Back to the Cold
Winter Interest

Naked Plant ID

Silhouette of treeNow that I have your attention, you are probably shivering at the thought but there is no need to undress. The plants, trees in this case, are already in their bare form and if you can brave the cold this time of year and have the desire to increase your identification skills there are many opportunities to do so.  I took a course in ornamental tree identification many years ago as part of my college curriculum. I loved it. When I saw in the Audubon brochure that there was a tree identification class available this past Saturday I decided to attend. My previous course covered ornamental trees and shrubs which did include some natives but I feel that my skills at identifying those trees along the roadside are not what I would wish them to be. I do know many of the woodland trees but some I just can't identify. Winter tree identification has a language all its own.
Terminal bud, leaf scar lenticels
Terminal bud, shield shaped leaf scar and lenticels (dots on stem)
Bud scales, bud scar, leaf scar, pith, lenticel, growth rings and then there are the buds themselves. Are they clustered or single? Sticky, smooth or velvety? Much of this course was review for me at least with the terminology but it is challenging to re-acquaint oneself with those terms. Books on Tree IDI have quite a few books to help me in my cause. Gray's Manual of Botany is a wonderful key if you know all of the language. Years ago I bought Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines for a class and never used it. It cost $79.00 twenty years ago and it is a wonderful book whose time has finally come. I also own three of Michael Dirr's books. His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is still used by many college students. Seeing Trees is a gorgeous book on trees written by Nancy Ross Hugo with photographs by Robert Llewellyn. It is informative, fun to read and the photographs are incredible. No Kindle or Nook would properly do them justice.
Opposite branching
Opposite branching on a red maple
I usually start with the basic outline of the tree and then move on to the bark. A closer view of the tree's branching structure will show if the branching is opposite or alternate. There are fewer genus of trees exhibiting opposite branching than alternate. Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Horse chestnut and those in the Caprifoliaceae family all have opposite branching. Furrowed barkThe bark of an ash is deeply furrowed and quite beautiful while that of the paper birch can easily be identified by the sheets of peeling white. Paperbark birchI have many different types of oaks on my property. White oak and pin oak along with some red oak. Quercus palustrisThe pin oaks are easy to spot as their lower branches dip toward the ground while the basic form of the tree is pyramidal. Trees are quite beautiful in their nakedness.
Many have buds which are quite distinctive. Most of us can identify a flowering dogwood from the fat flower bud.Tulip tree seed head The Tulip tree has this distinctive seedhead. Every endeavor requires one to start at the beginning and no matter what your skill level there is always a new plant to learn. I would bet that Michael Dirr would know all of the trees on my property but for the rest of us there would be something new around each corner. Do you have any desire to know your neighborhood trees? It would be fun to learn together.