Thursday, February 5, 2009

Winter Wednesday Tree Explorations

The blog Handbook of Nature Study has been offering an online class we have been participating in. This week's chapter in the book Discover Nature in Winter talks about the world of deciduous trees and in particular, how to identify them in the winter. Most tree books use leaves as a way of identifying tree types yet in this chapter, it explains how it is possible to I.D. winter bare trees by observing their branching characteristics, bark, seeds and clues found on twigs.

The last few days have been brutally cold, so even thinking about going outside and looking at trees has not sounded like much fun. But today it warmed up to 28, so we headed out. The book discussed birch trees so I was determined to find them even though I hadn't noticed many in my travels. Luckily after Ryan's archery class, we spotted a paper birch (Betula papyrifera) which had been planted many years ago by the archery club and quickly snapped a shot of it shown above.
Later, on our way home, we discovered many river birches (Betula nigra) used in home landscapes along the way and Ryan managed to snap a picture of the grouping above as we drove by. What frustrated us though was the vast majority of trees we could not identify. I felt especially silly because I have taken a tree I.D. class in the past, yet seem to have only retained residual knowledge. Luckily, I kept all of the reference guides and I pulled them out the minute we got home.
The picture above shows Ryan using a magnifying glass to look at a leaf scar on the twig of a paper birch. I told Ryan that each species of tree has a different leaf scar which can be used to help in identification- just like how humans have fingerprints. The book "Woody Plants in Winter" by Core and Ammons features line drawings of leaf scars for all trees along with a key used to identify woody plants. After spending some time looking at tree reference books and learning how to tell the different birch species apart, we decided that we would like to continue our investigations and learn more about other tree genera.
Here are the reference books we used in today's explorations with links to Amazon if you are interested:
-Woody Plants in Winter by Core and Ammons gives a key useful in identifying trees in the winter along with showing leaf scars.
-The Tree Identification Book by George W.D. Symonds. This book shows closeup pictures of the bark, fruit, branching habits, and twigs of trees. If you were going to only purchase one of these books, this should be the one.
-Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs by Michael A. Dirr This book has lots of written information and has color pictures of trees in both winter and summer, along with its fruit and flowers.
-Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael A. Dirr A great guide that gives descriptions of leaves, cones, habit, growth rate etc...
This Winter Wednesday activity has stoked our interest in the trees of our area and I look forward to our continued explorations. I am especially interested in discovering the name of a particularly majestic craggy branched tree I see quite often in these parts. I think it is some kind of an oak.
To see past Winter Wednesday posts, please click here


mon@rch said...

Sounds like a great class to get the kids involved in! Winter botany can be tough at times! You guys are doing great with it!

Darcy said...

Hi Allegany Tom,

Thank you for the comment. I really enjoy reading your blog and think your pictures are great!


Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

I wish I could come over and participate! Your reference books look fabulous. I am able to identify only the trees that I pretty much know already. We have white birch in our backyard so we had a great nature study involving them this week.

All the OH Challenges make me realize how much I really don't know about the world around much to learn!

Thanks for the link,
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Kelsey said...

Thanks for listing the reference books you used! We are going to look into them. Thanks for sharing your winter wed.

Darcy said...


The naturalist teaching my son's Mighty Acorn's class over at Fullersburg Woods gave me another great book suggestion for identifying winter trees. It is called Winter Tree Finder by May T. Watts. It only costs $3.95 through Amazon and would be a handy pocket sized guide to have around.