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Oklahoma’s varied ecosystems grow a spectacular range of trees for travelers’ viewing pleasure.
By Clara Linhoff
Illustrations by JJ Ritchey
Published May/June 2018
Oklahoma’s state tree since 1937, the redbud has vibrant purple-pink flowers that bloom in the spring and are not only fragrant but edible as well. In fact, many creative chefs use the buds to make beautiful salads. Even when spring turns to summer, their attractive, pale green leaves are visible across the state, including Redbud Valley Nature Preserve in Catoosa. 16150 Redbud Drive, (918) 669-6644 or oxleynaturecenter.org/redbud.htm.
Native to the southwest corner of Oklahoma, these shrubs have drooping, long leaves briefly crowded with fragrant yellow flowers in the spring. The honey mesquite’s already abbreviated blooming period tends to be shorter during especially hot weather, but look for its feather-like foliage on the Great Plains Trail of Oklahoma at Quartz Mountain Resort Arts & Conference Center & Nature Park. 22469 Lodge Road in Lone Wolf, (580) 563-2424 or quartzmountainresort.com.
With twigs covered in tiny star-shaped hairs, the Ozark witch-hazel grows goldenrod or scarlet-colored flowers that resemble strange, flailing sea creatures in the late winter or early spring. These large shrubs often grow near small streams in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains in the eastern part of the state. Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge, 16602 County Road 465 in Colcord, (918) 326-0156 or fws.gov/refuge/ozark_plateau.
Near the western edge of Oklahoma, needleleaf evergreens with umber bark called pinyons occasionally appear. Their relatively large seeds, known commonly as pine nuts, only grow every few years, and they frequently are harvested by wildlife before humans can get to them, making them expensive. The Panhandle is the best place to check out these rare beauties. Along the border of New Mexico in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Whether it’s classified as a small tree or a large shrub, the swamp privet and its pretty dark purple fruit are quite a sight to behold in the early spring. The juxtaposition of dark brown bark and small clusters of chartreuse flowers also creates a lovely scene in southeastern Oklahoma near bodies of water where the soil is moist. Forest Heritage Center inside Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow, (580) 494-6497 or forestry.ok.gov/fhc.
Reaching up to a hundred feet in height, the largest tree in Oklahoma is the bald cypress. It is crowded with soft, wispy needles that shift from bronze to copper before shedding in the autumn. During the summer, watch for the attractive patchwork bark patterns of this unique deciduous conifer in southeastern Oklahoma. Little River Wildlife Refuge, 635 South Park Drive in Broken Bow, (580) 584-6211 or fws.gov/refuge/little_river.
This shade tree with light pink-brown wood grows throughout eastern Oklahoma. Covered in clusters of drooping yellow flowers and long-stalked leaves, the sugar maple unsurprisingly is the source of maple sugar and syrup. It takes about forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of the sugary condiment. McCurtain County offers sweet views of these trees. Beavers Bend State Park, 4350 South State Highway 259-A in Broken Bow, (580) 494-6300 or TravelOK.com/parks.
Show-stopping catalpas are a forestry favorite, with their bunches of white orchid-like flowers spotted inside with purple and yellow. The trees were planted as shelter belts in the western part of Oklahoma. Naturalized in most of the state, the ornamental catalpas are visible along the creek running through the resort town of Medicine Park. 154 East Lake Drive, Medicine Park, (580) 529-2825 or medicinepark.com.