Name That Tree

Tree identification is a great hobby because, unlike birdwatching, your subjects do not move. You can go right up to your subject and examine it and it is not going anywhere. But that doesn't mean it's easy! There are a ton of trees out there. Living in a city narrows it down somewhat, but even on a random block in my city, I frequently run into trees I don't know. As an indoor kid who grew into a computer nerd, I have about a three-year-old's level of nature knowledge. There is a wide, wide world of very basic information for me to learn.

To get started, let's play a round of Name That Tree! 

I took these photos in Boston Common on October 30, 2015. I used the City of Boston's list of approved street trees as a sort of answer key, even though it's possible that there are trees in Common that are not in this list.


Let's start simple with this distinctive, gorgeous, flame-orange tree.

Let's get closer.

Let's look at the bark. It's dark brownish gray, mostly smooth, with uneven, vertical cracks and ridges. 

Finally, let's take a look below the tree. We can get a really good close-up view of a single leaf that way. The leaf is broad and squarish with five distinct lobes, and reminds one of the Canadian flag.

So I'm confident that it's a maple, but which one? Here's where I get fuzzy. The Boston Common page lists several different types of maple, and many of them appear to turn bright orange or red in fall. Given the shape, I am most inclined to call this a Sugar Maple.


I spied a more giant orange-yellow tree over a fence approaching Charles Street, behind that telephone pole.

Getting closer...

Some of the lowest-hanging, yellowish leaves blowing in the wind.

Here's the bark. It's grayish brown with many small vertical ridges. Toward the roots it looks as though the ridges are diagonal and interlocking like a basket. There is a squirrel on the tree, which may be significant.

On the ground below the tree, we can get a good look at the leaf, which appears to have five major lobes (with each lobe having three subparts). And some acorn caps. 
So we know this is an oak, but which one? Googling the oak types from the list, the Northern Red Oak, Scarlet Oak, and Pin Oak seem to be possibilities. Let me know if you have a better way of identifying.


Okay, those other two were too easy (even though I'm not sure we finished the identification.) Now we get to trees where I had no idea what they were prior to the identification game. Here's a tree with some bright, scarlet red leaves, and some deep green leaves.

 This bark is fairy light-colored and smoother than the other bark we've seen. There are some vertical cracks toward the bottom, but the middle section is very smooth with visible horizontal lenticells.

On the ground beneath we can see the three-lobed shape of the leaf. It looks vaguely maple-like, but nowhere near as classically maple-y as the maple above.

My best guess here is Red Maple.


A bunch of these yellow guys stand at the main entrance to the Common.

In this shot you can get a good look at the long stems with a feathery pattern of tiny yellow leaves.

The bark is brown with deep vertical furrows.

On the ground below the tree, you see lots of the feathery yellow leaf things. Each stem contains 10-20 oval-shaped leaves in an opposite pattern (that is, each leaf is directly opposite another on the stem--as opposed to alternating).

I had no idea what this was prior to this game, but after googling some of the trees on the list I've settled on Honey Locust. Good to know! This seems to be a pretty common urban tree in downtown Boston.


Let's do one more. Here's another deep red fall tree.

The trunk has a thick, ropy shape and has faint vertical and horizontal intersecting furrows, sort of a generally textured appearance. I'm not good at describing bark.

Here we get a better look at the dark green and red leaves as they hang from the tree.

Here's a better view of a leaf below the tree. It's a classic oval leaf shape with finely saw-toothed edges. The veins are clearly visible as little sort of embossed-looking indentations, diagonal and parallel. The top of the leaf is shiny (the bottom was more matte and light-colored, fyi).

The closest match I could find was Elm. So that's what an Elm is like!

If you have enjoyed Name That Tree, the home version is all around you!


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