Ready to start identifying local trees?
During the winter months deciduous (lose foliage) trees and shrubs are without leaf, so identification becomes more difficult. Thankfully, there are plenty of helpful resources available.
Tree and shrub identification is best made with twig and bark information. I’ve recently learned how to do this and though it can be tough at times (esp. when you have poor eyesight) it’s an adventure trying to narrow down the mystery of individual species.
Kind of reminds me of one of the whodunit games, with each clue narrowing the options down until only one remains.
If you are working with an online twig key, you’ll need to collect the information (take samples, photos, etc.)
Get the best samples available, without pest damage if possible. Use a pair of clippers to cut the twig from the branch and take bark samples from upper and lower trunk areas if they appear different.
Keep the samples of each specimen separate from other specimen you are sampling and label (“sample #”). Also take photos of each tree you’re sampling—you’ll find this extra piece of evidence handy later on.
Once you get back inside and are ready to identify your specimen, lay all the samples from one container in front of you. At this point a magnifying glass may be needed to see the bundle scars located inside the leaf scars.
Make notes on each aspect of the twig. Are the leaf scars opposite or alternate? What shape are they? Do they have bundle scars? Is there a bud at the tip? (called a terminal bud) and are the scales clam-like (two clasping) or one scale enveloping the whole bud? Is the bud pubescent (fuzzy) or glabrous (bald)?
When using the identification key you’ll need to know as much as possible about your twig for accurate identification.
Take your time and have fun with it. When you have the identification narrowed to one or two choices compare the photos you took to photos online.
Deciduous keys for identification of trees and shrubs.
Josh Sayer’s Portrait of the Earth site offers winter identification help with a species list, lots of photos and other miscellaneous info. This is one of the best individual sites I’ve seen on tree and shrub identification.
Virginia Tech Dendrology Department offers an excellent deciduous plant key and twig/species information. Once you have your specimen narrowed down, there is an option to look through the possibilities with data sheets available for each species.
The Burke Museum of Natural History also has an identification key, but you must have as much information as possible available to fill out the key. It’s not the best for winter identification, because it does ask for leaf information. If your species is in their database, it’ll suffice.