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.