Here’s one way to I.D. a tree in winter.
Let’s call it “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”1
I made this dry-erase Key to help a couple of friends in the neighborhood who want to learn nearby trees.
It won’t work for all trees, but it’s decent for local, deciduous street trees that still have fruit on branches or on the sidewalk.
Fruit can be a clue far more obvious than bark or bud.
By fruit I meant the doodads that hold a tree’s seeds.
Are there doodads hanging from twigs, or tucked by the sidewalk?
What shape are the doodads?
Balls? Pods? Wings? Clusters?
The fruit method can work all winter, but is easier earlier than later.
Today, I tried it at Centennial Park, and found lots of fruit nestled in the lawn, but as spring creeps nearer, there will be fewer clues on and under trees.
So hurry and try this out, and then let me know how it goes.
Here’s what’s on my dry-erase key right now:
Balls: Sycamore, Sweetgum, Hackberry. Also Persimmon, Ginkgo.* Off-tree will be Black Walnut, Osage Orange, and Hickories.
Pods: Catalpa, Redbud, Black locust, Honey locust, Yellowwood.
Wings: Sugar maple, Ash, Box Elder, Tulip Poplar (all these are helicopters).
Cluster: Tulip Poplar.
Cones: Bald cypress, Dawn Redwood.*
Acorns: Oak spp., but most acorns are stored or crushed by now.
Extra credit: Winter is the ideal time to study a tree’s big picture—the silhouette and bones—and the smaller details, like twigs and buds. Getting to know the nearest tree is an invitation to recognize that same species all over town, all year.
To learn our plant and animal neighbors means we learn our Place and our place in it.
And it’s a lot easier to boost native habitat if we know what’s here and what it needs.
1 (Matt. 7:16)
* Exotic tree (not native to our foodweb)
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Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, Stonecrop Review, The Fourth River and other journals. Her forthcoming book is Paradise in a Parking Lot: Unlikely Stories from Urban Nature.