Fall Tree Identification Walk 

Gina Pannunzio

Written for The Egret – Volume 34 – Issue 4 – December 2018

Thanks to the Friends of Ojibway Prairie, those who attended the tree identification hike on November 17 got a lesson on basic tree identification for common trees growing in the Carolinian woods. Leaves definitely makes tree identification easier, especially in the spring and fall when they are fresh or showing off their vibrant colours. Of course, this time of year, there is no guarantee there will be leaves hanging on. FOOP put everyone up to the challenge of identifying quite a few trees by looking at bud/leaf arrangements and bark patterns, as most of the leaves were already part of the forest floor during the walk. Here’s some tips they shared:

What is the leaf and twig arrangement? 

  • Trees with alternate leaf arrangements have one leaf at each leaf node and usually alternate their direction along the stem. Alternate leaf arrangement trees can include Tulip Trees, Black Walnut, Shagbark Hickory, Kentucky Coffee, American Sycamore and many more.
  • Trees with opposite leaf arrangements have a pair of leaves at each node. There are only a few common tree families in this category. Commit this easy acronym to memory to help you on your next hike when you’re trying to decide what type of tree is in front of you: MADCap Horse, which includes: Maples, Ash, Dogwood, Honeysuckle/Viburnum (aka. Caprifoliaceae) and Horse Chestnut/Buckeyes. Of course there are always some exceptions, so keeping a field guide handy helps when you’re out on your tree walks.

Can the Twig Help with Identification? 

  • Buds and lead scars are different for each type of tree. Look up close and consider the shape, size, colour and scales on the bud! Black Walnut trees have a monkey face shape for their bud scar. Ash trees have a Hershey kiss shaped deposit at the end of the twig.

Check out the Bark!

For those extra tall trees that you can’t check the twigs, leaves and buds in the fall, the bark is another way to identify what is in front of you. Here’s some fun descriptions for trees we discovered on our walk in the woods:

  • American Beech bark is very smooth and is a light grey/blue colour.
  • Shagbark Hickory is very shaggy and looks like it is peeling off the tree.
  • Mature Black Walnut bark is thick, dark in colour, rigid and ropey.
  • Hackberry bark is knobby, and warty with lots of ridges. Very unique and distinguished.
  • American Sycamore bark peels in different layers and colours.
  • Black Cherry bark looks like burnt cornflakes on young and mature trees.
  • White Oak bark has long grey narrow pale grey scales.
  • Mature Pin Oak bark has low/flat scaly ridges with shallow fissures. Often lower limbs are pointed downwards and are deadwood.
  • Mature White Ash bark has intersecting ridges in a diamond pattern.
  • Eastern Cottonwood bark when young are smooth, yellowish-gray and mature bark is deeply furrowed.
  • Mature Red Oak has long flat pale grey ridges that run vertically along the trunk.
  • Mature Black Oak bark is dark almost black in colour and is deeply furrowed, with vertical ridges that are broken into square segments horizontally.
  • Young Basswood bark is thin, smooth and is light green/brown. When mature, thin long ridges form and often have rows of holes going through the bark. This is due to the Yellow-bellied sapsucker tapping the bark to drink the sap.
  • Silver Maple is smooth and grey when young and becomes dark red/brown with long and thin narrow flakes, which gives the bark a shaggy appearance.

Additional hints can be provided by leaves and fruits found on the ground nearby the tree too, so keep your eyes peeled. Tree identification is so much fun and is a good way to get to know the different native species here. Thank you to FOOP for sharing this knowledge, and enjoy all of the woodland winter walks coming up over the next few months!

Fall Tree Identification Walk Photos

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