Don't be in the Dark, Learn how to ID trees by their Bark!

After our recent cold snap, you may be itching to get back outside and stretch your legs. As the temperatures rise and the days get a little bit longer, the outdoors become more inviting. A hike in the woods is a great way to stave off the winter blues, and if you’re a tree nerd like I am, winter hikes provide a fun challenge: tree bark identification! I love identifying trees and challenging myself to learn new species. Identifying a tree by its leaves is arguably the easiest and most commonly used way to identify a tree. However, this is only one dimension of tree ID! Leaves, buds, bark, branching pattern, crown structure, location, and more all help paint a clearer picture that shows you what kind of tree you are looking at. Since most deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall and don’t regrow them until spring, other characteristics need to be looked at to identify them properly in the winter. Bark identification is the most straightforward method to use in the winter, but you can also look on the ground beneath the tree for fallen leaves or nuts. This does get a little confusing though if trees of different species are nearby. Most tree identification books include pictures and/or a description of the bark to help you figure out what it is you are looking at. However, keep in mind that mature bark will often look different than the bark of a sapling. At first you might feel like it is hard to describe the bark (you can tell it’s an aspen because of the way that it is), but each tree’s bark has nuanced differences in color, pattern, texture, etc. Here are some examples. See if you can figure out what kind of tree each one is! (answers at bottom) 


With enough practice, identifying a tree by its bark can be just as easy as identifying it by its leaves. By considering the two characteristics together, tree ID can become even easier! Maybe next time you’re trying to figure out what kind of tree you are looking at, you won’t even need to look up.   Answers: 1) Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) 2) Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) 3) Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) 4) American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) 5) Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) 6) American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)