Winter Tree ID – Part 2 – Deciduous Trees

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As looked out the window on Monday morning, on January 24th, 2022, after an additional 8 inches of snow that fell Sunday in addition to the 30 inches from last week, I began thinking about items of interest to the avid gardener and thought, “Why not consider tree id in the middle of winter?”


This week we will look at deciduous tree identification. Deciduous or woody ornamentals can present a greater challenge, since they lose their leaves or needles in the fall. The key is to look beyond just the buds!






Consider leaves on (or under) the trees,






bud arrangement,






bud shape and size,


bud shape




bark color/texture,


bark sycamore




fruit on the tree or on the ground.


crab fruit




 and leaf scar.







Use ALL your information available.


If you commit to embracing tree identification as a four-season activity, observing the tree in spring, winter, summer, and fall (even going as far as to label it), you can become proficient at tree identification. Arboretums are a great place to study trees since many plants are labeled. In addition, you are encouraged to create a site map of the trees in your home landscape and documenting as you install new ones.


Starting with deciduous trees, I’m reminded something I teach my Environthon students – MAD – BUCK. When looking at bud arrangement, trees with lateral buds opposite of each other include




maple 1

norway budss





ash buds







cornus mas




and Buckeye.


buckeye buds



In an effort to not get too far into the woods (weeds) not pun intended, I will just share one or several examples of some Genus, but not all species within the Genus.



Starting with maples, three common ones are Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum,



sugar budds




Red Maple, Acer rubrum,


red maple

red buds




and Norway Maple, Acer platanoides.


norway maple

norway buds small



All these maples have opposite buds.


Ash trees which are in decline due to Emerald Ash Borer,







includes Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica, have opposite buds as well on the lateral branches.

ash tree

green ash




Common dogwoods in the landscape include Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, that has flower buds resembling small onion bulbs,


flowering dogwood





Cornelian cherry dogwood, Cornus mas,


c mas





and Kousa Chinese dogwood, Cornus kousa chinensis, 


kousa buds

kousa tree



with its destictive bark.


kousa bark




Finally, Buckeyes include Yellow Buckeye, Aesculus flava,







Ohio Buckeye, Aesculus glabra,

glabra tree






and Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia.

pavia tree






All buckeyes have opposite leaf arrangement on the lateral branches.



There are 2 common deciduous narrowleaf trees.


One has an alternate leaf arrangement, Bald cypress, Taxodium disticum, 


tax 1






and one with opposite leaf arrangement, Dawn RedwoodMetasequoia glyptostroboides.








Alternate leaf arrangement trees include Oaks, Sycamore, Tulip tree, Beech, Crabapple, Hawthorn, Walnut, Poplar, Sweetgum, Hickory, Redbud, Cottonwood, and Linden. There are MANY others, but I will attempt to give you an example of each that I have listed.



Common Oaks include Red Oak, Quercus rubra,







White Oak, Quercus alba,






and Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa.







Bur Oak has very distinctive bark which is corky.


bur bark





All have acorns which can be found underneath trees in the fall and into winter as long as there is no snow, and the squirrels haven't eaten them!.


Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, can have distinct white patches on the trunk as they age.







Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, can have a dried fruits that looks like a tulip flower.






Beech, Fagus grandiflora,


beech buds

beech forest



can have very distinct smooth bark when old.


beech bark

beech tree




Crabapple, Malus species, can retain its fruit through the winter.


crab fruit 2





Hawthorn, Crataegus species, can have thorns, hence their name.







Walnut, Juglans nigra, produces walnuts that can be found on the ground in fall and into winter.







Cottonwood, Populus deltoids, is a common native tree.






Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, has a persistent, spiny fruit that hangs on the tree through winter.


sweetgum fruit

and the stems can take on a corky texture.

liquid stem





Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, has shaggy bark.






Redbud, Cercis canadensis, grows as an understory tree in the forest and is common in the landscape.


cercis fruit






Little leaf Linden, Tilia cordata, is a common small tree found in the landscape.



tilia buds




I know I did not talk about ALL DECIDUOUS Trees. Sorry if I missed your favorite!



So put on your boots, zip up your coat, put on you hat and gloves and get out and look at deciduous trees!