|Honey locust or hawthorn?|
For many trees in winter, you have to identify them by their twigs and buds. These distinctive features are present in all but the first months of leaf out and the spring growth spurt. Identification is even more challenging when the unknown is small and could be a small tree or a shrub. Like seeing a friend in a crowd, familiar features occasionally may pop out, letting you immediately identify a species you are familiar with.
Some young tree species have characteristics that are relatively distinctive. Once you learn the face (twig or bud pattern) it can be yours forever (or for me as long as I can remember anything). Features such as the presence of thorns, bark color and the shape of buds can put the plant in a group. An example would be zig-zag twigs, which are easily identified and leads to a number of choices such as elm, sycamore, hackberry, redbud, osage orange and locust trees. This MDC website lists twigs by a few of their distinctive characteristics.
A great place to learn some distinctive twigs and test yourself using pictures like those below is at fieldbioinohio.blogspot.com/. The picture of hawthorn thorns below on the left immediately made me think of honey locust but the twig wasn't right. The hint to look for blood red buds in winter helps identify it as a hawthorn. Lacking the buds, look for secondary spines off the main spine which will identify the tree on the right as a honeylocust. I don't see red spines on our honeylocust at Bull Creek unless it is my blood.
For most twig identification I have to turn to a key. That will be the subject of the next blog.
Special thanks to Field Biology of Southeastern Ohio for the use of the pictures. It is a good place to test your eye.