Winter Tree Identification – Deciduous Trees (Part 2)

450px-Bare_TreeLast week we began a 2 part series about identifying trees in the winter and gave some tips on how to spot different types of conifers (trees that are still green in the winter). This week, we will focus on deciduous trees and what traits can help identify a tree, even with no leaves. Leaves are by far the easiest way to identify trees, but unlike their evergreen cousins, deciduous trees have long since shed their foliage by the time winter rolls around. In order to identify deciduous trees during the winter months it requires a little detective work. Fortunately, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to begin sorting them out, you just have to know where to look.

What to Look For: Identifying Deciduous Trees in the Winter

  1. Tree Litter – Possibly one of the easiest way to identify trees in the winter is to look down. Often, there will be leftover leaves and fruit from the autumn shedding. A quick look to see the shape of the decomposing leaves might quickly tell you the type of tree that left it. This can be more challenging if the area is cleaned regularly or there are several types of trees nearby whose leaves are mixed in.
  2. Twigs and Buds – Twig markings and leaf scars tell you how the leaves grow and offer clues as to the type of tree they belong to. Also the color, shape and arrangement of buds vary between species. While it’s unlikely that most people will commit to remembering all of the variations, tree twig keys are readily available both in book form and online.
  3. Bark – Though the bark of a tree changes over time and the bark of same species can vary depending climate or growing conditions, it is a decent way to determine what type of tree you may be looking at. Every species of tree has different colors, patterns, and textures that help differentiate them from each other. A field guide is a handy tool when identifying trees by their bark.

Identifying trees in the winter doesn’t have to be a huge challenge. With this little bit of guidance and a little investigation anyone can become quite skilled at tree identification. A fantastic online resource to aid in your search is the OSU Extension Office Dichotomous Key that can help sort out the many different trees common to our area in the Pacific Northwest.

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