Trees in Winter

 

 

 

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Winter conditions give fresh interest to tree study.  In other seasons, all kinds of clues for identifying trees were present, like flowers, or fruit, or leaves. 

In winter, except for the evergreens, a Scout is dependent on two general features: the bark and the general conformation.  This not a disadvantage.  When a Scout can readily distinguish trees by their bark alone, he knows them much more thoroughly by reason of the closer attention and sharper observation that is required.  This is not that difficult, and can prove to be useful 

Sycamore, white birch, chestnut and certain species of hickory are most readily recognized by their bark.  In thick woods this is the best method of identification, since most of the leaves are too high above the ground to be of any help.  The problem of identifying trees from this new angle is sure to interest by its novelty, as well as because it constitutes a greater challenge to the sharp eyes of Scouts.  

Besides giving this opportunity for training in really close observation of leaf-bearing trees, the winter is the best time for studying the various evergreens and distinguishing between them.  Making a collection of twigs and cones of the various species will furnish the motive for a successful winter hike.  In fact, the winter camp has been found a most opportune time for instruction for Forestry Merit Badge.  

An interesting method of tree identification can be presented about the fireside by using cardboard models of winter trees and projecting the shadow of these upon a screen with a flashlight.   Models of this kind can be cut from sketches made on the tree identification hike.  

Identification 

As one becomes more familiar with trees in their winter aspect, the number that can be recognized at a distance becomes greatly enlarged.  We come to know trees by hardly definable traits, much as we recognize our friends at a distance by some peculiarity of form or gait.  Watching the trees from a distance is a great help in acquiring this familiarity with tree characters.  

The method of branching and other features do not furnish such precise marks as do the twigs, and cannot therefore be of much value in a descriptive key.  In fact the habit varies considerably among individual trees of the same species, no two trees having exactly the same method of branching.  

Trees grown in woods in company with other trees are prevented by shading from the side from developing their normal form and produce tall trunks with only a little branching.  On the other hand trees apart from other trees have usually been planted for ornament or have originally grown in woods, but have been left isolated by the cutting down of their neighbors.  In the latter case the habit will be more or less that of a forest-grown tree depending on the age at which the conditions of light and shade were altered.  In the former case the top of the young tree may have been cut in the process of transplanting, causing an increased branching at the point of cutting and the lower limbs may have been trimmed off, giving a greater show of trunk. 

These mutilations, however, have less influence upon the outline of the head or crown than might be imagined since the tree is generally able to accommodate itself to such accidents and express its individuality despite them.  The age of the tree is also an important factor in the outline, young specimens being in general narrower and more conical than in later life, while those in old age may have lost shape through ice storms, high winds And the attacks of fungi. 

Habit Characters 

Two general habit types are recognized: the spreading and erect. The former is well represented by the Apple and White Elm and the latter by the Evergreens and those of the Poplars that form narrow conical heads.  By its more erect habit of growth the Sweet Cherry is readily distinguished from the Sour Cherry and in like manner the Pear from the Apple.  It is these habit differences that form the most ready means of separating the contrasted trees just mentioned which may closely resemble each other in twig characters.  The angle which the branches make with the trunk is frequently a diagnostic character of considerable value.  For example the ascending and gracefully outward curving limbs of the American White Elm stand in contrast with the sharply divergent limbs of the English Elm. 

Likewise the horizontal branches of the Tupelo and the strongly pendant lower limbs of the Swamp White Oak are characteristic of these species.  The relative thickness of the branchlets contrasted in the Sweet Cherry and the Black Birch and the arrangement of the branchlets whether opposite or alternate and whether erect or drooping, may further be mentioned as habit characters. 

Bark 

Although it is upon the appearance of the bark more than upon any other character that the woodsman depends in his recognition of timber trees, it is difficult to give a precise description of it.  The color of the outer bark is an important mark of distinction and is the chief means of separating the different species of the Birches.  The color and taste of the inner layers of the bark are in some cases also characteristic.  The Black Oak, for example, is best distinguished from other Oaks by the yellow and intensely bitter inner bark.  Similarly, the Black Birch, the Sassafras and the genus Primus, including the Cherries, have barks with characteristic flavors.  

The swamp loving Poison Sumac is the only poisonous tree in New England, so that after this shrubby form is known there need be no fear of tasting bark and twigs of any unknown tree-like species in that section.  The bark varies in character according to the age of the tree.  In the young tree the bark is smooth but as the trunk expands from this growth of the wood within, the covering of dead bark outside is forced to crack in a variety of ways, giving rise to characteristic fissures and ridges which become more prominent.  

The bark of the American Hornbeam remain smooth, their outer layers expanding with the growth of the tree.   The barks of others, such as the Paper and Yellow Birch, stretch and peel off in thin papery layers.  In the Birches and Cherries the breathing pores (lenticels) become horizontally elongated to form narrow transverse streaks which are characteristic for these forms. 

When ridges or scales are formed they may be close and firm and with difficulty removed from the trunk as is the case with the bark in the Black Oak group.  Others may be easily rubbed off as are the scales of the bark of the White Oak and of most members of the White Oak group.  Bark of this latter type is called "flaky" in descriptions and this distinction between barks that are flaky and those that are not flaky is of considerable importance in classification.  

Buds

 In regard to their position buds are terminal or lateral.  Buds produced at or near the nodes but not in the axial of a leaf-scar are called accessory buds.  Of these there are two kinds: Superposed buds, located above the axillary buds, and collateral buds, located at either side of the axillary buds.  The former are shown in the Butternut and the latter in the Red Maple. 

Classified according to what they produce there are flower buds, which contain rudiments of flowers; leaf buds, which contain rudiments of leaves, and mixed buds, which produce both flowers and leaves.  Flower buds are generally stouter than leaf buds.  Most species by the end of the growing season have formed terminal buds which remain through the winter and are destined to continue the growth the following spring.  In some species, however, such as the Mulberry, the terminal but, together with the tip of the twig, dies away and drops off before the beginning of winter, leaving a small scar at the end of the twig.  The presence or absence of the terminal bud is a very valuable point of distinction and is used widely.  

Aside from the color, the presence or absence of hairs, stickiness, fragrance or other such surface characters, the position of the buds in relation to the twig may be of importance. Buds that lie close up against the twig, as those of the small toothed Aspen, are called appressed, while those that project more or less away from the twig are called divergent and are found on the Carolina Poplar.  In the Common Locust and a few other forms the buds ire sunken below the surface of the twig and can be found only by cutting the twig lengthwise through the leaf scar.  

The characters of the bud-scales of most importance are the shape, the number visible (whether alternate or opposite) and the number of ranks they form on the bud. 

See Also:

Winter Tree List

Ernest Seton's "Trees of the Northeast"

 

 

   

 

 


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Last modified: July 03, 2013.