Before I start writing about the serious topic of Quercus classification and description I thought it might be fun to address the subject of its identification.

So how does one identify an oak tree as an oak tree?  I’m sure most of you have at one time pointed to an oak and said “That’s an oak tree.”  But how did you know that?  Was it because of a litter of acorns beneath it?  So what if it isn’t acorn season and the local oaks are deciduous (some are and some are not and some are “it depends”) and are currently without leaves?

How else does one recognize a particular species or genus* of a tree?  (Now I’m talking about any species of tree).  By habit.  Yes, practicing does help in the identification process but “by habit” I also mean by looking at a tree’s size and especially it’s shape.

We all know the difference in shape between a weeping willow [Salix babylonica] and any palm [  ].  These are very distinctive.  But what if the tree you are trying to identify is not so unique in shape?  What else do you look for?

First off, look around you.  If you are trying to identify a tree in its native environment observe that environment.  What kind of biome is it in?  That is, are you in a desert, grassland, tropical forest, seasonal forest, chaparral, etc.?  That palo verde tree [Cercidium] is only going to be found in a desert.  Also pay attention to the micro environment.  Is the tree in a wash, on a mountainside, what side of the mountain—the one that gets the most sun/fog/rain?  Etcetera.  Etcetera.

Now what if you are looking at a tree in an urban setting?  Your surroundings can help but not as much as if you were in a natural setting.  What other tool can one use to identify a flowerless, leafless tree?


The bark!


Many trees have very distinctive barks.  And just for fun I am presenting photos of a few of these trees—that is, their barks.  Try to name the trees belonging to each group of pictures.

The answers will be given after the photos but spelled backwards so you can’t inadvertently read them.        Good luck.


*The commonly accepted order of classification is:  Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species



Pepper= reppeP [Schinus]

Pine=eniP [Pinus]

Oak=kaO [Quercus]


Sycamore=eromacyS [Platanus]