Family anecdotes, camping tips, how-tos, hiking with children, nature, motherhood, memories.

Adventures in Camping with Five Kids

Camping with kids is like pitching a tent upside down. Both are bound to fill with laughter and raindrops.

--Victoria Marie Lees

Showing posts with label tree identification. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tree identification. Show all posts

Friday, February 1, 2019

Simple Pine Tree I.D. Using Needles and Cones
I thought we could return to a little tree identification here at Camping with Five Kids. Let’s talk about the conifers. Conifer is Latin for cone-bearing tree. They are the pine cone trees, the evergreens. My family and I have seen many kinds hiking through forests on our camping trips. We even collected a few pine cones along the way. But how do you tell one pine tree from another? There are hundreds of conifers. This post will focus on a few of the needle-type.  

Once again, we took a walk around town to gather a few photos for the blog. We love the way the pines dance in the wind, the way the delicate white snowflakes catch in their deep green boughs.

Let’s start with the needles. The needles of a conifer tree are its leaves. And because a pine needle is waxy and thick for a leaf, it can sustain winter temperatures. Conifers do not need to shed their pine needles in autumn to protect the tree from the cold. You can find an explanation of this in my November 2018 post, “How Do Leaves Change in Autumn?”
Balsam Christmas
The short needle trees are the balsam and Douglas fir trees we decorate for Christmas. These fir trees have flat needles as opposed to the spindly, round longer needles of the red and white pines. Fir needles grow individually on the branch and look green on top and bluish on the bottom. Blue spruce trees need the cold to grow. They don’t grow natively in New Jersey. We saw them out in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. 

Just like the oak trees I spoke about in my December 2018 post on identifying deciduous [leaf-bearing] trees at Camping with Five Kids, there are two main groups of long-needle pines; White Pines and Red Pines. The long-needled pines have clusters of pine needles growing on the branch. If you count the needles growing in the clusters, you can discover which tree family they belong to.
White Pines have 5 long needles in a cluster. W-h-i-t-e, 5 letters; 5 pine needles.
Red Pines have 3 long needles in a cluster. R-e-d, 3 letters; 3 pine needles.

Eastern white pines are what we have here on the east coast of the United States. These dark green needles are pliable and round.
White pine needles and cones
The big thing to remember for identifying Eastern White Pine is to look at the branches:
Do they grow in a circle, like a hoop skirt? A line of branches; space, then another line of branches; space, then another line of branches. It’s called branches in a whorl. The Eastern White Pine has an open, irregular crown, or top, and holds the title of the tallest native conifer of northeastern United States.

The red pine needles are also dark green, but they’re stiff and inflexible. Some species sport clusters of two needles. A Virginia pine is in this class. Red pines have a single trunk that supports a symmetrical, dense and oval crown with up curved branches.
Virginia red pine needles

We found some Norway spruce growing in our neighborhood. To remember the Norway spruce; think “swamp thing.” The branches blow in the wind. I decided to demonstrate for the children what I meant. I loosely hung my arms from my shoulders and twisted back and forth, to let my hanging arms flop about. The kids thought it was funny. I worried that the neighbors were looking out their windows saying; “What’s that crazy lady doing now?”
Norway spruce, hang-y pine boughs

Let’s look at some pine cones. Remember how in my last post about trees I explained that the fruit of a tree is its seeds? How do you tell one pine cone from another?  

The Douglas fir tree has a unique pine cone in that it looks like it has little paper tickets sticking out of it. I share a native story about the sly fox and the tiny mouse as well as some western Douglas fir tree facts learned from a park ranger at Olympic National Park in my post “A Rain Forest in the UnitedStates? Are You Crazy, Mom?”
Douglas Fir cones

But if you’re looking for dramatic differences in the size of pine cones, look no farther than the western part of the United States. While east coast pines can grow to about 75 and 80 feet tall, we found taller and bigger pines out west. We saw the “giants” of California—the sequoias and the redwoods. You can read of our adventures at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks here and of our Redwood National and State Parks here

            We learn much from our park ranger hikes and talks. This post is only a summary.
In comparison, the Redwood is the tallest living thing, towering over 300 feet high. The sequoia is the largest living thing in the world. The interesting thing is these mighty giants have no deep taproot like most of the deciduous trees; no root that penetrates straight down into the earth to secure these massive beasts. Most pine trees don’t have tap roots, we discovered. Instead, the redwoods and sequoias have roots that travel beneath the soil for miles in all directions. Impervious to fires and insects because of their thick bark, these giants usually die by toppling because of a lack of tap root.
Redwood, Sequoia, bear claw, Sugar Pine

The sequoia reproduces only through seeds in their cones. And the cones only open when the heat from a forest fire reaches the cones which are hundreds of feet up. The sequoia cone is the size of a chicken egg.

The redwood reproduces from seeds in its tiny, 2-inch cone. However, the redwood can also reproduce by becoming a “mother log” when it topples. The toppled tree sprouts new growth from burls, roots, even cut stumps.
California Sugar Pine tree
It's the Sugar Pine out in California that has the huge pine cone in my photo. While the sugar pine is towering, it's not as massive as the sequoia or redwood tree. 

I don’t pretend to be an expert naturalist. This is only a quick overview of what my family has learned about conifer trees on our many adventures camping with kids. Here is a good short post on the difference of pine needles

I hope you’ve learned something new by reading this post. Please feel free to share any knowledge you may have about nature or pine trees here at Camping with Five Kids. It would truly be appreciated. Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Simple Tree I.D. Using Leaves and Seeds

            The children and I are always looking for easy ways to remember which tree is which. Much to the children’s dismay, it’s not always so simple. The first thing we learned was that the seeds of a tree are called its fruit. Some seeds seem like they have parachutes, think of the fluffy “wishies” that float in the air. Think of the sycamore tree as having a brown wishie. Some seeds have blades like sailboats and catch the wind, twirling effortlessly to the ground. Think of the maples and Tulip Poplar. And then there are the nut seeds like the oaks.

I’m using some photos from our walk around the neighborhood, looking at the trees to help clarify the information we are sharing. After our walk, we went home and researched further online or in our tree and nature books to learn more about the trees. This post is a summary of what we learned.

American Sweet Gum Tree
The American Sweet Gum tree is the star tree with the spiky balls as my children calls it. Many children identify trees by describing their leaves and seeds. This is a great way to have children pay attention to detail. Have the children look around the base of the tree or even up into the tree for clues as to its identity.
Sweet Gum leaves and seed pods

            We found out that the Sweet Gum is among the last trees to leaf out in the spring and among last trees to drop leaves in fall. It has deeply-lobed, star-shaped leaves. The seeds for this tree burst out of the pods. You’ll notice in my photo the green pods are closed. Once the seeds explode out, the pod has open portals and turns brown. We found both kinds of pods on the ground.  

Sycamore Tree 
The Sycamore tree is the easiest one for my children to identify by the trunk of the tree. The sycamore is the peely-barked tree. In other words, the tree sheds its bark. A sycamore can be called a buttonwood tree. It is a North American plane tree with broad leaves measuring almost six inches and has three to five lobes. The seeds are tightly packed in a soft hairy ball that blows apart in strong wind. Think of tawny wishies here. It’s not a woody ball like the sweet gum.
Sycamore seed 

American Sycamores have smooth, whitish bark, which peels off in large flakes. Splotches, where bark has peeled off, can be brown, green, or gray. These trees grow near rivers, streams, or lakes. They need moist, but well-drained ground.
Tulip Poplar Tree leaves
The Tulip Poplar tree is the cat face leaf tree. If you look at the leaf of this tree, it looks like a cat face. The leaves have four points on them. They have winged seeds, like little helicopter blades, but we couldn’t find any on the ground. I use an internet picture here. This fruit [or seeds] is a cone two to three inches long, made of a great number of thin narrow scales attached to a common axis. Each cone contains sixty or seventy of these scales, of which only a few are productive.
Tulip Poplar seeds

Tulip trees are large and grow to a great height. On an average, these trees grow up to 80-100 feet tall. The tallest tulip tree found on the Earth is about 200 feet tall. A distinguishing characteristic feature of this tree is its very straight bark. The bottom branches of the tulip tree start nearly 70 to 80 feet from the ground. But the children and I still use the cat-faced leaf to identify this tree.

The Ginkgo tree is an odd tree. The little golden leaves are shaped like a fan. These trees can live as long as 3,000 years, we’ve read online, and have both a male and a female tree. Since the female trees can smell a little, so the information says, the trees we found in the neighborhood are most likely male.
Ginkgo Tree Leaves in Autumn 

A fascinating fact we found about the ginkgo tree is that it is a living fossil. The earliest leaf fossils are dated from 270 million years ago. It was rediscovered in 1691 in China and then brought over to our country in the late 1700s. The seeds and leaves are still used in medicine throughout the world. [Info from

            *A great place to find tree information is the Arbor Day Organization.* 

I could go on and on, but I’ll finish with a few facts about maples and oaks. There are over 100 species of Maple trees. Maples have sweet sap and double-winged “helicopter” seeds or fruit. The leaves are varied in sizes, but maple leaves have 3 major pointed sections with tiny, stout lower sections by the stem of the leaf. Here are a few that we saw on our walk.
Silver Maple Leaves
Sugar Maple Leaves
Small Maple Leaves called Swamp Maple

As for the Oak trees, there are approximately 600 existing species of oaks. But for my children’s purposes, we researched the two main groups:  
The pointy-tipped Pin Oak are the red oak leaf trees. The red oak trees have the points on their leaves. I told my children to remember r-e-d, 3 letters for pointy p-i-n, 3 letters oak leaves.
Pointy leaf Red Pin Oak Tree
Rounded finger White Oak Tree leaves
The rounded finger oak leaves are the white oak trees.  Again, I told my children to remember w-h-i-t-e, 5 letters for the r-o-u-n-d, 5 letters finger oak leaves. 

But red oak or white, all oak leaves have the same amount of lobes or teeth, about eight. And all oak trees bear the acorn as fruit.

The leaves from the Red Oak Group have pointed lobes:
Black oak
Pin oak
Red oak
Sawtooth oak
Scarlet oak
Shingle oak
Shumard oak

Leaves from the White Oak Group have the rounded lobes:
Bur oak
Chestnut oak
Chinquapin oak
English oak
Swamp White oak
White oak

I hope you’ve learned something new by reading this post. Please feel free to share any knowledge you may have about nature or trees here at Camping with Five Kids. It would truly be appreciated. Enjoy your Holiday!