Battery tree-gazers, this post is for you. In honor of Arbor Day, we’re exploring the secret history of trees in our Battery Woodland. This is the perfect time of year for taking up tree identification as a new hobby. We’re in awe of the seasonal transformation of a wintering tree into a springtime one, the blooms bursting from their branches make it easier than usual to recognize different trees. Here’s a little background on some of our favorites.
Littleleaf Linden (Tilia cordata)
The wood of this sweet-smelling tree is used to make guitars, recorders and percussion instruments. It has a variety of other uses: the flowers can be made into an herbal tea to treat coughs and colds; honey made from the flowers’ nectar is said to cure several internal and external maladies; and the leaves can be eaten in salads. In Norse mythology, the tree is associated with Freya, the goddess of love. It was an important tree for rituals and ceremonies, and women hoping for a baby would hug the tree and gaze up at its heart-shaped leaves.
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
This tree is named for its resin, which can be used for chewing gum when hardened and also serve several medicinal purposes. It’s a favorite shelter and source of food for many of the animals that grace The Battery, while also resisting insect infestation. Sweetgum trees fix nitrogen in the soil and improve its health, and exhibit a marvelous display of color in autumn.
Fossilized remains of magnolia trees have been dated as far back as the Tertiary Period (60 million years ago). Already established in the Arctic Circle, they emerged before bees existed, so their flowers were pollinated instead by beetles. As a result, the blooms have strong carpels to protect themselves against damage from crawling bugs. In Asia, people began cultivating the tree in the 7th century, and realized its medicinal purposes around 1080. The bark can be used to treat anxiety and tension and to promote sleep.
Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
This tree’s many names testify to its popularity and range. In some areas, the lumber is known as canoe wood because Native Americans and early European settlers crafted boats from its light, buoyant trunks. Its strong wood is also used for making furniture. The tallest North American hardwood tree, its large, orange and yellow tulip-shaped flowers bloom in May and early June, and its leaves turn a brilliant gold in autumn. Historically, the inner bark was used to make a tonic given to people who were lethargic or overcoming illness, and the leaves can be used topically on bruises and swellings.
Next time you take a walk through The Battery, celebrate trees by taking a few minutes to identify a few of them. Be warned: tree identification is an addictive hobby, and we cannot be held responsible for your new obsession!