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Author Topic: Identifying Trees by the whole tree, not leaf/cone/bark characteristics  (Read 950 times)

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Offline sethym

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I've become very interested in identifying many of the trees I see in So. California and around the USA. There are many field guides and other tree identification books available, with lots of clear photos, but the photos are of the leaf type or bark type for identification. That's great for when you are up close to the tree, but often I just want to identify trees I see on the side of the road while I'm driving. For that I need a picture book or app w/photos showing the whole tree, with captions like This is a Chinese Elm or This is a Cottonwood…because I'm not close enough to make out leaf or bark characteristics.

I understand that precise leaf/cone/bark identification is necessary for fine identification of the tree, but sometimes you see a tree and you can't get up close, and you just want to be able to identify it by looking at the whole tree.

Can anyone recommend books which focus on naming the trees with full pictures instead of leaf/bark breakdown?

Offline Texas Ranger

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Re: Identifying Trees by the whole tree, not leaf/cone/bark characteristics
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2014, 12:26:27 PM »
There are a handful of unique trees where you can tell by shapes, most or generic and look about the same.  American elm, if open grown, has a unique shape, willows, tend to, but, getting to family is about as close on a car ride as your going to get.  My opinion, your mileage may vary.
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Online beenthere

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Re: Identifying Trees by the whole tree, not leaf/cone/bark characteristics
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2014, 01:09:57 PM »
+1  what TR just said.

Welcome to the Forestry Forum.

Snap and post some pics of examples of trees that you would like to know, and we'll see what type of id you can get here on the forum.

I recall my first forestry lab field trip where we stopped at a hardwood forest and the instructor stood on the road and named off the trees that stood there with no leaves. Bark and shape and opposite branching, etc.
I was dumbfounded as every single tree looked exactly like the rest of them. At the time, I figured there was no DanG way there were differences.  Thus the beginning of my learning new things when at 18 I thought I knew everything.
south central Wisconsin
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Offline enigmaT120

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Re: Identifying Trees by the whole tree, not leaf/cone/bark characteristics
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2014, 04:08:19 PM »
I think with experience you can learn to ID trees from a distance, but I don't know of any keys to help you do that, nor can I imagine how anybody would write one.  You need to get to know the different trees through the identifying characteristics the keys provide, then look at them from a distance to get an idea of what they look like. 

The only example I can think of for myself is, on a TV show set in Cornwall, sometimes the characters are in a field and in the back ground there is a fairly thick stand of young conifers that I swear are Douglas Fir.  I wish I knew somebody in that area who could confirm that for me.  Or just go there myself....

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Offline Ianab

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Re: Identifying Trees by the whole tree, not leaf/cone/bark characteristics
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2014, 04:24:41 PM »
Some trees are distinctive enough to pick them out from a mile away because of their distinctive form. So you will be able to tell a Doug Fir from a Pine from a distance. But to work out exactly what pine, then you need to get up and look at it a bit closer. I have a couple of good books here on the common NZ trees, native and introduced. Has good pictures of both the whole tree and the close up features. But you want a book published locally, or else you get 100 pages of trees you never see, and usually miss out the unusual ones you do have.
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Offline sethym

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Re: Identifying Trees by the whole tree, not leaf/cone/bark characteristics
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2014, 04:47:02 PM »
I have a couple of good books here on the common NZ trees, native and introduced. Has good pictures of both the whole tree and the close up features. But you want a book published locally, or else you get 100 pages of trees you never see, and usually miss out the unusual ones you do have.

Yes, it seems clear that I must take the time to learn the small plumage identifiers as well as the whole "big tree."
Many of the more popular tree identification field guides (the top 10 in Amazon/Kindle Books) have great, clear photos of the leaves/cones/needles/branches, but for some reason, do not also include at least one "whole tree" photo one each detail. You'd think they want to do that..."OK now that you have identified the tree based on our leaf details, here's the 'stand back' view." But so far, I haven't found a single tree photo guide that has both. Any book suggestions?

Also Ianab, I agree that I need to focus on my local trees. I live near Los Angeles - lots of Spuce, Cedar, Pine, Oak, Sycamore, Cottonwood, etc. AND many, many varieties of Palm trees.

Offline wdmn

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Re: Identifying Trees by the whole tree, not leaf/cone/bark characteristics
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2014, 10:06:03 PM »
I can't recommend any books for you, seeing as you're out west. but some general advice to throw in there with the rest of them:

I think there is some law that the guidebook you're using will usually be missing the features you need to make an id.

That said, look for guide books compiled by foresters or ecologists; people out in the field.

For me, learning id is always a slow process. You're building up one area of your aspect perception at a time; one time leaves, another time bark, later on buds or leaf scars, or form etc. As you're getting going you will not be able to use most keys very easily since there is a lot of terminology to be learned as well as just learning to see subtle differences and knowing what, where and when to look for something. But don't get frustrated and overwhelmed. Start with what is most obvious to you about a tree; there's no sense in trying to use a key to leaf form for a paper birch, start with the bark!

There's also learning your stand types, i.e. what trees tend to grow together. This can be helpful in getting to the specific level from the generic, since if you know combinations of species and you identify one, then you can usually tell, for example, which maple it is that is growing with it. That's probably more difficult in a place like Los Angeles, as you're further south and will have a lot more species. As a rule urban areas are much more challenging as they are full of introduced species that are often not in local guidebooks.

ALl of that said, I'm no expert, but in my parts there are at least a handful of trees I can pick out traveling on the highway; definitely once they start to turn in the fall, the colours can be very useful too (guess you don't have that down in LA though!).

SOrry for the rambling post, hope something in it was useful.



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