Identifying Trees in Winter

Identifying Trees in Winter
  • Posted January 1, 2017

Identifying trees in winter may sound like a challenge, but the majority of a tree's identifying characteristics are present regardless of the season and remnants of the more transient ones, such as leaves or nuts, are often littered about - providing added clues.

What Clues to Look For

  • Twigs
  • Bark
  • Form and habit of the trunk and branches
  • Bud color and shape
  • Fruit or leaves beneath or still clinging to the tree

What You Need

  • Your eyes
  • A note pad
  • A camera

are the best initial tools, for observation and recording, and then it's on to a tree identification book or website with your observations.

The Basic Steps

Record things such as the overall shape of the tree's canopy (the head atop its trunk); whether the branches are directly opposite each other coming off limbs or alternating; texture and color of the bark; the color and shape of the buds on the tips of the branches; and, the general shape outline of leaves, seeds or nuts on or around the tree.

Reference I.D. keys with the information you've gathered. You may want to look at the key before you go out to record things, so you know exactly which bits of information your chosen key calls for. Then the true identity of your mystery tree will be quickly revealed!

Suggested Identification Websites

Some universities or their extension offices have keys such as this, covering their local region:

Washington University's Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture – Winter Twig Identification Key

The Arbor Day Foundation offers identification keys for all regions, online or in book form.

Arbor Day Foundation – What Tree is That?

Suggested Identification Books

Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter by May and Tom Watts

Winter Botany: An Identification Guide to Native Trees and Shrubs by William Trelease

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Identifying Trees in Winter