I was very excited to have the opportunity to take a winter tree identification class. I attended a great University of Maryland Extension (UME) Master Gardener Advanced Training course with UME native plant specialist Sara Tangren last week. I assumed we’d be looking at bark. The classroom at the Extension in Westminster was filled with tree twigs… not bark.
I never took the time to really notice the details of a twig. The opposite leaf pairs on the stem are opposite side to side, then front to back. I never paid attention to that simple pattern. I recognized new stem growth and last years’ growth, terminal buds, leaf scars, vein scars, lenticels, etc.
Maple twig buds and leaf scars are opposite. A trick to remember trees that have opposite leaves is “MAD Horse Buck” – Maple – Ash – Dogwood – Horse Chestnut – Buckeye!
Enlarge this photo to see the details of a maple leaf bud, leaf scar, and vein scars. The lighter spots on the shiny bark are lenticels. Lenticels are small pores that serve as breathing holes to allow oxygen to enter the living cells of the bark.
The walnut leaf scar looks like a heart. Inside the heart you can see the vein scars, and above the heart is the leaf bud.
This close up of an oak tree twig shows a STAR pattern in the pith.
Sara Tangren took us on a tree ID walk and discussed mature native trees on the McDaniel College campus. Click on the images below to read about the various species.
Beautiful mature chestnut oak trees.
The chestnut oak is a white oak species and has very deep furrows in the mature bark. It grows on dry, rocky ridges and slopes.
A healthy tulip tree on campus.
Most tulip tree grow straight and tall. The example on the right may have suffered an injury, leader damage, or struck by lightning long ago that created the lower branching.
Our location is the very southern end of the sugar maple range. In the mountain areas of Maryland, where once many sugar maples grew, invasive Norway maples are now the dominant tree.
Pignut hickory mature bark looks a bit shaggy but not as shaggy as the shag hickory tree. This tall tree has a narrow crown and beautiful golden leaves in the fall. The bitter tasting pignuts are a source of food for many wild species.
I had my own questions about an oak tree in my front yard. In 2005, when my property was Bay-Wise certified, I asked Wanda MacLaughin if she could identify what type of oak it was. It is not a white oak. She pointed out that it was difficult to say because it looks like it has characteristics of red and black oaks. Trees in the red oak group are wind pollinated. Sara Tangren said red oaks are very promiscuous and don’t discriminate when pollinating. Offspring can exhibit a few or all of the parent traits and to complicate identification, many hybrids have cross pollinated with other oak hybrids!
This was a very well presented and informative MG Advanced Training course. Thanks, Sara, and all of the assistants. It was great class! Now that I know what to look for, I can work on improving my tree ID skills. When I’m out for morning walks, I’ll spend some time picking up twigs, nuts, and acorns instead of just looking at the tree bark!
By Tina Swanson, University of Maryland Extension Carroll County Master Gardener ‘04
Learn more about the UME Master Gardener Program and locate classes, events, and gardens open to the public near you.