Fox Island Alliance

Tree Trail Guide

This brochure lists trees that are labeled, starting at the Geogarden, through points A, B, C,D, E, and F. Trail length is approximately _____miles.

(Click on any image to see it full screen)


  1. Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida . In the shelter near the entrance to the main trail. Leaves are opposite, simple and ovate. Clusters of small flowers are situated in the center of four white bracts which provide a beautiful display in the spring. It is a small slow-growing tree of the understory layer, often selected for home landscaping. The attractive red fruits are eaten by many birds, skunks, deer, rabbits and squirrels. Look closely at the bark: it resembles an alligator’s hide.

  2. Eastern cottonwood, Populus deltoides . On main trail, on the left; this example has lightning damage. Stately tree, adapted to moist soil, grows very rapidly making for quick shade and rapid windbreaks. Sheds masses of silky-haired seeds, as do other poplars, making it rather undesirable in the home landscape. A favored browse plant for many animals. Notice how the petiole (leaf stem) is flattened, as in all poplars.

  3. Green ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica . Two small trees at the base of the cottonwood. White ash, black ash, and green ash all are native to this area. All have OPPOSITE, pinnately compound leaves. This one is identified as green ash by the shape of the leaf scars.

  4. American elm, Ulmus americana . On left side of main trail. Tree has graceful upside-down feather duster shape. Made up 80% of city trees in Fort Wayne prior to the 1950’s, when most died from Dutch Elm Disease. Its winged fruit (samara) is distributed by the wind. The leaf margin is coarsely doubly serrate, the base asymmetrical; the upper surface is generally smooth. [JRS - Slippery elm also occurs at Fox Island. The best way to tell American elm from slippery elm is to look at the layering in the bark. American elm has distinct alternating light and dark layers. See the photo. (Note, this sample was taken from outside the nature preserve. Do not damage trees inside the nature preserve.) Slippery elm has layers of brown that are almost the same tone.]

  5. Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis . On the right of the main trail. Note the striking white inner bark, visible as the brown outer bark gradually peels off. Large sycamores often become hollow, making good homes for wood ducks, opossums and raccoons. Indians used the trunks for dugout canoes. Mentioned nostalgically in the Indiana state songs “Back Home Again in Indiana” and “On the Banks of the Wabash”, the sycamore likes to grow in wet places such as lowlands and riverbanks. Its fruit is a sphere about an inch in diameter; it has very large, simple, alternate leaves.

  6. Black oak, Quercus velutina . On the right of the trail, just past the “Nature Preserve” sign, is Fox Island’s largest tree. This patriarch was a sprout when Fort Wayne was founded over 200 years ago. What a story it could tell! It is beginning to die now, but has many offspring nearby. In fact, black oaks are the most common trees of the Fox Island dune forest. Black oaks have small acorns, only about ? to æ inch long, with a bowl like cup. The edge of the acorn cup is slightly rough; the alternate, simple leaf is more deeply cut and shiny than that of the closely related red oak. Another characteristic is the yellow inner bark.

  7. Red oak, Quercus rubra . Just across the trail from the big black oak is a red oak. If you can locate an acorn, note that it is larger than that of the black oak; its cup is flat and shallow, and smoother than that of the black oak. Oaks provide about one-half of the annual harvest of hardwood lumber in the U. S. and their acorns are important food for wildlife.

  8. Common apple, Malus sp . This specimen is one of the few remaining from the days before Fox Island was a park. It is still relatively healthy and has pink and white blossoms each spring. As with most apple seedlings, the fruit is of poor quality, but OK for wildlife.

  9. Swamp white oak, Quercus bicolor . On the right side of the trail. This is the only oak with acorn stalks much longer than its leaf stalks (petioles.) The leaves are not as deeply lobed as are those of the white oak. “Bicolor” in the Latin name refers to the fact that the leaves are whitish on the underside. The swamp white oak, as you might expect, likes wet ground.

  10. Sassafras, Sassafras albidum . Near the intersection with the upper dune trail, at post C. The leaves may be one, two, or three-lobed; the two lobed leaves look like mittens. Can you find both a right-hand and a left-hand mitten? Sassafras bark is deeply furrowed and reddish-brown; the trunk is often crooked. The sap has a pleasant fragrance which is apparent in all parts of the plant. The bark of the roots is used to make tea in late winter. The blue one-seeded fruits are eaten by many birds, and the twigs are eaten by deer and rabbits. It is one of the early trees to return to poor, depleted soil and spreads well by root sprouts. It is also one of our most outstanding native trees for fall color.

  11. Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera . Just past the intersection with the upper dune trail at post C. This straight, tall tree has shiny, four-lobed leaves. The wood is fine, soft, easily worked, and extremely durable. It was a favorite for building log cabins and frame houses, until the supply was nearly exhausted. It has yellow-orange, tulip-like flowers in May and June, and long, scaly fruits in summer and autumn. This stately, magnificent tree is the STATE TREE OF INDIANA.

  12. Black cherry, Prunus serotina . On the right, at the bottom of the hill. The beautiful wood of the black cherry competes with the black walnut as a favorite for furniture making. The dark fruits are eaten by many songbirds and by mammals such as raccoons, red fox, deer, rabbit and gray squirrel. The fruits taste bitter to us but can be used to make jelly. Young trees have reddish bark with prominent lenticels (pores). Older trees have flaky bark that resembles burnt potato chips. The leaves are alternate, simple,narrowly oval, and finely serrated.

  13. Bigtooth aspen, Populus grandidentata . On the right. Only a few specimens of this tree have survived in our forest. Its relatives, cottonwood and quaking aspen are better suited to the ground at Fox Island and can be found to the west of the dune forest. This tree has died, probably from lack of sunlight as the other trees have grown taller. It has interesting rectangular holes that suggest the work of a pileated woodpecker. These birds of the deep woods have been spotted, rarely, at Fox Island. Keep watching!

  14. Hophornbeam, Ostrya virginiana . A small one is to the right of the trail. Maximum height is 20-30 feet. The wood is very hard and tough, but not very useful to man. Fruits are small, bladder-enclosed nuts that look like “hops.” Farmers in Europe used similar species to make “yoke-elms” or “hornbeams” for oxen. The seeds are eaten by grouse, quail, pheasants, and ptarmigans. Deer and rabbits eat the twigs.

  15. Black walnut, Juglans nigra . Around the bend, on the left The leaves, twigs and nuts have a distinctive odor. Long, compound leaves have 15 or more leaflets. The wood is one of the most highly prized for furniture, mantels, and gunstocks. Squirrels and mice compete with humans for the delicious nuts; and deer eat the twigs. The husks surrounding the nuts can be used to make a dark brown dye. Be careful, the dye will stain your hands.

  16. Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis . On the left of the trail; note the long-pointed, elm-like leaves that feel rough. The twigs are slender and zig-zag, and since they often form clusters, they are known as “witches’ brooms.” The bark has warty protuberances that make the hackberry easy to identify in winter. The wood is valuable for building, and the fruits make good winter bird food.

  17. Ohio buckeye, Aesculus glabra . Look for a stone on the left. Two or three small ones are straight north from the stone. Leaves are palmately compound, with 5 leaflets. It is the earliest tree in the woods to leaf out in spring, risking frost damage. The flowers are yellowish white, and the fruits are spiny outside, with a beautiful glossy brown nut inside. Buckeye wood is used for boxes, crates, artificial limbs, woodenware, toys, and trunks; it looks a lot like aspen wood.

  18. Bitternut hickory, Carya cordiformis . Left of trail. The hickories have large compound leaves that leave large leaf scars on the twigs. The buds of bitternut are bright yellow with non-overlapping scales in pairs. The cylindrical nuts are bitter, with thin husks, and ridged toward the outer end. They are not edible for humans, but are eaten by some wild animals. The wood is strong and tough, useful for handles, baskets, and furniture. The bitternut hickory is the second most common tree at Fox Island.

  19. White oak, Quercus alba . On the right of the trail. The white oak is the largest of the many species of oak found in our region. It is slow-growing and may live for 400 years or longer. The leaves have rounded lobes, and only about one-third of the acorn is covered by the cup. The lumber is highly prized for building and interior woodwork. Acorns provide food for pheasants, squirrels, and wild turkeys. Next you will find another black oak labeled (see #6) and a sassafras labeled (see #10).

  20. “RECYCLING STATION” On both sides of the trail are several fallen trees, which have begun to be used for food by various organisms. Some are growing on top of the logs, in order to absorb more sunlight for photosynthesis. Carefully look for insects, millipedes, and maybe even a salamander in the rotten wood. The fungi, lichens, mosses and other plants use the stored energy in the wood, while turning the wood to soil over many years. Do you see why we call this “Mother Nature’s recycling?” Be sure to put the decaying wood back as you found it, to protect the little creatures that live there.

  21. Pawpaw, Asimina triloba . Many of these small trees are on the right of the trail, after going up a hill. The fruits taste like overripe bananas, giving the tree its nickname of “Indiana Banana.” They are greenish, oval, and have large brown seeds about the size of a thumbnail. The leaves are large, oval, shiny and tropical-looking; if you crush a piece of leaf, it will smell like green peppers.

  22. Red haw, Crataegus sp . On the right. Accurate identification of the haws is very difficult, because of extensive hybridization. Charles Deam, the famous Indiana botanist from Bluffton, said that Crataegus was a hopelessly confused genus! All are large shrubs or small trees, thorny and with fruits like small apples. Often they are the first trees to invade an old, unused field. They have attractive white flowers in spring; the wood is hard and tough like apple wood. Birds often nest in the thorny branches.

  23. Shagbark hickory, Carya ovata . By now you have reached Post E and crossed over to the second half of the tree trail loop. Two small shagbark hickories are near the corners of the intersection, one on the right and one on the left. The labeled one is on the right. The shaggy bark, which peels off in long strips, makes it very easy to identify so it becomes an old friend. The leaves have 5 to 7 leaflets, with the terminal leaflet larger than the others. The nuts are surrounded by a four-part husk, and are delicious to eat for people and wildlife. The wood is strong and tough, good for firewood or for making tool handles, chairs, skis, and baskets.

  24. White oak, Quercus alba . On the right; this huge old tree has a story to tell. Apparently it was bent over at an early age, and two of its side branches took over, becoming almost like two separate trunks. Do you suppose it was trampled by a Miami child? Or by a French fur trader, in the early days of Fort Wayne?

  25. Pin oak, Quercus palustris . On left. The pointed leaf lobes have bristles on their tips. The twigs are reddish brown, and the acorn cups are shallow and saucer-like. The lower branches characteristically point downward, and many stubby branches are usually present.

  26. American beech, Fagus grandifolia . A tiny beech tree is on the right, at a curve in the trail. The smooth bluish-gray bark is a reliable trademark of the American beech, tempting vandals to carve initials on it. The nuts, which come two in a “package” are very good to eat. Along with acorns they are important food for animals, and formerly for the now-extinct passenger pigeon. The shiny copper-colored bud scales are striking in the spring. In winter, the leaves stay on the trees, making them easy to spot from a distance. To the north and south of Fox Island, beeches and maples are the “climax” trees of mature forest. Here, the climax seems to be black oak and bitternut hickory. Could this baby beech tree be a clue to Fox Island’s future?

  27. Red maple, Acer rubrum . On the left, with initials carved as if it were a beech tree! (“Fools’ names, like fools’ faces, are often seen in public places.”) The red maple is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. Its twigs, buds, flowers, and leaf petioles (stalks) are mostly red. The leaves are not as deeply lobed as those of the silver maple, but they are also silvery on the underside. The red maple likes to have its “feet wet”, growing in wet places. As in all maples, the fruits have “wings” that let them whirl around in the wind. This kind of fruit is called a samara. Red and silver maples are called “soft” maples because the wood is easy to work; however this also makes them subject to wind damage.

  28. Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida . Refer to #1.

You will come to an intersection at Post F, marking the end of the tree trail loop. Just a short way to the left is the main trail, leading back to the nature center. We hope you enjoyed your trip through Fox Island’s dune forest.


Original Trail Development: Robert Weber
Trail Brochure and Text, David Griggs, Robert Weber 1987
Illustrations: Irene Seixas
2001 Revision: Cynthia Powers.
Photographs and additional comments [JRS]: Dr. John Schutt