What tree is that?

Tree Identification

Today we discussed the basic techniques of how to identify trees. First, we learned the difference between conifers and broadleaf trees: Conifers produce cones and usually have needle-like leaves; broadleaf trees have wide, flat leaves. Next we talked about the different characteristics of a tree we can use to identify it: The size of the tree, the shape of the crown, the color and texture of the bark, the type of flowers and seeds. We focused primarily on the leaves as a way to identify trees, because leaves are usually the most readily available way to ID a tree. Flowers bloom for a short time and fruits and seed are available only when ripe; leaves are present all year for evergreen or all summer for deciduous trees.

We ended the class with a walk through the CHA grounds to identify some trees as a group. We found a red oak with pointed lobes and deep sinuses; we found a sugar maple with opposite leaves, five lobes, and double samara fruits; and we found an Eastern pine which we initially mis-identified as a Tamarack or Larch tree.

We wrapped up by discussing the challenges with tree identification. First, broadleaf leaves in the spring are smaller than mature summer leaves, so identifying by leaf size isn’t accurate. Second, the bark of young trees starts off smooth, so it is more difficult to identify a young tree by the bark. And finally, not all of the identifying characteristics are present at the same time; for example, we may not know in the spring what color the tree turns in autumn.

But now, at least, we know what to look for over the year in order to identify a tree!

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Dr. Maureen Griffin

Maureen earned a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. While at Penn, she developed a novel micro-mechanical technique called micropipette peeling to investigate the role of muscle cell adhesion in normal and diseased skeletal muscle cells. After graduating, Maureen worked full time as a post-doctoral researcher and then a staff scientist a SelectX Pharmaceuticals. She joined the teaching staff in 2008 and was excited to be made an executive staff member in 2009. Maureen also continued to consult part time for SelectX until her daughter's birth in 2009; now she is focused on Science from Scientists and, of course, her children. Maureen uses her spare time to read, blog, cook, and renovate her house.

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