Like my daughter, I have a fascination with Nature and a desire to categorize things. When we moved to our property I wanted to learn about the trees and plants we had around us. So for the first few weeks that we’ve been here, Daughter and I have been collecting samples then bringing them home for identification.
I love the fact that identification of flora and fauna tends to follow a flowchart-like process, with each step further defining a category. For example, in our mushroom-hunting adventures, armed with All That the Rain Promises, we learned how to proceed along a flowchart to identify mushrooms. First, look for gills versus pores, then break the stalk to see if it is fibrous or snaps apart like chalk, and continue along as the book describes. As you follow the steps you get closer to identifying your specimen. And after a while we get to learning the various groups so that we can at least narrow it down some before having to check with the book. Daughter can tell a bolete immediately just by looking under the cap.
We’ve learned that identifying plants, particularly in the winter, follows a similar process. In this case our indispensable tome is Trees in Canada. The book is divided into 11 groups of trees based on leaf characteristics. Daughter and I have learned that leaves can be opposite or alternate, simple or compound. If the trees have leaves and are fruiting or going to seed that makes identification much easier. But we are only just getting buds at this time of year, and when we first got here many of the trees were bare. So we learned to look at the Leaf Scars. These are literally scars on the branches where last season’s leaves fell off. New leaves sprout from this area. Leaf scars can be shaped like a shield, heart, chevron, oval, etc. And then inside the leaf scars are little spots called vein scars. The number of vein scars is a distinguishing feature for many species.
And so it went along: take a branch and look to see if the leaf scars are opposite or alternate. Look at the size and shape of the leaf scar, then count the vein scars. You can identify a lot of trees around here just by performing those three simple steps. We’ve had a lot of fun doing this, but I suppose you have to be the type of person who gets off on categorizing things. Fortunately, both Daughter and I are that sort of person. And when you are done with your identifications, you can use your samples to make Nature Art!