IDing woody plants in winter

This past Sunday I had the joy of joining a group at a local park in Dunwoody, GA for an information session on how to identify woody plants in the winter time. Leafs typically are the easiest way to determine what plant you are observing but in the winter you have to rely on other clues. Clues you can use include leaf arrangement, overall plant shape, the bark if the plant has leafs or not, and items that are surrounding the plant on the ground. Some species of plants are inclined to hold onto their leafs while others will not. It is theorized that plants act like this to discourage deer grazing.

Before we dive into the different plants it is important to get some definitions straight. As with most of science, the general public tends to use terms that have very specific meanings and this can lead to confusions. It is also important to make sure that you are using live twigs to identify plants. Dead twigs will snap and can contain missing parts that will lead to misidentification.

  • A twig: the plant’s past year growth, general different in appearance on the plant
  • opposite leaf arrangement: the plant has twigs that are directly across from each other
    • there are fewer of these than alternate, so it’s a great clue when IDing plants
    • all Ashs, Maples, and Buckeyes have opposite leaf arrangement
  • alternate leaf arrangement: the plant has twigs that are staggered
  • lenticels: tiny dots or slops in the barks, helps the plant to bring more oxygen
  • leaf scar: the pattern that is made when the leaf falls off
    • helpful to have a macro lense to observe this

It is also important to note that plants have both flower and leaf buds. They are different and will look different from each other including the twigs which they are on. If the bark is shiny it generally means that it has a lack of hairs. Now time to divide into the different plants we observed, and how to determine that they are that plant.

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