January 6, 2020 /
Jona Elwell

What’s in a Name: Trees with Odd, Interesting Names

While many trees have common names that are easy to understand (red maple, thanks to its fiery foliage, weeping willow thanks to its sweeping branches) others…not so much. Here’s the how and why behind some of our favorite weird and wacky tree names. Plus – you can plant almost all of these in your yard for FREE thanks to our residential planting programs!

Fruits from the Hophornbeam resemble hops used in beer production. Photo courtesy of Eric Hunt.

American Hophornbeam or ironwood | Ostrya virginiana
Not to be confused with the American Hornbeam, the “hop” portion of its name refers to the resemblance of its fruits to those of true hops that are used in the production of beer. Hornbeam refers to a related European tree whose wood was used to yoke oxen; therefore, its American counterpart wood was also used as a “beam” with which to yoke “horned” beasts of burden. (Ironwood comes from its extremely hard wood.) This graceful tree has yellow fall foliage, a compact shape, and is valued by wildlife for shelter and food. You can get up to $50 back for planting this tree yourself through our tree rebate program.

A Loblolly Pine forest. Photo courtesy of John Leszczynski.

Loblolly Pine | Pinus taeda
Loblolly pines are known for their straight trunk, upright form and distinctive bark. This is an important timber tree, considered the most commercially valuable type of wood in the southern United States, whose wood is used for pulp, plywood and general construction. The name loblolly means mudhole and acts as a reference to the swampy areas where this tree often grows in the wild. You can get up to $50 back for planting this tree yourself through our tree rebate program.

A mid-to-late fall bloomer, witchhazels are loved for their addition of bright yellow to an otherwise brown landscape. Photo Courtesy Manfred Richter.

Witchhazel | Hamamelis virginiana
Good for your yard, not just your skin! Witch hazel is an excellent understory tree that produces fiery-yellow, fragrant flowers that stand out in the fall and winter. Interestingly enough, the name does not come from the magic practitioner in pointy black hats. Its origin stems from the Middle English wiche and from the Old English wice, meaning “pliant” or “bendable” and hæsel, used for any bush of the pine family. (The extract witchhazel, found in trendy skincare toners, is distilled from the bark of young stems and roots.) Witchhazels are available through our residential planting program, RiverSmart Homes or you can get up to $100 back for planting this tree yourself through our tree rebate program.

And a final bonus one because we love it so:

The female cone of the Monkey Puzzle Tree. The female trees produce large, edible and—according to people who have eaten them—delicious seeds. Photo courtesy of Martin Cooper.

Monkey Puzzle Tree | Araucaria araucana
This tree also goes by the far less exciting name of Chilean Pine – a logical moniker as it’s their national tree! An evergreen tree, the origin of the popular English language name “monkey puzzle” derives from its early cultivation in Britain in about 1850, when the species was still very rare in gardens and not widely known. An Englishman showing it to friends remarked that the tree would be a puzzle for a monkey to climb (even though there are no monkeys where this tree grows natively).