Goshen News, Goshen, IN

April 7, 2013

Be on the lookout for bur oak and paw paw trees


WAKARUSA — We have been very patient for spring. Winter has been slow to recede. Snow keeps showing up in forecasts and on the ground. Night temperatures continue to drop below freezing. This has been good for maple sugaring; one long-time maple sugar-er told me that he can hardly remember a longer sugar season than this one. My son, on the other hand, has been ready for spring since Groundhog’s Day and wants it just to be warm already.

Well, Spring is coming. And I will trust that at the end of April, when Arbor Day comes around, it will actually feel that way. So in that light — or warmth — I want to announce the Sixth Annual Goshen Champion Tree Contest.

This is the contest where we look for the largest specimen of certain tree species in town. In the past we’ve crowned champion cottonwood, silver maple, sugar maple, Norway maple, sycamore, tulip, red bud, ash, American elm, and oak trees.

This year we’ll look for two more to add to this list. The first is Bur Oak. Several years ago when we searched for a champion oak tree we didn’t specify which kind of oak — red, swamp white, chinquapin, bur, etc. The largest oak nominated at that time happened to be a red oak, and it is a real monster. Bur oak is a different beast in many ways. It is one of the slower growing oaks, a patient and persistent tree. It grows in all kinds of soils and has decent tolerance for urban life, making it a good choice for a shade tree in Goshen. Unlike most young trees, bur oaks have dramatically furled and raised bark, which it retains through its whole life. In fact, its bark forms a deep cork layer around its living tissue, helping it to survive fires, including on the prairie where it is a pioneer species.

I know where several really big bur oaks are in town. There are one or two good size bur oaks in Shanklin woods. There are two on South Main Street, one standing by the road, the other standing next to a house. I don’t know which of these is the largest, and it’s quite possible that there are larger ones elsewhere. Someone needs to nominate these trees so that we can award a maple syrup prize.

The second tree we are looking for is the paw paw. I want to promote this tree since recently I’ve been talking about urban orchards and public fruit trees. The paw paw, also known as the Indiana banana, is the northern-most member of what is chiefly a tropical fruit tree family, and is native to northern Indiana and southern Michigan. It bears a mango-sized fruit that has a custard flavor. These are understory trees, meaning they are smaller and shade-loving and prefer to grow beneath the mature canopy of larger trees. They have unmistakably large, long ovate leaves. Getting the paw paw to produce fruit can be a bit of a trick since it often grows in clonal groups — meaning that what may look like several dozen different trees are actually part of the same genetic organism, and so won’t pollinate to set fruit. Other paw paw trees have to be introduced.

Paw paw can be a little hard to find unless you have a decent stand of woods in your back yard, or unless you are a native fruit freak (a species which is on the increase). But they are in Goshen. I know that they are growing in Shoup-Parsons Woods, below the Goshen Dam. I suspect they are in some other wooded areas along the Elkhart River flood plain. And it very well may be that your neighbor is trying to grow them.

So, if you find a large bur oak or paw paw tree, and if you’ve asked permission from the property owner — if it’s not yourself — to nominate it as a champion tree, please let me know by April 19. The current champions in the species listed above can also be challenged if you know of a tree which should be considered. In all cases, we’ll announce the new Champion Trees at Goshen’s Arbor Day Celebration on April 26, at the Reith Interpretive Center. Winning nominations will receive maple syrup and an official champion certificate.

Good luck.

Send nominations to Aaron Sawatsky Kingsley, 537-0986 or aaronkingsley@goshencity.com