Hickory leaf buds dazzle like exotic flowers – Shaw Local

It’s a question we get asked quite often: where are the hickories at Hickory Knolls?

It is true that shagbark hickories and their close relatives, bitter walnuts, are a minority compared to the number of white oaks, bur oaks and other tree species that can be seen from the center of the nature. Over the past 10 years we’ve planted a few shagbarks near the building to basically live up to our name, and we have a good sized bitter nut near the garage. And there’s a pretty decent stand of shagbarks halfway through our natural area, about a half mile down the trail.

But to be perfectly honest, the shaggy but hardy species also known as Carya ovata wasn’t everyone’s first choice as a name for our unique center.

We knew we wanted to use a component of our natural space in the name, ideally a life form that was both beloved and long-lived. We wanted an oak tree.

Which tree is mighty? An oak. Which tree represents strength and resilience? An oak. Which tree is the state tree of Illinois? An oak (the white oak, Quercus alba, to be precise).

Ah, but the problem with naming something ______ Oaks is that almost every appropriate word that might precede these precious trees is already in use. The Oaks is a development just south of downtown St. Charles. Majestic oak trees? It is a subdivision to the east of the city. Oaks of the century? It’s a neighborhood of Elgin.

Red Oak is a nature center in North Aurora; Emily Oaks is a nature center in Skokie; and Irons Oaks is a nature center at Olympia Fields.

Add homophones like LeRoy Oakes (the forest preserve named after a Kane County board supervisor) and adjectival uses like Oaken Acres (a wildlife rescue in Sycamore), and we finally concluded that we had to continue using this iconic tree. as part of our identity.

Once this decision was made, a host of other local flora were taken into consideration. Twinleaf, after the rare woodland wildflower Jeffersonia diphylla, had some merit for the way it embodied our dual mission of education and entertainment. Terra was also considered because it evoked images of the land we are actively committed to preserving. (It also got us wondering if Margaret Mitchell had made a little joke to her “Gone with the Wind” readers by naming the plantation O’Hara Tara, and if we could use the quote “…the land is the only thing in the world worth working for.’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts’ as our motto.)

These names, however, were considered too obscure and indistinct for our new venture. We needed something that was both majestic and strong, and easily recognizable – so we went with Hickory.

(As for Knolls, well, our natural area is a wonderful example of glacial topography. Yet none of the glacial formations had names in everyday use. Hickory Kame? Hickory Moraine? Hickory Pothole Wetlands? No, no and no way, in And since Hickory Hills was already a suburb, Hickory Knolls we became.)

Many times over the years I have written about shagbark hickory and its many qualities. It is half of the oft-cited oak-hickory forest, the dominant hardwood forest type in eastern North America. Its fruit is a buttery-tasting, high-fat nut, which is good news for foraging herbivores and omnivores. Its shaggy bark provides all sorts of shelters and hidden spaces for arthropods like insects and spiders, as well as the occasional bat.

Looking at the tree from a purely human perspective, its wood is strong yet flexible and makes excellent tool handles. And wagon wheels, if you’re old school. It gives off a lot of heat when burned and its smoke flavors bacon, ham and more.

But for me, purely human that I am, the most beautiful attribute of the hickory is the one that is just beginning to appear in our woods: the unfurling of this year’s leaves.

I know it doesn’t look spectacular, but when you see the buds opening in person, you’ll change your mind in an instant. In fact, you might even mistake them for some kind of exotic flower, especially if you see them up close. (True story: One of the photos considered for this column was perfect in every way except that it was vertical and we needed a horizontal format. Oh, and it was mislabeled “azalea.”)

The pinkish or reddish bud scales of the shagbark curl in a way reminiscent of the Turkish bonnet lily. In the center rise the yet-to-be-developed compound leaves of the tree, displaying hues ranging from red and orange to yellow and green. Zowee!

If you want to see the budding buds of Hickory Knolls’ namesake trees, you better hurry. Their presence is fleeting and their next appearance will not be for a year. But if you get here and they’re gone, no worries. The other half of our name is pretty cool too – and they’ve been around since the last ice age.

• Pam Otto is the Outreach Ambassador for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-513-4346 or [email protected].