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Using Alternate Tree Leaf and Twig Arrangement for Winter Tree Identification

How to Recognize and Name Trees Without Leaves


Parts of a Tree

Parts of a Tree

Trees With Alternate Twig and Leaf Structure!

Here are the important tree markers to look for in alternate ranked species with photo examples from Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs site:

Hickory (Carya spp.) -

  • Tan, 5-sided or angled pith.
  • Variable bark not helpful except for loose, flaky shagbark hickory.
  • Nuts and husks under tree.
  • Stout twigs with large terminal bud.
  • Large heart-shaped to 3-lobed leaf scar.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - Pignut Hickory Example
    ...The Common Hickories

    Black Walnut (Juglans spp.) -

  • Bark is furrowed and dark in black walnut (lighter in butternut).
  • Leaf scars like upside down shamrock with 5 or 7 bundle scars.
  • Walnuts and husks under tree.
  • Chambered pith.
  • Globose nut.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - Black Walnut Example
    ...Black Walnut

    Oak (Quercus spp.) -

  • 5-sided pith.
  • Variable bark not very helpful.
  • Clustered buds at tip of twig.
  • Persistent leaves on live and water oak.
  • Slightly raised, semi-circular leaf scars.
  • Numerous bundle scars.
  • Acorns persistent on twigs or dropped under the tree.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - Red Oak Example
    ...The Common Oaks

    Yellow Poplar (Lireodendron tulipifera.) -

  • "Duck bill" or "mitten" looking buds.
  • Large stipule scars encircling the twig.
  • Cone-like aggregate of samaras.
  • Buds "fuzzy".
  • Unique "inverted V" on limb to trunk connection.
  • Gray-green bark with light furrows.
  • Pith often divided by partitions of stone cells.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - Yellow Poplar Example
    ...Yellow Poplar

    Birch (Betula Spp.) -

  • Often confused with beech, hophornbeam and ironwood.
  • Has short scaled buds (vs. long scaled buds on beech).
  • Mostly smooth bark but peeling in papery layers.
  • Male and female parts on same tree (male long catkins, female short cones).
  • Yellow birch has wintergreen tasting twig.
  • River birch has salmon colored exfoliating bark.
  • Paper (canoe) birch has creamy white thin bark separating into papery strips.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - Paper Birch Example
    ...Common Birch

    Beech (Fagus Spp.) -

  • Often confused with birch, hophornbeam and ironwood.
  • Has long narrow scaled buds (vs. short scaled buds on birch).
  • Has grey, smooth bark and often called the "initial tree".
  • Has no catkins.
  • Often root suckers surround old trees.
  • Has spiny-husked nuts.
  • "Human-like" looking roots on older trees.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - American Beech Example
    ...American Beech

    Elm (Ulmus Spp.) -

  • Has brown irregular bark that is tinged with red.
  • Has zig-zag twigs.
  • Bark acts like cork when pressed with finger nail (bounces back).
  • Buds off center over the leaf scar.
  • Favorite Baltimore oriole nesting tree.
  • Bundle scars in three clusters.
  • Terminal bud is absent.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - American Elm Example
    ...The Common Elms

    Cherry (Prunus Spp.) -

  • Has narrow corky and light, horizontal lenticels on young bark.
  • Bark breaks into dark plates and raised edges on older wood described as "burnt cornflakes".
  • Twig has "bitter almond" taste.
  • Bark is dark gey but both smooth and scaly with reddish-brown inner bark.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - Black Cherry Example
    ...Common Cherry

    Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua.) -

  • Corky outgrowth on twig bark.
  • Spiny "gumballs" on long stalk.
  • Green/orange-brown shiny bud scales.
  • Terminal bud sticky.

  • ...Sweetgum

    Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis.) -

  • Zig-zag stout twigs.
  • Mottled "camouflage" exfoliating (peeling) bark (green, white, tan).
  • Spherical multiple achenes with long stalks (fruit balls).
  • leaf scar nearly surrounds the bud.
  • Numerous raised bundle scars.
  • Buds are large and cone-shaped.

  • ...Josh Sayer's Winter Trees and Shrubs - Sycamore Example

    Back to Guide to Winter Tree Identification

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