Brush up on your Tree ID this Fall!

A few weeks ago I attended a tree identification walk at the West Virginia Botanic Garden, hosted by WVU forestry.

Now that the chlorophyll is degrading, it’s a great time to take a walk. Enjoy those usually masked anthocyanin and xanthophyll pigments, and brush up your on your tree identification!

Tree Taxonomy

gink
Ginkgo biloba is technically a gymnosperm and a living fossil.

Trees are vascular plants meaning they have xylem and phloem tissues to transport water and photosynthates. They are also spermatophytes or seed plants. Seed plants are divided in two groups: Gymnosperms and Angiosperms. Gymnosperms don’t flower and their seeds aren’t enclosed in a ovule, unlike angiosperms.

Many people call gymnosperms evergreen, because most species’ leaves last for more than one year. However some do lose their leaves such as ginkgo, dawn redwood, and baldcypress. Angiosperms are often referred to as deciduous, although some hold their leaves such as rhododendron, live oak, and sweetbay magnolia.

1024px-Leaf_morphology.svg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaf_shape#/media/File:Leaf_morphology.svg (1)

Basics of Tree ID

There are many different characteristics used for tree identification.

  • Leaf arrangement – Opposite or Alternate
  • Leaf Type – Simple or Compound
  • Leaf Shape
  • Leaf Margin
  • Leaf Venation
  • Bark – smooth, shaggy, large plates, small plates, diamond pattern…
  • Fruit
  • Twigs
  • Tree form
  • Location
  • Smells

Virginia Tech has a really great website on the basics of tree ID, which you can see here! They also have a free app called “vTree”. Identification manuals are great tools for tree id! “Common Native Trees of Virginia” is available free online.


It seems to me like maples and oaks are some of the most common trees in the US. If you know these you’re well on your way to knowing the basics.

Oak, or Quercus genus, has alternate spirally arranged leaves. Deer don’t like to eat bitter red oaks, but they love white oaks. (2)
Yellow Red Maple Leaf
Maple, or Acer genus, have oppositely arranged leaves. Red maple, or Acer rubrum, has “v” shaped sinuses.
Maple Leaf
Sugar maple, Acer saccharum, has “u” shaped sinuses and platey bark. It’s tapped to produce delicious maple syrup.
The silver maple, Acer saccharinum, leaf has 5 lobes that are usually more deeply cut. The underside is also silver, giving it its name. (3)

The yellow popular tulip tree, Liriodendron genus, is a food source for weevils. (4)
Yellow poplar weevils (5)

Sycamore leafs have 3 lobes. (6)
Sycamore Leaves
Sycamore, or Platanus occidentalis
The sycamore has distinctive white bark. (7)

Detail Of Beech Leaves
Beech tree, or Fagus genus. Leaves are alternately arranged, and the margin is entire or sparsely toothed.
Colorful Beech Leaves
Beech tree, or Fagus genus
beec
One of the few trees to have smooth bark its whole life.

Beech (Fagus spp.) and oak (Quercus spp.) leaves have high acidity levels that work well with acid-loving plants.


The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is an extremely harmful insect to the Eastern Hemlock Trees. Photo courtesy Mark C. Whitmore
Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. Robert H. Mohlenbrock (USDA)

A honey locust and its leaves
Honey locust, Gleditsia genus, is used a lot in parking lot landscapes. (8)
These trees have crazy, 5 inch long thorns! (This poor raccoon fell on one.) However, landscape cultivars are thorn-less. (9)
Honey locusts and black locusts are commonly confused, even though they are from different genus’. They are both legumes! (10)
Both honey and black locusts produce seed pods. Honey seed pods are fed to livestock for their sedative properties… However, black locust seed pods are poisonous.

Our tour guide claimed sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum, leaves taste like apple… I didn’t agree. (11)
Beautiful sourwood! (12)

Yellow Birch Bark
Birch, Betula genus.
Birch, alternate pinnate leaves. (13)
https://i0.wp.com/ouroneacrefarm.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Yellow-birch-extract.jpg
Wintergreen oil can be extracted from birch, especially sweet birch and yellow birch. (14)

Did I leave anything out? Let me know!

I would love to hear from you!

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaf_shape#/media/File:Leaf_morphology.svg
  2. http://www.wikihow.com/Identify-Oak-Leaves
  3. http://www.untamedscience.com/biodiversity/silver-maple/
  4. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/forestry/iowa_trees/trees/yellow_poplar.html
  5. http://wvpublic.org/post/year-weevil
  6. http://www.2020site.org/trees/sycamore.html
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platanus_occidentalis
  8. https://sites.psu.edu/growingplants/2014/04/20/honey-locust-propagation/
  9. https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynfitzgerald/3803670414
  10. http://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/129-weekly-photo-challenges/220495-weekly-challenge-239-nature-does-have-its-casualties.html
  11. http://www.carolinanature.com/trees/oxar.html
  12. http://portlandnursery.com/plants/trees/oxydendrum.shtml
  13. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Silver_birch_leaves.jpg
  14. http://ouroneacrefarm.com/wintergreen-extract-birch/
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