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Trees (botanical)

Wednesday while on a walk I had the impulse to start trying to ID trees. Pulled out my phone, looked up tree key websites, and got to work. It was somewhat successful. I don't remember everything I IDed, but I thought I found some sort of beech, a black locust, a thornless honey locust (which I confirmed with a resident emerging from the building behind), some sort of elm, maybe a dogwood? maybe a pear? and I think a couple others. Also something that so far has stumped my (California) botanist friend S, and reddit's /r/whatsthisplant, the first five photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mindstalk/albums/72157669140836646 (the next 3 are some conifer, and the rest another; I thought they were pine, now I think fir.)

The various toothed leaves were annoying, as my key asked questions I had trouble answering. "Is this single or double? How fine a line counts as a vein?"

I've kept it up! Poked around a bit yesterday, including the conifers mentioned above, and today, on the bike path. I may have found a northern catalpa, though S seemed skeptical; it's got the right big heart-shaped leaves, though the shape of the tree didn't match catalpa photos. It might match northern catalpa photos.

Today's big project became "try to distinguish the three non-larch types of conifer". At this stage I don't care about getting precise species, I'd be happy if I can go "that's a pine" or "that's an elm." (I can already do 'maple' and 'oak'; there's a lot around here, which explains my allergies. With enough diversity that I probably *could* zoom in on species, but not yet, apart from the flagrantly obvious Japanese maple, in its purple-red leaf cultivars.)

So right, conifers. Websites made it sound easy, if you can get close to the needles: pines have 2 3 or 5 emerging together, the others just individual needles; firs are 'friendly', soft and long, spruces spikey and short. Also flaky vs. furrowed barks, and that seemed to match the pine/fir needles I perceived. (No spruces.)

Though later with some short trees I wondered "is this a fir needle, or the "flattened leaves" I saw on my key and couldn't figure out?

I also looked up how to find the mythical pine cone seeds. New theory: what I think of as pine cones, with big wooden flakes, are after the cone has opened and dumped its seeds or been plundered of them by squirrels.

It's tempting to go to the Arnold Arboretum tomorrow and go look at labeled plants, though it's also really not what I should be spending time on right now. (Walks are one thing, half-day trips another.)

It's been fun, and a lot faster reward than taking up bird ID: trees are *right there*. So are other plants, I imagine I'll expand... IDing the various flowers I stop and sniff would have the advantage that they can't grow out of range; many of the taller trees don't present their leaves for examination.

Today I also got in a bit of unexpected squirrel watching: there was a squirrel lying on a branch, making odd sounds, reminiscent of though not the same as the squirrel mating sounds I grew up with (and can still imitate if asked.) It seemed focused on something but I couldn't tell what.

Obvious icon choice is really obvious, this time.

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Damien Sullivan

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January 2019


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