I?ve been scratching my head enough years trying to figure out what sort of oak trees grow around here, what trees I?m passing on my walks.
So, to the books. I checked out from the library a tree book that includes keys to pinpoint exactly what tree is in front of me. And it?s full of Latin names!
If you haven?t wrangled with one of these devices, the key is essentially a list of features that you compare with the tree you are trying to identify.
It works as a process of elimination.
For example, the key to all quercus (oak) species starts with the leaves which can be wide at the tip, widest in the middle, grayish beneath, green beneath, evergreen, deciduous and so on. Doesn?t sound so bad, does it?
Wait. The key to oak species continues for six pages of a regular-sized book, fairly small print and includes such terms as ?glabrous,? ?peduncle,? ?stellate,? ?appressed,? and my favorite, ?cariaceous.?
According to a jacket cover description of this book, ?Technical terms are kept to a minimum, and a full glossary is provided.?
The book?s authors like the word, ?minimum.? They claim trees can be named with ?minimum effort.? I suppose it?s relative.
To the authors the technical terms may be used minimumly, but even with the glossary, I soon got frustrated.
I tried. I really did. I earnestly went out and gathered samples of leaves, branches with buds, and acorns in their cups...(not drunk). Here?s what I was up against. Beginning description for live oak: ?recognized by undersurface of leaves densely covered with tiny hairs, all appressed and stellate; by lateral veins not strongly impressed on upper surface.? Huh? I couldn?t see any hairs. I didn?t know trees had hairs. I needed drawings. I needed arrows pointing to the features. According to this book, one difference between live oaks and sand live oaks is whether the lateral veins are strongly impressed or not.
By the way, the glossary did not include ?lateral? or ?impressed.? I guessed that the veins going off from the main one were lateral and the ones on the sand live oak were deeper into the surface than the live oak. I came to the conclusion after staring at what I thought were live oak and sand live oak leaves that I?d need to collect a bunch of samples for comparison.
I?m not saying the book ?Trees of the Southeastern United States? by Wilbur H. Duncan and Marian B. Duncan is bad. I?m saying someone with the attention span of a gnat like myself needs to take using it in small doses.
Least you worry that this is one long book review, I do have some nature observations to make.
When trying to identify trees, it?s important to get several samples of branches with leaves, get branches with buds on them, and try to get branches with the nuts still on them.
One tree can have a variety of leaf shapes.
Laurel oaks have the usual shiny, evergreen, widest at or near the middle leaves. Laurel oaks can also have leaves that have teeth or lobes, in other words, are not one smooth unbroken edge but have sections that curve in and out.
The books explains that these different leaves appear on second growth twigs and saplings.
The shape of the acorn in its cup provides the most help in distinguishing a live oak from a laurel oak.
Yes, the live oak leaf?s undersurface is usually seen as a lighter color than the laurel oaks, but that can be a tricky judgment to make without having the two for comparison.
But the acorn of the live oak sits in a bowl-shaped cup that looks much longer than the squat round laurel oak acorn sitting in a plate-shaped cup.
The acorns of both trees look very different - the leaves not so much.
Now to the buds. Sometimes you can?t find acorns still on a tree.
But most of the time you can find buds. The buds (those places where new growth will occur) on live oaks are small, round and blunt on the end. The buds on laurel oaks are larger, oblong and pointed.
I?ll end on an encouraging note from my favorite tree book.
The sand live oak is similar to the live oak in growth form, and acorns, but its flowering is 2-3 weeks later when in same location and habitat, and hybridization between the two is probably minimal.
Yes, ?hybridization? but probably ?minimal.? Oh good.
Anyway, until next time, good observing.