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Identifying Trees

Identifying trees might be your hobby or a part of the curriculum for botany students. Scroll down to learn about different ways to identify trees.
Mother Nature has bestowed upon us multitude of trees and plant species. Trees come in different shapes, sizes and textures. What would you do if you are asked to submit an assignment that requires knowledge about various trees. You would certainly be interested in learning how to identify trees, shrubs and bushes. So, buy a good field guide that provides an in-depth knowledge about identifying trees that grow in your region. A field guide would give you ample information on various aspects involved in the identification of various plants and trees. You could differentiate between different kinds of trees and shrubs by looking at their leaves, twigs, fruits, flowers and bark.

Now, let's focus on the tree type and find out whether it is a coniferous or deciduous tree.

Identifying Coniferous and Deciduous Trees
Conifers belong to the coniferales order, their needle-like appearance and cones make it easy to identify them. Most of the conifers are evergreen and shed their scaly or needle-like foliage every year. Every season sees a renewal of their leaves. These can be categorized under conifer, evergreen and softwood. Evergreen as the name suggests have foliage throughout the season. Softwood trees are evergreen in nature and bear cones. Examples of softwood are spruce, cedar, fir and pine.

Deciduous trees, on the other hand, can be identified by their leaves. Trees like maples and lilacs have simple leaves on the twig that are faced opposite to each other. Examples of simple leaves located alternately on the twig are birch, willows and poplars. Some deciduous trees like ash and buckeye have compound leaves located on the opposite sides of the wig, while others like locusts and walnut have compound leaves located alternately on the twig.

Identify Trees by their Leaves
It is difficult to identify the trees by their leaves as this would require one to have knowledge of so many types of leaves. You could at least identify some trees that have distinctive leaves. When it comes to some trees, just a look at their leaves will clear any doubts about their identity. That could be the case with pine trees. The needle-like appearance makes it easily identifiable. Leaves could be broadly classified into simple and compound leaves. Have you seen a maple tree? You would have observed that maple, beech, oak and several other trees have one leaflet on one stem. These are simple leaves. Compound leaves have a feathery appearance. The difference lies in the fact that several leaflets are attached on a long leaf stem. These might be categorized into pinnate and palmate. Pinnate is the term used for trees with feather-like leaves. Palmate, as the word suggests, resembles the shape of our palm. Palmate has many leaflets growing from the tip of the stem.

Leaves could be identified by their different shapes. Leaves could be smooth, toothed or lobed. You could also take a look at the intricate details. There might be different kind of patterns. You could see whether they pair up at the same level along the opposite sides of the stem. The different types of toothed or lobed leaves could be marked out by the shape or size of their teeth and lobes respectively. You could check out the texture or the fragrance associated with the leaves. A great example is the cedar which can be recognized with the unique scent that the wood gives out.

Identify Trees by Bark
Trees could also be identified by their bark. So, are you ready to explore your power of touch! Touch the bark of the tree and try to feel the texture of the bark. It could be uniform, spiny, flaky, smooth or ridged. This method could be useful in case of trees that have reached their age of maturity. You could experience different patterns when you touch the tree's bark. The color of the bark can also be a parameter in identification of trees. For instance, if you try to peel the bark of the silver birch, it breaks down into small strips in the horizontal direction. When you attempt to peel the bark of paper birch, it comes off as large strips, and exposes its pinkish-orange layers underneath. You will experience how different kinds of bark peel off in different shaped strips. Some tree trunks are unique in their appearance, thus, they can be identified easily. Examples of such trees are honey locust and hercules-club tree.

Identify Trees by Fruits
Studying the fruits of a tree is another way to identify a tree. Oak trees produce acorns. So, if you know how an acorn looks, you could easily identify an oak tree. Fruits can be categorized into many types: berries, bacate, pepo, hesperidium, drupe and pome are just a few categories. We all know what berries look like. Fleshy pericarp forms a part of it. This is the fruit's ovary wall, which softens when the fruit ripens. Bacate include fruits like banana and avocado. Watermelons, pumpkin and other fruits in the gourd family can be identified with their hard and thick rinds. Citrus fruits like orange and lemon are categorized under hesperidium. Drupes include mangoes, almonds and coconuts. These fruits have seeds with a hard layer of coating around it. Pome includes fruits like pear and apple. The fruit's core is coated by an edible tissue called hypanthium. You could also identify trees by their nuts. Hickory trees could be identified by their flowers or nuts.

The task of identification of trees would be easier if you learn about the various parts of a tree. Identify its leaves, fruits, bark and the way it grows. So look into your field guide and start enriching your knowledge about trees. It is time to go green!
By Smita Pandit
Last Updated: 9/21/2011
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