Most are not familiar with this species of this small understory floodplain & low woods, often near streams, rivers & lakes. A native Hoosier member of the Citrus family, it is sort of an odd ball species with leaves that look like poison-ivy & interesting, papery & circular seeds, like Rock & Slipper Elm, but larger. With nicknames of Wafer Ash, Skunkbush (its flowers, wood & bark have an unpleasant odor) & Prairie grub, it doesn’t get too large at 30′ with a diameter of 1′ underneath much bigger trees. Liking the same habitat as Ashleaf Maple (Boxelder), Black Maple, Ohio Buckeye, American Sycamore & Black Willow, it may prefer the understory of low woods, but can be found in full sun, too on swamp borders & near lake sides. An example are the hoptrees growing at Celery Bog near the trail by the apartments at the end of Cumberland Avenue. Here, it grows with Black Willow, Green Ash & Rose Mallow, as well as Swamp Milkweed. In the understory it may be crooked with one trunk, but trees more in the sun often have multiple trunks.
The most common associates of Common Hoptree are Black Willow, American Sycamore, Silver Maple, Green Ash, Ashleaf Maple, Eastern Cottonwood, Buttonbush, Black Walnut & American Elm. In far southern Indiana, you can find it with Cherrybark Oak & Sweetgum, as well as Swamp Privet. So, it can tolerate periodic, but not long, long duration flooding & germinates on fresh floodplain loam of the understory woods in shade or sun. It has impressive flood depth tolerance, similar to Ashleaf Maple, Silver Maple & American Sycamore. Like Silver Maple, it doesn’t mind a deep flood, it just can’t have constant, consistent standing water. That is an oddity about Silver Maple, it tolerates floods well, but if it will struggle big time if it is growing in a long-duration submergence event as a young tree & even older one. I have seen Silver Maples all wilted, half dead & with red & orange foliage in summer when stuck in tight clay soil with standing water. Ohio Buckeye likes brief floods in loamy/sandy loam floodplain soil & low, wet woodland, but doesn’t like persistent inundation & saturation. Common Hoptree is no different.
Leaves of the hoptree turn often yellow in the fall & occasionally red & orange.
A slow-grower, this tree blooms in late spring-early summer & sheds its seeds through late fall & into winter. Frequently, the papery seeds will cling to the tree well after the foliage has been shed in fall. The seeds are carried by wind on its papery “wings”.
There are several subspecies of Common Hoptree in the United States. Ours, which is found viewing area-wide is found strictly in the historic prairie/barrens band from Missouri to Illinois, Indiana & Ohio to southeastern Ontario. This subspecies does have an affinity for the low, wet woodland near/around prairies, savannas & barrens.
About 5 other subspecies are found in the U.S. One from Arizona to Mexico to Texas, another Texas to Kansas, another in the southeastern, even another in Florida.