A Walk in the Woods
by Mary Morton Cowan
Where I live, in the northeastern United States, more than 70 kinds of trees are native to our forests. Let's take a walk and identify a few common trees of the northeastern woods.
Beech trees of all ages have smooth, light-gray bark. Forest animals find beechnuts tasty.
Photography Credit: © allOver photography/Alamy.
You can recognize the sugar maple by the deep U-shaped notches on its large leaves. Its sap is collected every spring to make maple syrup.
Photography Credit: © imagebroker/Alamy.
Eastern white pines are the tallest evergreen trees in the Northeast: 100 feet tall or more. The branches are high, where they can get sunlight. As the tree grows, its lower branches die and fall off. Pine “leaves” are called needles, and they grow in clusters. White pines have five needles in each cluster. In Colonial times, many white pines were chopped down to make masts for sailing ships. Can you guess why?
Photography Credit: © Richard Hamilton Smith/CORBIS.
Trees in the oak family are divided into two groups: white oaks and red oaks (strangely, red oaks are sometimes called black oaks). You can tell them apart by looking at their leaves: White-oak leaves have rounded tips. Red-oak leaves have pointed tips.
Photography Credit: © Martin B. Withers; Frank Lane Picture Agency/CORBIS.
Can you guess why this tree is called a shagbark hickory? Underneath that shaggy bark is tough wood. Hickory was once used to make skis, wagon wheels, and tool handles.
Photography Credit: © Dr. Gilbert Twiest/Visuals Unlimited.
Each leaf of an ash tree is about a foot long. It is called a compound leaf, because it is made up of seven to nine leaflets, all on one stem. Ash wood is used to make baseball bats.
Photography Credit: © Eric and David Hosking/CORBIS.
The paper birch is sometimes called white or canoe birch. Its beautiful white bark grows in paper-thin layers. Woodland Indians stripped off large sheets to make canoes. Many birds peel off little strips for their nests.
Photography Credit: © Layne Kennedy/CORBIS.
Birch leaves turn a beautiful yellow in the fall.
Photography Credit: © Pavel Filatov/Alamy.
There are many other trees to see. Discover some yourself the next time you go for a walk in the woods.
- leaflet: A small or young leaf.
- What kind of stem structure do you think these trees have? Write a sentence telling how you know what kind of stem structure the trees have.
[anno: The trees have woody stems because all the stems are covered by bark.]
- What kind of leaf margin does a birch tree leaf have?
[anno: A birch tree has a jagged leaf margin.]
- In Lesson 2, you learned about different ways to classify plants. In what ways are these trees alike? In what ways are they different?
[anno: The trees are alike because they all have a woody stem structure and netted veins. They probably all have a fibrous root system. The trees all seem to have leaves that are smooth in texture. The trees are different because some of the tree leaves have a smooth leaf margin, and some of the tree leaves have a jagged leaf margin.]