The following is the March post exploring nature in the city; written by naturalist and illustrator, Jill Collins, with editing by local writer and instructor, Justin Glanville.
The inedible, brown fruit of the sycamore tree still hang from the twigs like ornaments. Sycamores, with their lovely camouflage-patterned bark, are a native tree and a parent of the hybrid London plane tree. I have heard many of our street trees are plane trees, not sycamores, because the plane tree is much more pollution-tolerant.
Street trees are often the only readily visible connection we have to nature at this time of year. Without the leaves on the trees, it is easier to see their varied shapes and bark. Some bark like the sycamore (or plane tree) will reveal its owner’s identity, and if you can reach any twigs, buds can also give you good information about what type of tree you are looking at.
Beeches have long, brown, cigar-shaped buds and red maples have bright, burgundy-colored buds and twigs. Beeches and red maples are common trees of parks and yards. Some common street trees in Cleveland include: black locusts (look for paired thorns on twigs), flowering pears (foul-smelling spring flowers), and a few different oak species (look for discarded lobed leaves). You are bound to see trees of heaven (scratched bark smells like burnt peanut butter) and mulberries rearing up out of the cracks in sidewalks and placing themselves in-between fence links.
Mother hawks begin to build their nests. Though they are more likely to be seen at Edgewater, along the Rapid tracks, or at the tops of trees that line the highway, it is possible for sharp shinned or Cooper’s hawks to nest in trees along city streets above the patches of old snow and trash. Birds of prey build nests from leafless twigs and branches. If there are leaves as part of the nest architecture, suspect squirrels. Squirrels use leaves in nest-building; birds of prey almost always use only branches.
If there is a warm, wet day, inspect the street trees for lichen. Lichen is an underappreciated glow against the greys and browns of tree bark and, though present year-round, it stands out more when there is not much else. There is also lichen that grows on sidewalks and on rocks. The brights of the lichen, a few early shoots, and the occasional errant flower remind us that soon spring will come.