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Forest Facts: These trees are identified by signs on the trails


American Basswood:  Grows 70-80 feet tall.  Fruit size of a pea.  Leaves are large, lop-sided and 5-6 inches.  Inner bark has longest and toughest fibers of our native trees.  Indigenous people used to make ropes and baskets.  Basswood honey is tasty and can be found locally

American Beech:  A dominant species in this forest.  Shade-tolerant, growing 70-115 feet tall. Gray smooth bark resembles elephant hide. In spring, it shows copper-colored buds.  Leaves remain on tree throughout winter, making it easy to recognize. Produces small nut that is eaten by over 30 species of animals.

American Elm:  Dutch Elm disease killed off most elm trees in North America in the 1930’s, so the few elms found in Miller Woods are truly rare. As often found in wet areas, tree has buttresses at ground level to help stabilize it.   Wooden wheel spokes, hockey sticks and fence posts were made from elm trees.  Fast growing, reaches 100 feet in forty years.

Black Maple:    Used for syrup production, not as sweet as Sugar Maple.  Grows 60-80 feet and can live to 400 years.  Leaves have three lobes versus five lobes seen with Sugar Maple.

Black Cherry:  Grows 50-80 feet tall.  Bark is black and remembered as “burnt potato chips.”  Bark of the roots and branches are rich in hydrocyanic acid used in cough medicines.  Aromatic white flowers in spring.  Wood used for musical instruments, hairbrushes and caskets.

Bitternut Hickory:  Most northern of all hickories and rarely found north of Bay City, MI.  Hardest wood of all trees in MI.  Leaves have 7-9 leaflets along a fuzzy stem and its bark often resembles XXX.  Nuts taste bitter, and are the food of “last resort” for wildlife during winter.

Burl:  large outgrowth on a tree, formation of which occurs when tree’s growth hormones get disrupted by some other organism, such as a virus, fungus or bacteria.  The wood inside is twisted and contorted, often producing unusual patterns.  This does not hurt the tree.

Hop Hornbeam:  grows 35-40 feet tall and is the second heaviest and hardest tree in MI. Interesting bark, often referred to as “cat scratch” bark.  Pioneers used wood for rake teeth, oxen yokes sled runners and wheels. 

Musclewood:  Also known as Blue Beech and American Hornbeam.  Small understory tree, only growing to 30 feet tall.  26 species in the world but this is the only species present in North America.  Bark resembles American Beech with gray, smooth bark, but also has ridges resembling a contracted muscle, thus its name.

Pawpaw:  Small tree growing 6-9 feet tall.  Fruit is largest edible fruit in N. America, and that can grow in shade.  A burgundy flower in spring and the fruit is globular in shape.  Tastes like a blend of mango and banana, with a custard-like consistency. Eaten by slaves using “underground railroad” to escape to north.  Available at Ann Arbor’s farmers markets in early fall. Zingerman’s Deli makes a pawpaw gelato too!

Northern Red Oak:  Grows to 90 feet.  Indigenous people used various parts of the tree for digestive disorders, respiratory disease and skin infections.  Not very shade tolerant so they grow closer to the front of the forest where there is more sun.

Spicebush:  only native shrub in Miller Woods.  Grows to 15 feet tall if more sun available, but 5 feet in Miller Woods.  Twigs and leaves smell spicy.  In spring it produces hundreds of tiny yellow flowers.  Bright red berries in fall have a peppery scent and are quickly gobbled up by wildlife.  Is host plant for Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies.

Sugar Maple:  One of two dominant species in this forest, it is shade-tolerant, grows to 100 feet or more and can live 400 years.  The Miller family used it for maple syrup production which they sold locally.  Maple syrup was only sweetener used by Indigenous people.  The largest and oldest Sugar Maple in Miller Woods was determined by University of MI forest ecologists to be 300+ years old and (in 2020) measured 11 feet in circumference; it is on right side of trail just past the second bench.   Exhibits most vibrant fall color of all N. American trees.  Leaf has five lobes.


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A great resource:  Forests by the Bay on has brief entertaining and informative videos of all these trees.