Bark: Bark comes in many colors and textures. Some trees, such as birches and beeches, have highly distinctive bark, whereas other species are more difficult to distinguish. Bark description is complex and often figurative; for example, black cherry trees have dark, flaky bark that many refer to as “burnt potato chip” bark. Bark can be described as smooth, glossy, corky, ridged, and flaky among other things.
Leaves and needles: Trees are categorized as deciduous (meaning that they shed their leaves or needles each year) or evergreen. Our needle-bearing trees (conifers) are evergreen except for the tamarack (also known as larch), which is deciduous.
Identification by Leaf Characteristics: There are several different leaf characteristics that can be used to identify tree species.
- Opposite or alternate: Leaves grow from twigs in patterns that are characterized as either opposite (directly across from each other) or alternate (growing in a staggered pattern along the stem).
- Simple or compound: Simple leaves grow directly off of the branch, whereas compound leaves consist of several separate leaflets growing from a main stem-like axis – all part of a single leaf.
- Lobed or unlobed: Leaves that are lobed can usually be thought of as having more complex shapes, such as the leaves of oaks and maples. Unlobed leaves have simple shapes — usually oval — in general outline.
- Toothed or smooth: Toothed leaves have jagged edges; untoothed leaves have smooth edges. Leaves may be deeply or shallowly, regularly or irregularly toothed.