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Thursday - April 28, 2011

From: The Woodlands, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of volunteer tree
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I have a volunteer tree in my yard that has a mixture of serrated, non-serrated, and partially-serrated leaves on it. My tree identification guides all assume either serrated or non-serrated. How do I begin to identify it?


Many trees have variable leaves —just in general, or dependent on the age of the leaf or its position on the tree.   Unfortunately, many tree identification books fail to mention that the leaves can be variable.  There are many features of trees that should be considered when you are faced with a difficult identification situation.   First, leaf shape and arrangement are very important.  The texture of the bark, the general shape of the tree, its flowers, and the fruits containing the seeds also need to be considered.  Of course, all of those features aren't always available to see.   You may have only the leaf shapes, their arrangement on the stems and the trunk.  To make things harder the texture of the trunk on young trees may look different from that of older trees.  A good field guide to trees in your area with some sort of key is your best resource for identification.  Here are a few:

Field Guide to Texas Trees by Benny J. Simpson (1999.  Houston:  Lone Star Books/Gulf Publishing Co.) has descriptive text, distribution maps and color photographs; but no identification key.

Lone Star Field Guide to Wildflowers, Trees, and Shrubs of Texas by Delena Tull and George O. Miller (1999. Rev. ed. Houston:  Gulf Publishing Co.) has descriptive text, color photographs and a key to identification.

Trees of East Texas by Robert A. Vines (1977.  Austin: University of Texas Press) has detailed descriptions of trees with very good pen and ink drawings.  It has a dichotomous key only to the genus Crataegous (hawthorns).   It is out-of-print but there are affordable used copies available and perhaps it is available in your local library.

Trees of Texas: Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (2009.  Adventure Publications) with color photos and arranged by the type of leaf type its attachment to the tree.

Texas Trees: a Friendly Guide by Leslie W. Cox and Patty Leslie (1988 new ed.  San Antonio, TX: Corona Publishing Co.) grouped by leaf type and arrangement with drawings and stories about the trees and their relationships to humans.

Tree Finder: a Manual for the Identification of Trees by Their Leaves by May Theilgaard Watts (1998. Rev. ed. Rochester, NY:  Nature Study Guild Publishers) is small, affordable and has a dichotomous key for trees east of the Rocky Mountains.



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