide drift, the extent of tree mortality caused by certain diseases, and the widespread invasion of exotic woody species such as the early-leafing bush honeysuckle and the thorn-bearing oriental bittersweet. I think we all agreed that forests will proliferate only if cared for.”

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