Deena C. Bouknight
A handy tool, “Winter Tree Finder,” as well as other published field guides, enable Macon County residents to determine types of trees growing on their property – before they bud, bloom, and leaf out. Brent and Angela-Faye Martin taught the basics in their “Winter Tree Identification” workshop recently at Cowee School Heritage Center.
Around 10 attendees learned step-by-step keying of deciduous trees in winter by studying a vegetative structure diagram and by analyzing about a dozen branches.
The Martins’ background in forest conservation provided them with knowledge to share.
“We’ve done a lot of field work identifying trees in winter because you don’t have to worry about snakes, ticks, etc.,” said Brent. “Using a dichotomous key and studying the dormant twigs’ leaf scars, terminal buds, axillary buds, lenticels, and more is a simple way for people to figure out the characteristics of their trees.”
Each of the various twigs offered included a leaf scar, where the leaf fell off in the fall, and a terminal bud, where the branch stopped growing when weather turns colder. Plus, axillary buds indicate where the branch will grow a new twig, and distinct lenticel dots all over the twig are pores that serve as a pathway for the exchange of gases through the bark.
“All parts have an important function,” said Brent, “and all parts are different to indicate the specific type of tree.”
The Martins said that although there are more than 600 species of trees in Western North Carolina, at least a dozen are “fairly common.”
Some of the trees identified in the classroom at Cowee School included hardy catalpa, which is a native species prevalent on Franklin’s greenway; yellow buckeye; white ash; dogwood; paw paw, which bear a fruit once revered and traded by Cherokee; black locust, which is a preferred firewood and is used as fence posts and structural pilings; northern red oak; magnolia; and, mimosa, which is not native but has become an invasive species.
At the Martins’ home in Cowee, participants of the winter tree identification program learned about various native camellia and magnolia species, and more. Besides “Winter Tree Finder,” the Martins recommend various books for DIY tree identification, including “A Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of the Southern Appalachians” and “Trees of the Southeastern United States.” Nature books to peruse and borrow are available at Alarka Expeditions, located at Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center.