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This Week’s Creature Feature ... A New Tree Grows in the Forest

Pumpkin Ash found at Jug Bay adds to number of native species

When your official list of trees includes only 29 species, the addition of one more makes a big boost. Anne Arundel’s rise to 29 from 28 came from the addition of Fraxinus profunda.
    Profunda, familiarly known as the pumpkin ash, was identified and measured at Jug Bay Wetland Sanctuary this month by Maryland Big Tree volunteer Dan Wilson of Harford County.
    The pumpkin ash has its peculiarities, one of which is its territorial preference for the wetlands along the Mississippi River and, to a lesser degree, the southeastern Atlantic states. But it’s been seen before in Anne Arundel County. The difference, says Maryland Big Tree coordinator John Bennett, is that nobody’s bothered to certify a pumpkin ash until now.
    Intrigued by big seeds falling on the boardwalk, Jug Bay staffers implored Johnson to send a tree certifier. The tree seemingly responsible for the droppings was big and slightly odd. There it stood 20 feet from the pathway, a mystery in plain view.
    Until Wilson, who has discovered eight Harford County champions, accepted the challenge.
    There, among a grove of a couple dozen smaller kin, stood Anne Arundel’s first certified pumpkin ash.
    At 58 feet tall and three feet seven inches around, it’s a big tree. Big enough to be Maryland State champion of its species — though Prince George’s County seems to have a contender in Piscataway Bay.
    But as pumpkin ash go, it’s, well, modest. The United States champion stands 150 feet tall, with a waistline of over 15 feet. That big tree grows in Missouri’s Big Oak Tree State Park, where the oxbows of the Mississippi give it the footing it likes best.
    The pumpkin ash’s other peculiarities, besides its tolerance for the Maryland tidewater, are its hairy stem and the feature that gives it its name: The tendency of the base of the trunk to balloon out like a pumpkin.
    There’s a moral to this story: Wonders and champions live among us. But unless you’ve got the eyes to see, you can pass them by.
    Which is why Anne Arundel can claim only a measly 29 of the 139 trees certified as native or naturalized in Maryland. Many trees that thrive here — like ginkgos and horse chestnuts — are ineligible for the Big Tree list, which is restricted to trees able to reproduce on their own.
    Montgomery County boasts a whopping 117. Calvert County at one time reached 120, but its list is out of date.
    “With Anne Arundel’s size and rich soil,” Bennett says, “the county is certainly growing undiscovered treasures.”

    Learn how you can increase the catalogue of big trees in Anne Arundel — or any other county — at dnr.state.md.us/forests/trees/bigtree.asp.