by Martin (Mort) Schmidt for Simply LivingI’m often asked about my favorite tree books and websites. I have a good many favorites, so this month I’ll discuss my favorite tree websites and some later month I’ll discuss my favorite tree books.
I’m old school – when asked about my favorite nature app, I don’t have one. The only app I use is Google Lens, which is surprisingly good at matching pictures of plants, bugs, or even tennis shoes with online images. The app was apparently designed to help people purchase products they saw – tennis shoes or whatever. The limitation is that you have to be in cell-phone range and use data to access Google Lens in the field, as is true of many apps. But you can always carry a book or download one of the FREE PDF books discussed below. (I’m also cheap).
WEBSITESA lot of tree ID websites and books have keys, in which you answer yes or no questions repeatedly until you get to the end and figure out your species. A well-made key can be handy, but if you’re unable to answer a question accurately, you’ll reach a dead end or come up with the wrong answer. Also, most tree keys focus on leaves, which may be absent in winter, or too high to see in summer.
Some websites use filters. These are similar to keys, but differ in Field Guide Missouri Dept. of Conservation Site that you answer only the questions you can, and in no particular order. Applying one or several filters will generally narrow down the possible answers very quickly. Some books focus on buds, leaf scars, fruits, bark, and other features. I like to identify trees by bark, because it’s visible year-round on even the tallest trees, and is often recognizable on logs and stumps.
Missouri Department of Conservation Field Guide The MDC site has a great set of filters that makes it very easy do identify a tree almost instantly. It also has guides for butterflies, birds, and other critters. Most of the trees have beautiful line drawings of leaves, flowers, and fruits (the term “fruit” includes seeds and seed cases) that you can download and save. It also includes good verbal descriptions of bark, tree shape, etc., but unfortunately many of these features aren’t shown with the leaf figures. It’s also shy in describing the uses of various trees, but all in all it’s my favorite site for identification due to the use of filters, and the species are very similar to what you’d find in central and southern Ohio. Notice that the filter feature might be at the bottom of the screen, depending on the device you’re using.
ODNR Trees of Ohio This website has very nice photographs and descriptions of leaves, buds, flowers, bark, etc. It also has information on planting and plant hardiness. There’s some information on tree utility as well, but Trees are arranged alphabetically by common name, so you have to have some idea what tree it is in the first place.
(OPLIN also has a great site for historic street maps which you can access with your library card number).
Arbor Day, What Tree Is That? This site is mostly an ID key. It includes lots of good pictures of bark leaves, etc. I found it easy to use but it requires leaves for identification and has limited information on the tree once you’ve identified it.
Illinois Wildflowers Good color photos and lots of information, including gardening info, but arranged alphabetically by Latin name, and not designed for identification.
Native American Ethnobotany Database A good source of information on the historic use of native plants for wood, fiber, medicine, etc.
Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources Purdue University has an excellent site for lovers of trees and nature. If you go here and do a search on “trees”, you’ll find dozens of publications related to tree diseases, pruning, various species, etc. The Navigation bar will take you to still more information, including still more videos on tree ID. I find the site a little tricky to navigate but it’s definitely worth checking out. The second link, below, will take you to a series of short videos that describe how to identify nearly a 100 Indiana trees. Watch this Playlist. Click on the box in the upper right of the video to select your tree of interest.
Silvics of North America This site operated by the USDA Forest Service has extensive information on tree diseases, lumber yields, etc., but is not designed for tree identification. The only illustrations are range maps, but they are useful. There is also good information on wood uses. You can download PDF versions, one for conifers, one for hardwoods, if you want to use them offline.
Wood Database An excellent source of information on various wood properties, such as hardness. FREE DOWNLOADABLE TREE BOOKS Trees of Ohio Field Guide, ODNR Publication 5509 Ohio Department of Natural Resources • 80 pages • 76 species • Color photographs • No range maps • Limited information on tree uses • No ID keys • Arranged by family Consistently good color photographs of leaves, bark, fruits, and other features. Good descriptions. Also available for free in hard copy from Ohio DNR offices and various other places.
Know Your Trees J A Cope and Fred E Winch • 80 pages • 50 species • Black & white line drawings • Winter and summer ID keys • No range maps • Information on tree uses • Arranged by common name An all around good and not terribly technical or detailed book for tree ID. Also includes trees from the western US.
Forest Trees of Wisconsin, How to Know Them Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources • 72 pages • 52 species • Black & white line drawings • Very limited ID keys • Information on tree uses • Arranged by common name Good text descriptions, better than average discussion on wood uses. Also available at this site is a link to the two-page Wisconsin Urban Tree Key, which is a quick and easy way to identify city trees.
Common Trees of Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry • 82 pages • 64 species • Black & white line drawings • No ID key • Information on tree uses • Arranged by family A good basic book.
Pocket Reference for Winter Tree Identification Champaign County Illinois Forest Preserves • 33 pages • 32 species • Color photographs • No ID keys • No range maps • No information on tree uses • Arranged by family A barebones but very usable guide for identifying winter trees. Generally good photographs of buds and bark, but occasionally blurry. Most of the species are applicable to Ohio.
Field Guide to Native Oak Species of Eastern North America J Stein, D Binion, R Acciavatti, US Department of Agriculture http://www.namethatplant.net/books_nos.shtml • 175 pages • 50 species • Color photographs & black & white line drawings • Detailed leaf ID key • Information on tree uses • Arranged by species name An indispensable guide for distinguishing oaks. Excellent range maps showing every county in the eastern US. High quality figures.
The Hardwood Handbook: An Illustrated Guide to Appalachian and Southern Lumber Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association • 31 pages • 26 species • Color line drawings & photographs • No ID keys • No range maps • Information on tree uses • Arranged by common name Despite the book title, the book includes hardwoods and softwoods. Provides a good basic understanding of wood properties. Includes color photographs of wood grain. The line-drawings show tree leaves for each species, but the book is not intended for tree identification. Most of the trees can be found in Ohio.
Handbook of the Trees of the Northern United States and Canada East of the Rocky Mountains Romeyn Beck Hough • 479 pages • approximately 250 species • Black and white photographs • Basic ID key • Regional range maps • Information on tree uses • Arranged by family This book covers numerous trees and has very good photographs of leaves, fruits, and bark in the hard copy, but image quality in the online version is somewhat reduced. However, this book is unusual in providing images of wood grain in cross-section under approximately 15X magnification. This is what the experts use for definitive wood ID.
Trees of the Northern United States Austin Apgar • 164 pages • 109 genera, numerous species • Black and white line drawings • Detailed ID keys • No range maps • Minimal Information on tree uses • Arranged by family Published in 1892, this book describes a large number of trees, many of which are absent in other guides. But, of course, this means you’ll be wading through lots of data. There are nice line drawings of each tree, but most of them were significantly degraded in the imaging process. The extensive keys are most easily handled in the online version.