The inaugural gathering of the ID Club. Looking at the finer points of our winter trees.
On a snowy, windy, and cold January day the ID club met for the first time as we set our noses fiercely against the wind and talked lenticels, stomata, fascicles, bundle trace scars, and so much more. This month we tuned our senses to a finer study of our quiet, dormant winter neighbors, the trees.
Identification of trees in winter can initially seem like a daunting task, but by lumping trees into clumps using a few easy to spot features we can quickly take the 75 or so species of Vermont trees and arrive at just a handful of groups. Here’s a quick guide on how to begin looking at trees.
- Our first lumping separates out the conifers from the deciduous trees. Now we’ve got 2 groups: the conifers with about 15 species and the rest of those barren sticks in the other group.
- Conifers can be lumped by their leaves. Some have needles in bunches, or fascicles (the pines), others have single needles that come off the twig individually (spruce, fir, hemlock, yew), and some have needles that are scales or awl-shaped needles covering the branch (white cedars and junipers). Easy as pie!
- Deciduous trees have branches that come of the stem in pairs (opposite) or zig zagging up the stem (alternate).
- Opposite branched trees are a small group that can be remembered by the mnemonic: MAD Capped Bucking Horse (Maple, Ash Dogwood, the family of Caprifoliaceae, which includes, honeysuckles, viburnums, elderberries), Buckthorns and Buckeyes, and Horsechestnuts)
- Alternate branched trees is a big group and we can further separate out this group by looking at pith, scales on the buds, fuzziness of the stems, scent of twigs when scratched, etc
So now instead of 75 trees, you’ve can break down the forest into 6 different groups of trees. From there you can choose all sorts of different features to look at to split the lumps into smaller and smaller sub-lumps. And it definitely gets a lot easier to see variation when looking at a small group rather than when we trying to see variation by looking at the whole of the tree community. For more on the ID Club, check our website. For more on tree ID, check out Teage’s Phyllotaxy Blog.