Learning How to Identify Maryland’s Native Trees in Winter: Look at More Than Just the Bark

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.

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.

4 thoughts on “Learning How to Identify Maryland’s Native Trees in Winter: Look at More Than Just the Bark

  1. Sara Ann Tangren December 15, 2017 / 10:02 am

    Nice blog, Tina!

  2. tonytomeo December 15, 2017 / 9:32 pm

    If you look at them long enough, you can identify them from a distance. That is a RAD sugar maple by the way.

  3. Mary Kane February 25, 2018 / 1:39 pm

    What kind of tree in Hartford County keeps its leaves in the winter? The leaves are light brown and delicate looking.

    • christa1200 February 26, 2018 / 9:24 am

      You might be seeing American Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia). These often keep their leaves in the winter. Take a look at photos of this tree on the Maryland Biodiversity Project website to compare with the trees you see. https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=1542

      Christa Carignan
      University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center

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