"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Identify Trees

View up the trunk of a Tulip Tree.
Do you think trees are beautiful but feel clueless about how to tell them all apart? Maybe you didn't grow up in a "naturey" family or maybe you learned a few by osmosis in childhood (maple, oak, birch...etc.) but feel unimpressive at that level and stumped about going further. Maybe you're a homeschooling mama like me who wants to teach her kids the names of the trees she doesn't even know. Don't despair! You can do it!

American Beech meets the ground.

I am always teaching my little boys about how to identify trees. I think A gets a little annoyed sometimes by my, "Hold on! Look boys...what's this?" bunny trails when we're hiking or walking the neighborhood or on our way from the house to the car. The man deserves credit though....he keeps his mouth shut and lets me keep on with my perpetual, nature pop quiz.
Underside of a fallen White Oak leaf.

I love trees. Who doesn't really?!?  They feel important and warmly beautiful and they demand our attention.  Learning their names is a good way to feel like you're genuine friends. I often have people watch me identify a tree and then sigh and shake their heads, "That's amazing." they say... "I could never do that."

Truth is, they could. And so can you. Here are five steps. 

1. The best way to start is to pick one specific tree to learn. Choose a tree you have on your property or in your neighborhood, something you see all the time will jog your memory, give you more practice and help your new knowledge stick. I think the best way to learn a new tree when you're starting from scratch is to ask someone you know who knows about nature. Either have them pick one tree and show it to you or show them a tree you've selected. Its not cheating to have someone tell you the answer....its learning. That's how you start when you don't know anything yet! Use your network with no shame.
American beech leaves, all bronze after the frost.
2. Once you have the name of the tree...google like crazy! I use the internet all the time now for plant i.d. There is all kinds of information out there now and its all just waiting for you to use it! Type the name of the tree you found into Google and read about your tree. Type: "tips for identifying ___________" and fill in the blank with your tree's name. Read about the special things unique to that tree. Write down the list if you wanna be really comprehensive, if you're feeling fast and loose, try to remember one or two of the things you read. Some of the sciencey words used to describe the tree parts might be off-putting and unfamiliar...don't be cowed...google those too!

Nib sniffing leaves he found on a hike.
3. The next time you see "your tree" again stop for a minute and look at it for the special characteristics that you read about. Notice anything else you missed before. Look at the tree like its a person. Pretend you're a kid...generally fool around: notice how it feels and how it smells and what its shape is like. Smush up a leaf and notice the sap and the scent of the smashed greenery. Snap off a twig and put it in your pocket to look at later. Kick around under the tree and see if you can find any seed pods from it to bring home. If you think of it, take pictures.
Fallen, autumn Ginko biloba leaves.

4. Teach someone else about your tree. This is where kids are fabulously helpful. If you don't have kids...teach your grandchildren or a neighbor boy or a kid at the bus stop. Teaching other people passes on the knowledge that we have (very few people know how to identify a tree...most people will be impressed and will want to know what you tell them) and it is also the very best way to cement your own knowledge in your mind.
Tulip Tree seed pod.

5. Do it again! The more times you learn a new tree and go read about it the more technical, descriptive words for tree parts you will absorb and eventually you will be able to find a tree in the woods, type the characteristics into Google (deciduous, opposite leaves, glaucus buds, palmate leaf shape) and you'll have figured out the answer to a puzzle on your own! Its a tremendous feeling. Until then, remember:

  • Practice makes perfect.
  • There's no shame in making mistakes....its how we learn.
  • Celebrate every victory! 

 Go be a nature genius! You've got it in you.


No comments:

Post a Comment