Dr. Billy Beck
ISU Extension and Outreach Forestry Specialist
As nature begins to awaken from its winter slumber, those looking to identify backyard Iowa trees can consult a new video resource from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach forestry specialist Billy Beck. This series of five videos can be found on YouTube, or through the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach video website. Beck also encourages the use of the online Tree Identification Key as a helpful tool to identify various Iowa Trees.
In "How to Use Leaves to Identify Trees,” Beck elaborates on tips for identifying trees based on their leaves. Beck explains that the three main features he looks for in order to identify a tree based on its leaves include whether the leaf is simple or compound, the size and shape of the leaves and the leaf margins. He elaborates on the differences between simple and compound leaves and provides examples of some common leaf and leaf margin shapes in Iowa forests and backyards.
In “How to Use Twigs to Identify Trees,” Beck explains three strategies for identifying trees based on their twigs. These strategies include leaf arrangement, leaf scars and pith. As Beck explains, leaves can be arranged on the twig in a variety of ways and learning these common arrangements can be a great diagnostic tool. Leaf scars, or the indent that is left after leaves are lost in the fall, can help to identify trees both within and outside of the growing season. Pith, another feature that can be used to identify a tree outside of the growing season, is the tissue located at the twig’s core and may take a variety of distinguished forms.
In “How to Use Buds to Identify Trees,” Beck discusses strategies for identifying trees based on their buds. According to Beck, the best features to observe when attempting to identify a tree based on its buds are size, scales and color. “Buds can be tricky, because they are relatively small and hard to see from the ground and are only present from late summer to early spring,” cautions Beck.
In “How to Use Bark to Identify Trees,” Beck outlines some strategies for using a tree’s bark to make an ID. “Bark is an incredibly handy feature for identifying trees,” explains Beck. “It’s right here at ground level. There’s no climbing or neck straining required.” Beck identifies three key features to observe when identifying a tree based on its bark: color, texture and pattern. “Keep in mind that color, texture and pattern often change with age,” warns Beck.
The final video of the series, “How to Use Fruit to Identify Trees,” explains how to identify trees based on their fruit. According to Beck, the best two things to look for when identifying trees based on their fruits are the form of the fruit and whether the fruit splits along a seam when mature. “Fruit of deciduous trees in Iowa have a fascinating range of forms, and often reflect the way the seeds are dispersed,” explains Beck.
Identifying backyard trees can be intimidating given Iowa’s wide variety of tree species, but the tools available through ISU Extension and Outreach can help gardeners and tree enthusiasts alike better understand their woody neighbors.