Identifying Trees and Shrubs in Winter

The snows blanket the landscape in South Dakota and it seems to change everything. As you go through your yard or the countryside trees and shrubs resemble sticks sticking out of the snow. Upon passing, so many of these look the same. During the summer months, you can see so many differences between each plant. You can check the leaves, whether it flowers, or if it has fruit. During the winter months, there is no distinction between them. But if you look closely at each shrub or tree, you will be able to detect some variations.

List the Characteristics

Narrow down what your shrub or tree may be by observing and examining various characteristics. If you know what to look for, you can narrow down the species of the plant in question. Make a list of things to look for and this will enable to narrow down the choices that it could be. Is the plant deciduous or an evergreen tree? A deciduous plant is one that loses its leaves in the fall. An evergreen is one that retains its needles all year.

Berries or Fruit and Leaves

Do you see any berries or fruit hanging on the branches? We have honeysuckle growing along the property line and it has little red berries on the branches. Female sumac trees have red fruit that sets on late in the summer and lasts into the winter. Also, see if there are any leaves left on the tree or shrub. Sometimes one or two remain. Also check the ground right below the tree. Find the leaves that are most prevalent in that area. There is a good chance that those leaves fall off that particular tree or shrub. The Eastern cottonwood has leaves that are broadly triangular and coarsely toothed. Lombardy poplar trees have leaves that are diamond-shaped and finely toothed. The Sycamore tree has leaves that are palmately 3 to 5 lobed with coarsely toothed leaf edges.

Stem Color and Bark

Inspect the color of the stems or the tree trunk. Many of them will be brown, but take note as to whether it is a light or dark brown. Some shrubs have red stems such as the red-twig dogwood. The cutleaf weeping birch tree has bark that is white and papery. The Crab apple tree has bark that is reddish to grayish-brown in color. While you are looking at the color of the stem or trunk, take note as to whether the bark is smooth or rough. The white poplar tree has a broad crown with bark that is smooth and whitish except at the base of the tree. The European white birch tree has bark that is dark and furrowed at the base. The bark of the Eastern cottonwood is deeply furrowed and dark gray in color. The bark of the hack berry has narrow, crowded, steep-sided corky ridges or warts.

Narrow Down the Possibilities

When you have written down as much information as you can, you can make a trip to the local county extension agent in your area, or you can go to the computer and do some research. I found an informative site called the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. I will give the site location in the resource section. This is a fun site and can really help you to narrow down the possibilities. By answering a few questions on your state, county, and the growth habit of your plant in question is a tree, shrub, or vine. There are many sub questions, but by answering these three questions, you will have a great start. Click on the “Display Results” button to give you a list of possibilities.

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