Widely diverse native trees line The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail — beech, maples, oaks, hickories, tulip poplar, cottonwood, quaking aspen, black cherry, pawpaw, boxelder, redbud, hornbeam, hawthorne and eastern red cedar. Ash and American elm saplings persist, although insectborn diseases have killed mature trees. Non-native and invasive tree species, particularly white mulberry and tree-of-heaven, are prevalent in disrupted areas along the trail.
When enjoying the Pumpkinvine in late fall and winter, look for the following three species that frequently go unnoticed. Fallen leaves, acorns and nuts make identification easier. Distinctive bark is another good species indicator. Native Trees of the Midwest, by Weeks, Weeks, & Harper, is a tree-identification resource I use frequently; some of the information below comes from that helpful book.
Shingle oak is the only oak in Lagrange and Elkhart County that has no lobes or teeth. As the name suggests, the wood makes good shingles. Our counties are at the northern edge of shingle oak’s range. Look for shingle oak near mile markers 0.5 and 11.5. Because the brown, narrow, leathery leaves stay on the tree throughout the winter, shingle oaks give protective cover for roosting birds, such as screech owls and blue jays. The small acorns are favorites for songbirds, screech owls, turkeys, squirrels and other animals.
American beech is not common along the Pumpkinvine, but you will find it in well preserved forests around mile markers 4.5 and 12.5. Mature beech are easy to identify by the smooth, gray bark. Beech saplings stand out in winter because they retain their toothed, ovate leaves. Beech trees produce nuts irregularly, few most years and
occasional bumper crops. Beechnuts are highly preferred by many birds and mammals, such as squirrels, chipmunks, nut-hatches, tufted titmice, wild turkey and woodpeckers.
Many trail users overlook the numerous American basswood. This species grows well in mature forests and in open, disrupted areas. Because it sprouts prolifically, basswood often grows in clumps. Its heart-shaped, finely-toothed leaves can be confused with redbud leaves. In July basswoods produce small, fragrant, light-yellow flowers high up on the branches; you may have detected the sweet smell without knowing the source. The flowers develop into gray, hairy, nut-like fruits that hang from a long stalk with a leafy bract and fall intact to the ground in autumn.
In all seasons, native trees make The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail an intriguing greenway.