Photograph by Cristina Stoian, Shutterstock
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Kapok tree blossoms are a good source of nectar for bats and bees in the Amazon rain forest.
Photograph by Cristina Stoian, Shutterstock

Field Guide to Trees

Get to know your trees.

Wherever you live, you're probably not too far from a tree.

Whether in a forest, a park, your backyard, or simply on a city sidewalk, trees provide homes for critters, shade for humans, and even protection for our Earth by absorbing harmful carbon dioxide. So appreciate these leafy friends by learning more about them. Get to know them a little better with these tips.

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BE TREE SMART

So you’ve spotted two different trees in a nearby forest. Now what? Bring a tree field guide with you to help identify each one. Use the tips below to get started.

OTHER THINGS TO LOOK FOR

SHAPE: Is the tree’s crown (the leafy part) round, pointy, or conical (cone-shaped)? Be aware that two trees of the same species can have different shapes. It depends on how crowded they are, how much sun they get, and how old they are.

To start identifying a tree, begin with its leaves. Are they needle-like or scaly? Are they broad and flat? Note whether the leaves have smooth or toothed edges. Are they lobed, like a hand? Do the tree’s twigs hold single leaves, or little leaflets along a single stalk? Are the leaves opposite each other, or do they alternate on the twig? Find the trees with those sorts of leaves in your guidebook.

FLOWERS OR CONES: Can you see flowers on the tree? What do they look like? How about cones? What are their shape and size?

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FRUIT: Does the tree have little winged seeds, acorns, or other growths that look like nuts or berries?

BARK: Is it smooth or rough? What color is it? Is it peeling off?

HABITAT: Check the tree’s surroundings. Are they wet and marshy? Open and sunny? Hills or valleys?