I wanted to draw in my nature journal and decided to clip a few branches of woody plants from my home garden. I cut blueberry and shadbush twigs and carried them inside. It was way too cold to try to draw outside.
Trees and shrubs are tall, strong, and bare in the chill of the winter air. The bare branches and twigs tell stories of the growing season that passed and the season yet to come.
Noticing the differences in twigs can be a big help in identifying trees in winter. Focus on studying these parts of winter trees – buds, twigs, branches, bark, seeds, and dead leaves. To see these often tiny parts of twigs, a hand lens is necessary, unless you have super sharp eyesight.
Twigs and Leaf Scars
Twigs are a branch’s current year’s growth. The previous year’s growth is called a branchlet. Old wood is called a branch.
Twigs have softer tissues than the rest of the branch. Twigs are often hairy and often of a different color than the branch.
Twigs of deciduous trees have marks where leaf stalks were attached, are called leaf scars. The vascular connections were the tubes which carried water and nutrients to all parts of the tree or shrub.
Leaf sars show whether the leaves were attached in alternate or opposite positions.
Within each leaf scar are bundle scars. The bundle scar can help with identification by looking at the number and position of the bundle scars where the vascular tubes are located. Bundle scars mark vascular connections between leaf and branch.
I drew a diagram of a White Oak (Quercus alba) tree twig. White Oaks are abundant in this area. Oaks are one of the six most common deciduous trees in the eastern U. S. in the cooler regions.
Studying and draw twigs (including buds) of the six most common deciduous trees – Oaks, Maples, Ashes, Beeches, Birch, and Aspens, is a good winter nature journal project.
The post on studying tree buds has a list of the number and shapes of buds of the six most common deciduous trees.
Download a Handy Tree Identification Key
I found this downloadable handout of Winter Tree Identification Key from the University of Wisconsin. The handout contains clear detailed diagrams of various North American trees. It is useful trees not in North America because it shows the parts of twigs, buds, and other identifying tree parts.
See the previous post on studying tree buds.
Resources for Winter Botany
These books are in my personal research library. All links lead to Amazon.com. Of course, these books can be found and ordered by other booksellers.
Winter Botany: An Identification Guide to Native Trees and Shrubs by William Trelease. New York: Dover Publications, 1967.
Winter Weed Finder: A Guide to Dried Plants in Winter by Dorcas S. Miller. Rochester, NY: Nature Study Guild Publishers, 1989.
Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in WInter by Mary Theilgaard Watts and Tom Watts. New York: Nature Study Guild Publications, 1970.