Tree Identification in Winter | Triangle Gardener Journal

4 minutes, 34 seconds Read

Having the ability to distinguish completely different sorts of timber is a vital talent gardeners ought to develop. Figuring out a species’ identification might help reveal extra about its roles in an ecosystem. In a horticultural context, diagnosing issues and making administration selections begins with right species identification.

For extra frequent vegetation, you in all probability establish a lot of them by evaluating a specimen to a psychological picture, typically with some mixture of leaf form and/or flower kind. With sufficient validated observations, this may be an efficient methodology, particularly on the genus degree. Distinguishing amongst species inside a genus, nevertheless, could require a extra discerning eye, because the variations amongst species might be fairly refined. In floras and keys, botanists use many exact descriptors of plant morphology, reminiscent of leaf form, leaf association, leaf margins, and the quantity and form of flower constructions.

However what occurs while you wish to establish a deciduous tree or shrub in winter when leaves have dropped off and flowers or fruits will not be current? To not fear – botanists have described morphological options current on dormant, woody timber, and shrubs, too. With a very good dichotomous key and a hand lens, the comparatively slim set of phrases could make identification a simple and enjoyable method to respect nature in winter. Let’s discover a few of these diagnostic characters and a few helpful instruments to help in winter tree identification.

Leaf Scars

Fig. 1-Leaf scar / A. Krings-NC State

When deciduous species shed their leaves in autumn, a leaf scar is left on the twig on the level of abscission. The association of leaves on the stem displays the association of leaf scars. Leaf scars can due to this fact be organized in an alternating sample (with one leaf scar per node), reverse each other (two per node – Fig. 1), or in a whorled sample (three or extra per node). The form of leaf scars can be value noting. Some have raised edges, whereas others may seem sunken into the stem.


Fig-2 – Coronary heart formed bud in leaf scar / A. Krings-NC State

The leaf scars of American Ash (Fraxinus americana) are heart-shaped, with the buds in notches on the prime of the leaf scars (Fig. 2).

Vascular Bundle Scars

Vegetation transport meals and water in vessels of tissue (phloem and xylem) grouped collectively as vascular bundles. On leaves, these seem as veins, often converging on the midrib and into the petiole, connecting to different vessels within the stem. After leaf abscission, the scars of the vascular bundles (additionally known as bundle traces) are seen throughout the leaf scar.


Fig. 3 – Bundle scar / A. Krings-NC State

The quantity, association, and form of bundle scars is one other important attribute of many winter twig keys. Some are flattened or crescent formed, whereas others are spherical and in teams (Figs. 1 and three).

Bud Place and Bud Scales

Most buds happen alongside the size of the stem, simply above leaf scars, and are known as axillary buds (Figs. 1-4). Terminal buds happen on the tips of branches (Fig 4). Pseudoterminal buds look like on the tips of branches however are subtended by a leaf scar.


Fig. 4 – Bud / A. Krings-NC State

Buds are sometimes lined by constructions known as bud scales that shield tissues hid beneath. Within the spring, the scales are shed as the brand new stem or flower emerges. One cone formed bud scale is described as single or capitate, whereas two bud scales that don’t overlap and open like a clamshell are described as valvate. A number of, overlapping bud scales are termed imbricate. Some species have bare buds, missing bud scales altogether (Fig. 4).


The inside tissue of twigs is known as pith. Utilizing a pointy knife, a cross-sectional minimize can reveal the pith to be terete (rounded) or angled (lobed). A lengthwise minimize is required to find out if the pith is homogenous (stuffed and undifferentiated), excavated (hole), diaphragmed (homogenous with horizontal partitions of tissue), or chambered (hole with horizontal partitions of tissue, Fig 5).

Different Traits

Winter twig keys may additionally use the presence or absence of characters reminiscent of minute hairs, a conspicuous scent when twigs are minimize, and armament (thorns, spines, or prickles). Figuring out the expansion behavior (tree or shrub) and the habitat may additionally be essential. The bark is mostly not used when figuring out timber with a dichotomous key as a result of the looks of bark might be exhausting to explain and will change with tree age.

Utilizing Dichotomous Keys and Hand Lenses

Biologists use keys to systematically establish organisms. Dichotomous keys evaluate two units of contrasting morphological characters in a couplet. A lead is chosen primarily based on what is obvious within the specimen, and that lead tells you which of them couplet to proceed to subsequent. This course of is repeated till the ultimate lead signifies a species. Dr. Alexander Krings of the NC State College Herbarium has developed a free, on-line key to timber in winter ( One other nice useful resource is Woody Vegetation of the Southeastern United States: A Winter Information (Ron Lance, UGA Press).

A 7-10x hand lens is an important instrument for plant identification. These magnifying loupes have a really brief focal size, so that they should be held near the attention and intently to the specimen to work correctly (Fig 6).

Contact me to be notified of future winter tree identification workshops on the Chatham County Heart.

Matt Jones is the Horticulture Extension Agent on the NC Cooperative Extension Chatham County Heart.


Sign up to receive your exclusive updates on our latest Tips & offers!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Similar Posts