Winter Tree ID for Deciduous Trees

Winter is a great time to go for a walk and explore the form of trees. Without leaves on deciduous trees you can see the beautiful structure of the tree.

Tree identification requires a little detective work. In the winter months, identifying trees takes a bit more scrutinizing. On deciduous tree since there are no leaves, which are usually the easiest way to identify trees – it’s best to study the branching, buds and twigs and bark.


All trees have either opposite or alternate branching. Alternate branching means that the twigs and buds grow off a main branch one at a time. Opposite branching is when twigs and buds grow off a main branch in pairs.

Ashes, dogwoods and maples are examples of opposite branching. Examples of alternate branching would be birches, sycamores and tulip trees.


   Opposite Branching                        Alternate Branching


The shape, size, color and texture of the buds are never the same in species. Buds bloom into flowers and leaves. Flower buds form in various places and are often much larger than leaf buds. Leaves form as either terminal buds –found at the ends of twigs, or lateral buds – along the sides of twigs. Most buds have protective scales that enclose the leaf tissue. If no scales exist, the buds are considered naked. The number and arrangement of the buds on the twigs are also important.

Large buds on Oak trees
Long slender buds on Beech Tree



Those who are more experienced when it comes to identifying trees may find the answers in the bark. While the bark of a tree changes as it matures and varies by geographical region or growing conditions, it can be an easy way to determine the species of the tree. All tree bark has a difference in color, thickness, texture and pattern. Some species tend to peel its bark. For example, shagbark hickory peels vertically in large, thick, curving strips while the paper birch peels horizontally in large strips.

So grab your hat and mitts and a tree ID field guide book, and get out there and enjoy winter!