Connecting People with Nature

Winter Tree Identification

Part 3-Trees with an "Alternate" Branching Pattern

Winter Tree Identification Part 1
Winter Tree Identification Part 2, Trees with an Opposite Branching Pattern
How to tell common trees by their bark

Alternate Trees

Oaks (Quercus spp.) Bark differs between the oaks. In general, white oak has light colored bark that looks as if someone has rubbed patches off the tree near the bottom. Red oaks have tight bark with dark furrows running along the trunk, like someone painted a gray tree black, then ran their giant fingers down the trunk through the wet paint, revealing the lighter gray in some areas. Twigs are somewhat slender, often having buds clustered at the ends. Buds are protected by many scales arranged in ranks of 5 scales. The semi-circular leaf scars are slightly raised and contain numerous scattered bundle scars. Acorns on the ground or their caps hanging in the tree may be a good clue that you have an oak. There are more than 10 species of native oaks in Northeast Ohio, and there appears to be some degree of hybridization between them.

Hickories (Carya spp.) have variable bark. Some species have a tight, light gray bark with cracks developing over time. Most familiar is the shagbark hickory, which has loose flaking bark which forms long loose-ended strips, giving the tree the rather shaggy appearance the name memorializes. The tree has stout tough twigs, and large terminal buds, generally much larger than the lateral buds. Buds are protected by one or more large scales, or are naked, depending on the species. Leaf scars are generally pale in color and shaped like a shield with 3 or 4 groups of bundle scars. Stipule scars are absent. 6 or more species are native to Northeast Ohio.

Elms (Ulmus spp.) have bark which forms shallow furrows and appears rough. If you press your thumbnail into the bark slightly, it will bounce back fairly quickly, having a cork-like quality. All buds are similar in size, the terminal bud being absent. 6 scales arranged in 2 ranks protect the buds. Leaf scars are crescent shaped and arranged in two ranks on the twigs. Bundle scars are in three clusters. The buds do not generally sit at the center of the leaf scars, but rather are offset, resulting in unequal length stipule scars. The arrangement of leaf scars and buds is two-ranked, which gives a slight zigzagged nature to the twigs. At least 4 species of native elms are found in Northeast Ohio.

Cherries (Prunus spp.) have smooth dark bark spotted with lenticels on young trees and twigs of older trees. On wild black cherry, the bark becomes rough and flakes off in large round sections as the tree gets older. The twigs are fine, having terminal and lateral buds roughly similar in size. The buds are protected by 4 or more scales. Slightly raised, leaf scars are small half circles or half ovals with three bundle scars. Stipule scars or stipules are present. At least three species are native to Northeast Ohio.

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) has smooth gray bark that in public areas is usually defaced due to the smooth nature of the bark which must appear as a blank canvas to the thoughtless folks who carve their initials in them. The beech has slender brown twigs with long buds, nearly an inch long. The buds protrude at an angle from the twigs and are protected by 8 or more scales. The buds resemble scaly needles and are fairly difficult to confuse with any other tree of our forests.

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is the tree that has a vibrant white trunk high in the air, while the lower trunk has a rough bark which peels away in layers as it ascends, exposing shades of green and brown before uncovering the white surface below these peeling layers. The buds are large and cone shaped, protected by a lone scale. The leaf scar completely surrounds the bud and is elevated to a small degree. The fruit is a small ball which often stays attached in winter.

Walnuts (Juglans spp.) The bark is furrowed and dark in black walnuts (Juglans nigra), while the butternut(Juglans cinerea) has lighter colored ridges which make a distinct crossing pattern on the dark bark. These trees have thick, stout branches. The buds are small and oval or roundish, protected by 4 or five scales. The leaf scars are shaped like an upside down shamrock with 5 or seven bundle scars. In the butternut, the leaf scar top is straight across and topped with a brown downy pad. In the black walnut, the leaf scar has an indentation at the top so that the bud sits down in the scar, nestled between two lobes of the scar. The downy pad is absent in the black walnut.

Winter Tree Identification Part 1
Winter Tree Identification Part 2, Trees with an Opposite Branching Pattern
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