Master Gardeners in training learn tree identification

Published 9:21 am Friday, April 14, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Soon-to-be Master Gardeners learned the identifying factors in determining types of trees during a recent class.

The class is a part of the Alabama Master Gardeners Program, which is a prerequisite to be a Master Gardener.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System agent Mallory Kelley opened the class by leading discussion on factors that impact leaves. Location, whether in sun or shade, has a major impact.

“Up on a ridge they wouldn’t need huge leaves because they are getting plenty of sunlight, so the leaves could be smaller than one you would see in a valley,” Kelley said.

She said a tree in the shade needs larger leaves in order to capture more light.

Leaf arrangement, whether alternate or opposite, is also helpful in determining the type of tree.

“There are very few trees that have opposite leaf arrangement,” Kelley said.

These varieties are Maples, Ash and Dogwood.

Piles of tree branches sat on the tables ready to be identified. Students looked at characteristics of the leaves compared to the provided tree identification key to determine the type of tree. Kelley said on some species the leaf, growth from a bud, has several leaflets coming from it.

The shape of leaves and whether the edges were smooth or serrated were helpful indicators.

“Conifers have scale-like leaves,” Kelley said.

While identifying the branches, Kelley gave information about the trees, starting with oaks.

“The main thing that I want to take away from this … is that the leaves are usually lobed in the white oak category, the bark is lighter in color and the acorns ripen in one year,” Kelley said. “[For] Red Oaks, the leaves are pointed instead of rounded and they have bristle tips … darker bark and the acorns take two years to develop.”

She said for those wanting to attract deer, it is important to have a mixture of red and white oak to ensure food for the deer.

For pine trees, characteristics of the leaves (pine needles), such as whether the pine needles are straight or twisted, how many are growing in a single shaft and the length of the shaft are used to determine what kind of pine the tree is. Kelley said identifying pine trees “can be tricky.”

Kelley said looking at the entire tree not just a branch may be needed for accurate identification.