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The Importance of Being a Tree Hugger

The Importance of Being a Tree Hugger


“People want to be connected to the natural world,” says biologist Paul Weihe. Connecting with nature isn’t easy here in Iowa, where just 3% of Iowa is public land and some of this is highway right of ways. Most Iowans don’t own large acreages and depend on public lands for their outdoor recreation. Fortunately, Pella has the 83-acre Big Rock Park owned by the City of Pella! On May 18, Dr. Paul Weihe of Central College gave a multigenerational crowd a new appreciation of living “solar panel apparatuses,” those woody plants that persist through winter and have one or several main trunks –also known as trees.

When one approaches a tree you want to note its

habitat—where it is

its habit—its size and spreading, some of which is influenced by sunlight

and its anatomy—such as the color of the bark and the width and of the bark plates along with the presence of thorns and fruit.

 Big Rock Park has a variety of habitats—a meadow, a native oak savannah characterized by widely spaced trees, and a prairie like wet meadow. Thus, it’s home to a variety of trees.


Bark is the dead skin of a tree, which grows out from the trunk anon the tips of branches and roots. Bark is a way to identify trees, even in the winter. Above we see two similar trees. The closer one has vertical stipes or plates of bark with red fissures and bristle top leaves and the other one has white fissures with rounded leaves. They are two oaks of different species—one red and one white. The oak-hickory forest is the most dominant forest ecosystem in Iowa, thanks in part to their fire resistance.

Could anything be prettier than green leaves reaching for a clear, blue sky? This tree (below) is an American Basswood or Linden tree, used for making wooden shoes.


The shagbark hickory (below) has compound leaves and lifting bark plates that are popular homes for bats.


What tree has double dentate leaves, very dry bark that yields easily in layers of cream and reddish brown? It’s one of the many native trees that was overplanted as a “street” tree and later fell victim to sweeping plague? Pella’s Main Street was lined with them until the1960s. See the photos and answer below.




It’s the American Elm!

The group identified the smooth hickory, hackberry, thorny honey locust, the native black walnut—known for poisoning plants coming near it with juglone toxin, and the wild cherry with “burnt potato chip bark” and gummy resin.

We even found a deer (we think) femur!

People can identify trees by learning from others, through apps such as iNaturalist, and from keys in books. Dr. Weihe says all are valid, but the books tend to have fewer errors.

And for the religious/spiritual, remember that only God can make a tree.

So, if you haven’t already, take a walk through the trees and don’t be afraid to hug a few.




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