Winter Woody Plant Botany


Explorations of Winter Botany: Handouts

with Conrad and Claudia Vispo
Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program

This is a set of handouts we have put together over the years. They are meant to help you ID the common woody plants in our area (Columbia County, NY). Questions, corrections or suggestions are welcome via email or by phone (518 672 7994). Also feel free to send us photos or even real twigs for ID. Good-luck!

Descriptive Outline - provides a summary of the most common types of woody plants we have in the neighborhood together with some ID tips.

Dichotomous Key (use at your own risk) - This is a couplet key to some of our most common woody plants. Despite trying to revise it each year, it still succeeds in confusing. It may be a helpful resource, but don't get stuck on it.

Cheat Sheet - This table is meant to summarize some key characteristics of common trees in winter twigs.

Buds in Winter Images - Few things work better than matching pictures. This is a collection of winter bud images for your perusing enjoyment.

Tree Shapes in Winter - Claudia's blog on identifying trees by their winter profiles.

Woody Plants in Winter - Four indexed, ~50 minute videos and accompanying blog posts introducing "First Tree Friends in Winter" (this material was originally put together for a self-guided course at Crellin Park and PS21 in Chatham in the winters of 2019/20 and 2020/21; it sometimes refers to flagging tape on trees, which has been removed, but the trees are still there!)

  • Woody Plants in Winter Video 1 and accompanying blog post (American Sycamore, Northern Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Eastern Hemlock, Hop-Hornbeam, Musclewood, Eastern White Pine, Red Maple & White Oak)
  • Woody Plants in Winter Video 2 and accompanying blog post (Grey Birch, Trembling Aspen, Big-tooth Aspen, White Birch, Eastern Cottonwood, American Beech, Black Birch, White Ash, Black Cherry, Red Cedar)
  • Woody Plants in Winter Video 3 and accompanying blog post (Staghorn Sumach, Willow, White Mulberry, Shagbark Hickory, American Elm, Hawthorn, European Buckthorn, Toringo Crabapple, Grey Dogwood, Multiflora Rose, Slippery Elm & Witch-hazel)
  • Woody Plants in Winter Video 4 and accompanying blog post (Red Osier Dogwood, Chestnut Oak, Bitternut Hickory, Buttonbush, Black Locust, Grape Vine and American Basswood)

Additional Resources:

  • Core & Ammons is what I used when first trying to learn winter buds and is free on-line. It has basic but functional diagrams of buds, but it doesn't give you such a good idea of the whole tree.
  • Unless you already know your summer trees well, it's probably best to start out with a book that has information not only on winter buds, but also on twigs, seeds/fruit, bark, leaves and form. A little ecology and use information would be great too. Our favorite all-around tree ID book remains Trees of the Northern United States and Canada by Farrer, but it can be expensive even when used.
  • Trees of the Eastern and Central United States and Canada by Harlow is an oldie but a goodie. It doesn't have the range maps and color images of Farrar, but the B&W images are functional, and it contains much good information; it's also cheaper. It was my first general tree guide.
  • The Peterson Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs: Northeastern and north-central United States and southeastern and south-central Canada by Petrides is also a fine workhouse; the older edition with trees AND shrubs seems more useful to me, because it includes those shrubs, unlike the previous two books.
  • We would highly recommend that if you use a smart phone or ipad, you download the free VTree app for apple or android; it can be used off-line and has plenty of good images and ID info.
  • The Northern Forest Atlas project provides tremendous, free on-line resources. Their web site is worth some dedicated browsing. Most immediately applicable to this course is probably their free downloadable bud poster. You'll recognize some of those images from our bud cards, since they graciously permitted us to use them.
  • As an on-line source, gobotany has lots of good information.
  • Roger McVaugh’s Flora of Columbia County is a great flora and is free on-line – it probably won’t help you much with ID, but it gives you an idea of which plants have been found where in the County; Claudia has been updating this flora and her files are available elsewhere on our web site. For other regions in NY, the New York Flora Atlas provides lists of documented occurences by county.
  • A more extended list of local plant references can be found on our plant web page.