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Tree Identification

Sugar Maple Buds & Bark

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Maples have what is referred to as “opposite” branching – the buds, leaves and branches are positioned opposite one another. If you look at this photo of the terminal bud of a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) you’ll see that the two lateral buds (on either side of the terminal bud) are directly across from each other.  This is relatively rare in the woody plant world — you’ve narrowed down the identity of a tree significantly if you determine that it has opposite branching (ashes and dogwoods, among others, share this characteristic). The buds of sugar maple are pointed.  The appearance of its bark depends on the age of the tree you’re looking at.  Saplings and younger branches are quite smooth (right branch in photo), whereas the bark of an old sugar maple is furrowed with vertical ridges curled outward along one side (left side of photo).

Northern Red Oak Identification in Winter

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While identifying an oak species by the shape of its leaf is fairly easy, there are other characteristics in winter, when leaves aren’t available (except under the snow), that serve as clues to an oak’s identity.  A mature northern red oak can be readily recognized by its bark — its ridges appear to have shiny stripes down the center.  The buds of northern red oak are also distinctive.  Like most oaks, red oak’s terminal (located at tip of twigs) buds occur in clusters.  Northern red oak’s terminal buds are conical, and are a reddish-brown color.

Tree Buds: American Basswood

Bark, silhouettes and buds are the three keys to identifying trees in winter. My preference is buds, as they are so distinctly different from one species to the next. American basswood, or linden (Tilia americana), is a favorite. Its plump, oval, asymmetrical red buds, bearing only one or two bud scales are unmistakable.