Ptelea trifoliata (otherwise known as the Common Hoptree) contrary to its name, is far from common. While you can find this native tree along the shores of Lake Erie in sandy areas, the Hoptree is considered a threatened species in Canada. It is only found in limited areas in Southwestern Ontario and Quebec. Its range stretches down to Florida, but north of the border, habitat destruction curtails where you can find it. And sadly, that habitat loss is directly linked to human activities; ie. trees being removed for cottages and beaches being groomed for leisure. But the plight of the Common Hoptree is far from over.
While the Hoptree is threatened, it needn’t be a lost cause. This small, deciduous tree or large shrub prefers full sun. It has smooth, reddish-brown bark and glossy green, alternate, compound leaves found in 3 leaflets. Creamy white flowers appear in early summer and give way to clusters of winged samara containing 1-3 seeds. Both leaves and flowers are highly aromatic, although not necessarily consider pleasant by many people. The leaves turn yellow in the fall, but the brown samara remain throughout winter for seasonal interest, not to mention added sound, as they rattle audibly in the wind.
As the Common Hoptree is recognized as a threatened species, the government has taken steps to remedy that. A recovery strategy is in place, whereby hoptree populations are counted and monitored, and steps have been put into place to maintain existing populations, as well as encourage their growth. Some of those strategies include, education, stewardship, enforcement, and restoring damaged areas. You might have noticed signs on Lake Erie beaches about renaturalization projects and noticed that grooming has been curtailed in areas around where Common Hoptrees can be found.
What can you do to help this threatened tree? If you are planning on building a home or cottage near one of the sites where Common Hoptrees are, think about relocating the building or protecting the trees in the planning stage. Report sightings of trees you find to the Ministry of Natural Resources. Respect their habitat when you are in it. Encourage the presence of pollinators, like bees. Take only pictures and leave the tree to reestablish itself, so that generations to come might enjoy this native tree as much as we do today.