RAKE, RAKE, RAKE—but do you look at what’s in the burgeoning piles? It’s not just recognizable leaves from trees and shrubs in the immediate yard and garden, but also lots of immigrants that the wind (no, not the cat) dragged in. I stopped yesterday between wheelbarrow loads to identify some of the showiest of the bunch—or just marvel at them. How to identify trees and shrubs by their leaves, and otherwise.
I’ve had a couple of charming little pocket-sized books for many years, that show simple but precise outlines of the parts of woody plants—especially their leaves—and that’s where I started: with “Identify Trees and Shrubs by Their Leaves,” a Dover Publications product with 215 Eastern species included. It’s how I got to Number 87, a poplar (top photo). Even smaller, and even more challenging—but still a lot of fun, if you like treasure hunts: “Winter Tree Finder” from Nature Study Guild, and from the same series, “Tree Finder.” You can get them online for about $5 apiece, and there are Pacific Coast versions of the basic pocket tree finder (plus a Rocky Mountain one).
From the Peterson’s series, “A Field Guide to Eastern Trees” has the luxury of color photos, and lots more information, of course (mine’s an old, old copy). There is a Western version of the Peterson’s Guide, among many choices of guides to tree ID.
But I had some fun with online ID tools, too—though I admit I often get lost about halfway through the keying-out process, always failing to answer one of the process-of-elimination questions wrong and going down the wrong path. No matter, really–because every path leads to more learning about more woody plants.
But as it says in big red letters on the tool of all tools, from so-called Dr. Dendro (for dendrology, or the scientific study of trees) at Virginia Tech:
‘Only make selections that you are sure about – or you might accidentally eliminate the answer!’
Dr. Dendro is actually Dr. John Seiler, and you can use the Virginia Tech tool starting with a leaf, a twig, or both.
What Tree Is It, a web-based reference, from the Ohio Public Library Information Network and the Ohio Historical Society, uses leaves and/or fruit (and focuses on trees common to Ohio—though many are also throughout the East, so relevant to me).
And with beautiful photos there is Rogers Trees and Shrubs, where you can start from leaf images (not dissimilar to the way I use my field guide, though it includes lots of ornamentals of garden, not woodland, familiarity). You can add your own images to the collection.
So what were the gleaming golden leaves that flew in on a storm this week (the ones at the top of the page)? A poplar of some kind, and based on the exaggerated teeth on the leaf edges, I suppose Populus grandidentata, the bigtooth aspen (the teeth seem too pronounced for the quaking aspen, and though we have cottonwoods here, hmmm…those looked less coarse, too, but I only have the leaves and a twig to go on).
I love the giant leaves of Eastern sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), above, and the mitten-like ones of native sassafras (Sassafras albidum), too, below, among other showoffs. (For a quick look at common fall-foliage stars of the Northeast, I found this one-pager from the I Love NY tourism site.)