Wicked Trees

The last column discussed medicinal benefits that trees might have.  However, there is an opposite side to the coin.  Trees can also have chemical or pharmaceutical aspects that may be detrimental or even deadly to humans and other living things.  Trees are not necessarily “wicked” in this sense, but they have these properties for self-defense purposes.  Trees and plants cannot move around like animals so they have defense mechanisms with in the plant itself.

A case in point – The strychnine tree, which grows in India and is non-native here, has very highly poisonous alkaloids, strychnine and bucucine, in its seeds for protection against marauding birds and animals.  The strychnine alkaloid can be processed out and can be used as a very deadly poison.  This poison is used to kill feral animals, rats, etc. but its use is highly regulated.  Poisoning can occur through contact and absorption through the skin or through breathing the powder.  It should be very carefully used with protective clothing and kept out of reach of children.

Closer to home, the Black Locust, native to North America and Ohio has large thorns as a defensive measure but also has a chemical that makes its bark, leaves and wood poisonous to predators.  These parts are not consumed, but the flowers are non-poisonous and are eaten by some in springtime.  The locusts we have growing in the tree lawns are a cultivar which is thornless.

The Black Walnut, growing around Vermilion has a very interesting chemical defense.  It secretes juglone in its wood and bark and especially in tis root system.  This alkaloid is a very strong herbicide and will kill certain plants and trees, but not all around its base.  The root system can extend over 50 feet out from the tree, creating a large area of defense against certain plants.  This is not harmful to humans, but will affect what plants can or cannot be planted below the walnut’s branches.

One other tree in Ohio that is pretty wicked is Poison Sumac.  Poison sumac is in the same genus as poison ivy, but can grow to become a medium sized tree.  Like poison ivy, poison sumac has very nasty oil on branches, leaves, bark, etc. called urushiol.  This oil is not poisonous but is an allergen, causing an allergic reaction.  Some get this reaction, but others don’t.  It can cause serious problems for some people who are allergic to it.  Poison sumac only grows in wet, swampy places, such as areas around bogs and other wet area.  So unless you go walking through swampy, watery bog areas, you won’t come in contact with it.

We don’t wish to scare you off from enjoying nature, but walkers should be aware that certain trees can cause problems.  The tree commission only selects or recommends trees that are good for the municipal forest.

If you have questions or concerns, feel free to contact the Vermilion Tree Commission by contacting Anne Maiden at the Mayor’s Office at annemaiden@vermilion.net or at 440-204-2402.  You are also cordially invited to attend our monthly Tree Commission meeting which is on the second Wednesday of the month. The Tree Commission will meet at the Ritter Public Library on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, at 7:00 PM



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