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Terra to Canopy

Connecting you with horticultural information from the soil to the tops of trees.

Tree Identification

Posted by Andrew Holsinger -

Identifying trees can be a bit of a challenge. It doesn't have to be. You still have time to find leaves on trees and some will even be there throughout the winter. Even when winter arrives there will still be characteristics available to identify trees.

Andrew Holsinger, Illinois Horticulture Extension Educator said that the opportunity to identify trees is abundant this time of year.

"Using a key can make identification successful when a few basic recognition skills are learned," Holsinger said. "Leaf arrangement is how the leaves are arranged on the stem." Two of the most common leaf arrangements are alternate and opposite. Alternate leaf arrangements are where leaves are borne singly at each node, alternating sides of the stem. Opposite differs in that the leaves are borne directly opposite from one another on the stem.

Certain families of trees are usually representative of a particular leaf arrangement. An easy acronym to remember is MADCap Horse. Only a few families of trees have opposite leaf attachments and can be remembered by:

  • Maples
  • Ash
  • Dogwood
  • Honeysuckle/Viburnum (aka. Caprifoliaceae)
  • Horse chestnut

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