How to Identify Trees

Tree Identification Guide: Guest Post

It’s easy to go through life with what our third-grade teacher taught us about trees. What we ‘half remember’ is enough for us to happily relegate trees to the background of everywhere we go and everything we do.

It isn’t until something – or someone – gets us to look at a specific tree, or knowingly spouts the name of a tree because of its leaf shape, that we take a closer look and start to marvel at the diversity of shapes, leaves, branching or barks. Then we want to know more.

 

So, if we’re going to start learning to identify the trees around us, what comes first?

FIRST, WHAT EXACTLY IS A TREE?

Sounds obvious, but officially it’s a woody plant with a single vertical trunk that measures a minimum of 3 inches in “Diameter at Breast Height” (DBH).

 

WHAT IS NOT A TREE?

shrub or bush, on the other hand, is a woody plant that grows low and has multiple stems. No trunk.

vine, also a woody plant, cannot stand on its own but needs to support itself on something. Again, no trunk.

And a palm is not woody.

 

 

SPECIES? WHAT IS A TREE SPECIES?

It’s “an individual kind of tree that shares the same general appearance and the same characteristics of bark, leaf, flower, and seed.”

Nearly 1,200 species of trees grow naturally in the U.S. To that we can add all the trees that people have brought here from elsewhere and planted where conditions are similar enough for the trees to thrive.

(That accounts for hundreds of more species of ‘naturalized exotics.’) All told, worldwide we have about 50,000 species. With that many species, we’d better have a good way to name them.

 

 

 

HOW DO WE NAME TREES?

We refer to trees by a double name, made up of their genus and species. A species is the most specific level of classifying living things. A genus brings together a group of closely related species.

 

 

To continue reading this article about tree identification, please visit the Tree Musketeers website! 

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