Basic Botany: Bud, Leaf and Branch Arrangement
In winter it is common to use the pattern by which branches and buds are arranged on a deciduous tree as a first, quick clue to the tree’s identity. There are two large groups of trees, those with alternate and opposite patterns, and a third less common pattern, whorled. Trees with alternate arrangement have only a single leaf/bud/branch attached at one location (node) on a branch. Those with opposite arrangement have two leaves/buds/branches attached at a node, opposite one another on either side of the branch. When more than two leaves/buds/branches arise from a node (rare) this is called a whorled arrangement.
At this time of year, when deciduous trees are bare, you can see the arrangement of buds, branches and leaf scars (where leaves have fallen off) clearly. Relatively few trees have opposite branching – Maples, Ashes, Dogwoods, and Horse Chestnuts – while a majority have alternate branching. More characteristics are needed to narrow a tree down to species, but noting its arrangement is an easy and quick way to eliminate certain species.
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