Category Archives: Trees

Tree ID: Hop-hornbeam

Photo of Hop-hornbeam

Hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is a short-lived understory tree with dense wood and fruits that superficially resemble those of Common Hop (Humulus lupulus). The bark starts out smooth but before long becomes rather shaggy as it splits into narrow, partly exfoliating strips. As with other members of the Betulaceae (Birch) family -- like Speckled Alder, Beaked Hazelnut, Gray Birch, and the similarly named American Hornbeam -- Hop-hornbeam has pollen-bearing (male) and seed-bearing (female) flowers arranged in separate clusters known as catkins.

To learn more about Hop-hornbeam, visit Go Botany. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Foraging Wild Teas: Eastern Hemlock

Photo of Eastern Hemlock needles

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) grows throughout New England and provides food, medicine, shelter, and much more for a host of insects, birds, and mammals. Identification features include: ~1/2" long, flat needles with white stripes below and short, bent stalks; ~3/4" long, dangling seed cones; and bumpy twigs (easily observed on dead branches). My favorite field mark requires a close look: miniature (often upside-down) needles line the tops of branches (see top photo).

The needles of Eastern Hemlock can be used to make a fragrant tea in much the same way as Balsam Fir needles. To avoid too strong a tea, I recommend starting with a couple of finger-length branchlets. Remember to bruise the needles (by rubbing or chopping) prior to covering with hot water to help release their inner constituents.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Foraging Wild Teas: Balsam Fir

Photo of Balsam Fir from above

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) is a common member of northern New England forests and is widely known as a popular Christmas tree. The blunt-tipped, flat needles of this species are green above, have two white stripes below, and are typically arranged in flatish sprays. Touch the bark to notice the raised pockets of resin hidden just below the surface, and, in winter, observe the resinous buds at the tips of twigs. I encourage you, in addition to learning the look and feel of Balsam Fir, to engage your sense of smell when in the midst of this species.

Both fresh and dried needles of Balsam Fir can be used to brew a flavorful and (depending on the dosage) medicinal tea (see 17.03 | Nature Notes for brewing suggestions). In Ancestral Plants (Vol. 1, 2010), Arthur Haines writes that Balsam Fir needle tea can help treat coughs and colds, but he suggests "...using the fresh winter buds to produce a more potent infusion" (p. 195).

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

New Moon Challenge: Tree Twig Moon

Photo of Black Cherry twig

Today's new moon marks the start of my first moon challenge of 2017. Between now and the next new moon, I'll photograph and sketch the twigs of at least 15 tree species. (Last year, I did a similar Shrub Twig Moon.)

I'll consult a variety of resources to verify my twig identifications, including The Tree Identification Book (1958) by George W. Symonds, Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Trees (1988) by George Petrides, and The Sibley Guide to Trees (2009) by David Allen Sibley. For up-to-date scientific names and preferred common names, I'll consult Go Botany.

Photo caption: Do you recognize this winter twig? Click here to check your guess.

Fall Tree ID: Tuliptree

Photo of Tuliptree silhouette

Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a member of the Magnolia (Magnoliaceae) family and grows to heights well above most other New England hardwoods. In fall, mature trees can be recognized by their cone-like fruit clusters which adorn the tips of countless twigs. Over the coming months, these clusters will thin out as the winged seeds fall naturally or are eaten by various mammals or birds.

To further appreciate the distinctive beauty of this tree, check out Oregon State University's Tuliptree profile page which includes photos of the flower and fruit development, twigs, bark, leaves, and overall green season and white season forms.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.