Winter Tree Identification Tips


Maybe you can identify a deciduous tree by its leaves in Spring and Summer, but how can you tell what it is when it doesn’t have them in Fall and Winter? The answer is to turn to the next best clues that are available at this time of year. There are 4 things to check out: Buds, Bark, Fruit and Silhouette.

  • Buds  They grow in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors unique to each species. Also some have fuzz! When looking at the buds on a twig of any given tree, make sure that it is a live twig! if the twig you are examining is dead, the buds will be darker in color (compared to its live buds) or missing altogether. If you can’t reach a twig, (for example on a large tree) look on the ground to see if any have fallen. *
  • Bark  There have recently been some great guides to tree bark published, for example Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast. Some trees have very distinguishable bark and others not so much.
  • Fruit  If you can find its fruit, that is the best clue of ALL to getting you a concrete answer since Taxonomists and Botanists group plants according to their reproductive parts. Again, look on the ground around the base of the tree to see if you can spot any seeds/fruits that may still be lingering from when they fell. Some trees hold on to their seeds for longer than others. *
  • Silhouette  These really work great for identifying older trees and can usually give you an idea of at least its Genus (i.e. Oak, but not necessarily Red Oak). This takes more of a trained eye but sometimes tree ID books have great illustrations to help you.


If you still can’t tell by checking these 4 things, just wait till Spring and see what leaves emerge or what flowers/fruit it pops out throughout the course of the year.
*When looking on the ground, make sure that the twig/fruit you examine is from the tree you want to ID and not its neighbors!