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Nature Trees Overstory

Overstory Canopy

The overstory level of trees, called the canopy, is made up of the very tallest trees that stand over the rest of the plants. Tall overstory trees need lots of sunlight to grow. That is why they reach up for the sun, always getting taller and taller. 

Overstory trees make good places for forest creatures to nest high above the ground. Even tall trees that are dead are used as food and housing for animals. 

Oaks are by far the most common overstory tree in the forests of the Bryant Watershed, but there are many other species too. The next time you see a forest, see if you can recognize some of these tall overstory trees. 

White Oak Quercus alba
The white oak is one of the most common and most useful trees. The leaves of the white oak are made up of long lobes like your fingers. The end of each lobe is rounded, not spiked or toothed. This tree can grow very tall and makes an excellent shade tree. In the fall the leaves of the white oak turn bright red. They then often stay on the tree through winter, looking dead and brown. The wood of the white oak is used for lumber and for making barrels. The acorn is sought after by wildlife because it is sweeter than the acorns of the other oaks. 

Silver Maple Acer saccharinum
The silver maple can be found in deep, rich soils along streams in the Bryant watershed. It is a popular tree because of its bright red fall color. The tree gets its name from the silver colored undersides of its' leaves. In the spring this tree makes seeds that are sometimes called "helicopters" because they have two wings and spin as they fall to the ground. 

Black Walnut Juglans nigra
This tree is found along streams and in the forest, especially on the moist north and east slopes. Sometimes it is planted in old fields because of its high value. Black walnut wood is valuable for use in making furniture and gunstocks. This tree produces a lemon sized green nut in the summer and drops them all over the ground in the fall. The value of the nuts themselves also confirms the old saying "money grows on trees". Walnut meat is used in baking, candy and ice cream. The shell is ground and used in many ways, including as an abrasive cleaner. The shell of a walnut is very hard to open. If you ever try to open up one of these squishy green nuts with your hands you'll be sorry you did! Inside the green part is a fleshy yellow pulp that will dye everything it touches black (your fingers, your clothes)! This staining ability is why the pulp was used by native people to dye clothing. 

American Sycamore Platanus occidentalis
Sycamore usually grows near water and is very common along Bryant Creek. If you want to find a sycamore, look at the trunks and branches for large patches of white bark--that's a sycamore! Sycamores are the biggest around of our trees and can also grow very tall. Old, hollow sycamores make good houses for birds, raccoons and squirrels.