On October 30, a group of 17 people went to Kemper Park to pick some autumn olive berries. We plundered the fruit of these invasive species for nearly two hours. When our baskets, bags and bellies were full, the amorphous group of strolling, sprinting, hiding and playing children and adults began to migrate toward the parking area.
With kids ranging from 4-8 in age and big fields containing irresistible little islands of vegetation, our return walk was long. Some kids launched ahead of the group, and a couple lingered behind…those die hard berry pickers with dreams of fruit leather filling their heads. As we made our way through the field we passed several gigantic trees. An old catalpa caught my attention, and a couple of cedars that must be two hundred years old lurk among the old field trees.
The adults were doing what adults do…walking and discussing everything from parenting to politics. The kids up ahead had gathered in their “fort”. It was a formidable fortress, closely guarded by poison ivy vines and fruit. The roof, a canopy of dogwood with leaves in full color, drooped down to the ground on one side. Suspended from it were grape vines, forming a perfect swing. As the tree shook and swayed under the forces of free play, poison ivy berries rained down. They loved it. The adults stopped and sat in the sun. We were there for maybe 20 minutes.
While sitting, a couple of us noticed something odd. It was a tree, next to the old dogwood "fort". A giant one with unusual form. It must have been passed by a thousand times and mistaken for an apple tree. The closer we looked, the more we realized, this may be a special one.
Very rough checkered and furrowed bark clings to a trunk that branches into several parts at about 3 feet above the ground. These branches arch way up to a height of maybe 25 feet and continue out and down, nearly touching the ground. Getting closer, the stems and leaves were arranged in an opposite pattern (meaning that a pair of leaves grows so that each leaf is exactly opposite the other, on the other side of the stem). This clue alone meant that it was not an apple tree (nor any other member of the rose family). From way down on the ground we could see occasional little black berries, and the few leaves that were present were finely toothed. Look at the structure of this tree. What does it look like to you?