Mystery Trees

Identification is easy for some species and very difficult for others.  Even the experts don’t always agree!   Leaf shape is the characteristic most often used to identify trees, but this does not always tell the whole story.  Other characteristics that may be needed include arrangement of leaves and twigs on a branch, bark color and texture, winter buds, flowers or fruit and the basic shape (form) of the tree.

Look for your mystery tree below…

Belle Isle

What has 5 pointed leaves shaped like stars and round spiky seed pods that contain seeds for birds and make great Christmas decorations?   It is the lovely sweet gum, Liquidamber styraciflua.  Most of the year all you need to do is look on the tree or on the ground for those pesky little seed pods.  

Other characteristics to note:  

  • twigs are always opposite each other on the branch
  • winter buds are large, shiny,  covered with scales and sometimes sticky
  • bark on mature trees is  gray-brown with irregular furrows and rough rounded ridges
  • twigs on fast growing specimens may have corky growths called wings
  • beautiful fall color often with many shades of yellow and red at the same time

Forest Hill Park

This tree is an oak, but which one?  Since there are tiny bristles at the tips of the lobes of the leaves (in the circles below), we know it is a member of the red oak group.  White oaks do not have these bristles, but that still leaves many possibilities.

The leaves of this tree are highly variable in shape, making identification difficult; some leaves resemble Southern red oak, but many others do not.

The bark has not been helpful with identification.

After consulting several tree ID books and much discussion, Tree Stewards believe this tree might be a Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) or a black oak (Quercus velutina).

Occasionally the acorn is needed to confirm identification of an oak.  Since red oaks produce acorns every other year,  we will need to wait till the fall of 2015 and, even then, hope that we get some acorns before the squirrels do.

FHP mystery tree leaves with o