Winter Tree Identification

There are about a dozen characteristics available to help identify trees. Learning which subset of characteristics to use for a particular tree is where practice and skill are needed. Some characteristics are seasonal, such as leaves, fruits, and flowers. Most others are more year-round, such as twig and branching patterns, buds, bud scars, bark, tree form, site, and tree associates.

When all the leaves have all fallen off deciduous trees, you can identify them by examining the bud! You could look at the bark, but it can vary greatly among-st individual trees.

Sometimes, if a tree is too tall, accessing the buds is nearly impossible, so other identifying characteristics may be necessary to ID the tree.

A good tactic for beginners is learning the ten most common tree species first; sugar maple, red maple, white cedar, red pine, white pine, northern red oak, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, black cherry and hemlock. Once these trees are known, comparing them to unknown species will often make the identification process move quicker.

In the chart below, there are some common Michigan tree species with pictures of their buds.

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To learn more about some of the identifying bud characteristics of some common Michigan tree species, click here. 

Now that you are familiar with what the buds of some of Michigan’s common tree species look like, test your knowledge and go for a hike in the woods!

Remember to consider “where” the tree grows as that can be quite helpful, especially for sites that are particularly dry or wet. Some species are intolerant of shade, saturation in the soil, etc. The more trees you know, the easier it is to learn more. One of the best field guides is “Trees of Michigan” by Linda Kershaw. Norman Smith’s “The Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes” is also a good field guide.


Popular Forest Management Mythologies and What Foresters Think About Them

Original article by Bill Cook, MSU Extension Forester/Biologist

Forest management has a substantial number of social misconceptions that puzzle foresters.  Some of these misconceptions are even held by other resource managers, highly educated individuals, and entire suites of society.  These foresters “see through” the fallacy of certain popular mythologies.  Yet, so many people continue to believe them, sometimes passionately.

Here are a few myths that seem particularly “invisible” to the science of forestry:

“One, nature does a better job than humans do. It’s a fancifully magnetic idea but not necessarily true. One must ask the definitions of “nature”, “better”, and “job”. Our forests are anything but “natural”, having been repeatedly disturbed by human activity over the centuries. “Better” might be defined in terms of benefits to forests and people. These are not the goals of nature, as nature has no goals, but they are the goals of forestry. Management is required to increase benefits to forests and people. The “job”, perhaps, is working toward “better”. This job will most certainly not be accomplished through a hands-off process.

Two, forests are wildernesses. If wilderness is defined as an ecosystem largely untouched by human activity, then clearly our Lake States forests are far from wilderness. They’re not even “natural”, by some definitions. A wilderness is not simply a bunch of trees without buildings. There are several dominant natural processes that occur in forests. To direct those processes towards specific goals is what management is all about. Management intensity varies widely, depending upon sets of goals.

Three, diversity is critical, always good, and systems of low diversity are bad. This is holy ground where treading must be done lightly. Not all forest systems have inherently high levels of diversity, meaning their healthy condition is one of low diversity. A good example is jack pine on one of our many glacial sand plains.

Forest systems that have been degraded or damaged often possess lower levels of diversity. This may be a functional problem in delivering an optimal level of ecological services, or so the story goes. And, do you count exotic species? The research behind diversity equaling stability is less robust than the popular opinion. Alternatively, if one simply looks to Europe, filled with successful economies and societies, their ecosystems have been severely degraded over many centuries. Ecosystem degradation does not seem to have hampered the progress of human development too much. This would be less true in other regions of the world.

Fourth, forestry contributes to climate change. This is certainly true but in many beneficial ways. In fact, forest management is a major reason for optimism in the effort to mitigate and adapt to changing climates. Managed forest landscapes sequester more carbon than unmanaged landscapes, in the longer run. In addition, there are many other economic, environmental, and socio-economic benefits to managed forest landscapes.

Fifth, logging destroys wildlife habitat. “Destroy” is a harsh word and not entirely accurate. It is true that mature forest habitat is temporarily changed, but the change is to a younger set of habitats that benefit a different suite of species, including some species of special concern. Over time, forest succession and, hopefully, management will re-establish those mature habitats. It’s cyclical.

Sixth, clearcutting should be banned and harvests should all be done “selectively”. This is a tough one, as it sounds good on paper to many people. Nevertheless, there are those forest types whose regeneration strategies are adapted to natural catastrophes. Take away the catastrophe and those forests dwindle. Selectively harvesting aspen or jack pine will cause degradation.

Then, there is the trouble with the word “selective”. Too often, the biggest and best trees in a stand are selected. Foresters call this “high-grading” and shun the practice. Although, there’s been many a forestowner pleased with this outcome.

Seventh, there exists a general consensus that cutting trees is bad. Conversely, there are many very good reasons to cut trees, and few bad ones. Cutting the wrong trees in the wrong place, in the wrong way, at the wrong time can, indeed, lead to negative consequences. Tree cutting and forest management done under the care of professional forester is a much different deal.

Eighth, going “paperless” is not environmentally sound nor is it a “green” practice. Using wood-based products, including paper, actually has many environmental benefits. Wood, as a raw material, is the most environmentally-friendly choice available.

Forests and forestry are not as simple or straight-forward as the point made by Hans Christian Andersen. However, the idea of the “emperor’s new clothes” has a strong influence on the care and treatment of our forests and, perhaps, other natural resources. It may be rewarding to endorse socially-acceptable beliefs about our forests. However, caution is warranted, lest we find ourselves naked.”

–Bill Cook

Many of these misconceptions about forest management exist because we believe what we are told. However, not everything we are told is true. According to Cook, sometimes “we believe things in order to maintain some sort of image of ourselves or to reinforce a set of values that we find attractive. But when faced with reliable information that conflicts with these perspectives, how many are willing to change their opinion?”

To read more of Bill Cook’s Forestry Articles, click here. 

Iowa City Creates Tree Inventory to Grow and Manage its Green Space

In December of 2016, the Iowa City Parks and Forestry Division started making an inventory of the city’s trees.

The city worked with a geo-technical firm out of Colorado, Plan-It Geo, to catalog the trees to help the city manage and maintain its urban forestry.

The database was recently (Jan. 4) opened to the public to view on the Tree Plotter App.

Iowa City Superintendent of Parks Zac Hall says, “It’s going to help us manage what we have right now and plan for the future.”

Each dot on the Tree Plotter map represents a tree

On the map, each tree can be individually clicked on. When clicked on, it gives the type of tree, where it’s located and what kind of condition it is in.

Hall states that you can even view observations that show which trees are at risk of dying.

This inventory will help with the city’s management of emerald ash borer, an invasive species that kills ash trees.

The tree inventory also accounts for how much each tree is worth and its eco-benefits.

“Folks can see how much the tree in their right away is sequestering carbon, uptaking stormwater, cooling their home and just adding property value from an aesthetic standpoint,” Hall said.

Hall said the information does serve a larger purpose in managing the landscape. He said the information collected will go to the city’s urban forest plan to add more trees and diversity.

Species diversification is one of Iowa City’s number one goals in their urban forestry management. Currently, the city has 4,972 different species in its urban landscape.

Parks Superintendent Zac Hall said the city wants to use the information collected to grow the number of trees and the diversity of species

The city has planned and mapped out an additional 5,000 planting spaces for future trees to be planted. All together, collecting the information and creating the tree inventory cost the city around $100,000, according to Hall.

Hall said that the value of the current trees in Iowa City is an estimated $4.2 million. If more trees are planted, that value will only continue to grow.

This project reaps tons of benefits to the community for years to come if the database is properly maintained/updated. Consistent monitoring of tree health could help prevent total infestation of new invasive species such as the emerald ash borer.

Click here to read original article by Jalyn Souchek, Iowa City News Reporter.

Invasive Pests Continue to Pose a Threat to Our Forests

In an instant, a new invasive pest or disease can wreck havoc on our forests. Many already are, causing much concern among residents and people in the scientific community.

The United States trades with many other countries and thousands of people fly in and out of our country every day. This allows for new and potentially devastating tree pests, (both insects and disease) to be introduced to our woodland and landscape trees.

Many of the exotics that make their way into our country will not find suitable hosts to be able to survive, but a few will become successful and flourish, causing great harm to our native trees.

If left unchecked, these new pest species can spread rapidly thereby being labeled as invasive with the potential of devastating their host species.

“Examples of past impacts are the losses of American chestnut and elm from both our urban landscapes and forest stands. The loss of the American chestnut and elm affected not only the trees, but also the wildlife that was dependent on the trees for food and shelter. The lost trees may have been shading stream and river waterways. The loss of shade is contributing to increased water temperatures, which reduces the available dissolved oxygen and causes a reduction of fish populations.

Currently, hemlock woolly adelgid, beach bark disease, emerald ash borer and oak wilt are examples of exotic species that have become established and are working their way through many of our forest stands, leaving dead skeletons of once healthy trees as they move through (Mike Schira, ).”

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Photo credit: Ingham Conservation District

It is expected that as the world’s population increases, we will start to see more and more disease and invasive species problems. Early detection of new diseases and invasive pests are key in preventing a total loss of our native forests.

In an effort to enable early detection of new invasive tree pests, Michigan State University Extension has developed the Eyes on the Forest program. With initial funding from a Michigan Department of Natural Resources grant, this ongoing program is an effort to establish a network of sentinel trees across the state. Volunteer enthusiasts select the sentinel tree of their choosing and report on the trees overall general health using the online Midwest Invasive Species Network.

Original article found here. 


Woman Turned 110 Year Old Tree Into a Free Library

A librarian, artist and former bookbinder from Idado, decided that the large stump of a 110-year-old cottonwood tree would, instead of being dug up and destroyed, make the perfect setting for a ‘Little Tree Library.’


 This very old cottonwood was dropping huge branches onto the sidewalk for years and became dangerous to pedestrians. Sharalee Armitage Howard became concerned that the fallen branches were going to hit someone so she did not hesitate to jump at the opportunity of turning this old cottonwood into a library. The stump was carved out from the inside, topped with a roof and installed with a cozy interior and exterior lighting for a fairy-tale look. The concept of this tree library is ‘take a book, share a book.’

Nonprofit organization Little Free Library is helping to ensure we keep our innate love of books alive by “inspiring a love of reading, building community, and sparking creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.” These little libraries are popping up everywhere, with over 75,000 libraries provided in 88 countries so far!

Converting this decaying old tree into a free library benefits the whole community. Maybe this project will inspire others to think of imaginative ways to re-purpose trees if/when they become a hazard to people’s safety.

Original story by Bored Panda. 

Arbor Day 2019

If you are a second or third grade teacher in Mid Michigan, the Michigan Arbor Day Alliance (MADA) invites you to register for the opportunity to attend this year’s State Arbor Day Celebration in Lansing! Invitations were officially mailed to schools in November, but if you feel your school is not on our mailing list feel free to fill out and mail the Registration Form below. Also, be sure to contact us at so we can be sure you’re on our list for next year.

Registration form:

The annual Arbor Day celebration has four hands-on rotations in the morning, then you have time for your brown-sack lunch followed by the noon ceremony. During the lunch time celebration, there will be singing, dancing, recognition of our VIPs, city/county/state proclamations, and one lucky class will be chosen to help with the grand tree planting! After lunch, your class will enjoy free time in the Potter Park Zoo. (The other half of the classes will tour the zoo first, have lunch, and go through the rotations after the noon celebration.)

This all day field trip will take place outdoors, rain or shine, so come dressed for the worst and hope for the best!

***Please note: Teacher applications are due January 14, 2019. There is limited space at this event and we will be randomly selecting schools to attend.***

2nd and 3rd graders at Potter Park Zoo for the 2018 Arbor Day Celebration 

Elementary Students in Michigan Going ‘Into the Woods’ for Outdoor-Classroom Learning

In today’s world most of our youth are disconnected from the natural world. Video games, iPod’s and computers take up most of their time. According to the No Child Left Inside Coalition, children ages 6 to 11 spend 30 hours a week looking at a TV or computer monitor. Experts across disciplines are beginning to correlate the lack of children spending time in nature to childhood obesity, attention deficit disorders and depression. The fact remains, that if we do not begin engaging our youth in stewardship education and activities they will lack the knowledge and desire to manage our natural resources in the future.

Learning outdoors is becoming more and more popular in our increasingly fast paced society. Environmentalists would argue that exposing our youth to nature is vital to their health and well-being. Learning outdoors boasts other benefits too, such as increasing the students understanding of how humans are connected to other living things. As the world becomes more urbanized, it is important for our youth to make these connections and develop a sense of belonging and adopt environmental stewardship practices. Outdoor education may be one of the most powerful tools educators can use to inspire the next generation to care about our natural resources and to become better stewards of our land.

Northview Public Schools in Grand Rapids, MI recently opened a new field school. Students in multi-age classrooms – kindergarten and first grades, and second and third grades — spend much of their day outside learning. Science, math, reading and social studies are integrated into students’ daily exploration through interesting, inquiry-based, hands-on activities.

Photo credit: Neil Blake |

Teacher Jenna Rykse said “the number one benefit to our students is the amount of time we spend outside.” The students spend nearly 3.5 hours in the outdoor classroom setting each school day. Rykse claims, “learning is more fun and engaging for them. There is so much research that outdoor education and play supports the emotional, social and mental health of students.”

The school currently has 43 students enrolled in the environment based education program. The teachers really like this type of program because it allows kids to interact with nature in a way that you don’t get to in a normal school.

The program is intended to strengthen student’s mastery of all core subject knowledge while also encouraging curiosity, stewardship, community, leadership and adventure.

“It’s our responsibility as educators to help our students grow as young learners, and one way we can do that is by giving them the information and tools to view the world in new and different ways,” Northview Superintendent Scott Korpak said when the program was first announced.

“Field School gives students a chance to learn more about the environment, from the importance of our natural resources, to how we use those resources to decrease our environmental footprint.”

These type of programs are providing children with a chance to explore the world around them, which is good for their mind, body and soul.

So far, Northview Public School is getting positive feedback on their field school program from the parents and their students.

To read more about this new field school, click here.