Tree of the Month, April 2023

My Favorite Tree Books

By Martin (Mort) Schmidt for Simply Living

Shumard Oak. Photo by Mort Schmidt. 

I recently wrote about my favorite tree websites and downloadable books. This month I’ll discuss my favorite printed books – books about trees made from trees. I have over a hundred of them, many of which I picked up used for a dollar or two, and these are a few that I think you’ll find interesting. Most of the tree ID books are specific to the Midwest.  


101 Trees of Indiana by Marion T Jackson
• 366 pages, • 101 species • Color line drawings & photographs • ID keys • (Indiana) range maps • Information on tree uses • Arranged by family

This is the book I most recommend for Ohio tree identification, especially for the intermediate user. Photographs are good for some features, but subtle details are often more clear in line drawings, and this book has both. Key identification features are in bold. It’s heftier than Tekiela’s Trees of Ohio and costlier, but more thorough, and it still fits in your pocket. The difference in species between Ohio and Indiana is negligible. Obviously the county-by-county range maps don’t fit Ohio, but even so, they provide a good understanding of north-to-south distribution and general abundance of each species. Additionally, 101 Trees of Indiana has useful tables on trees’ tolerance for shade and wetness, making it a useful guide for planting. It also has tables on wood density (which corresponds closely to hardness), seed weight and dispersal methods, and other interesting information. 


Trees of Ohio, Field Guide by Stan Tekiela
• 240 pages • 115 species • Color photographs • No ID keys • No range maps • Limited information on tree uses • Arranged by leaf pattern (compound, alternate, etc.)

This book easily fits in your pocket and your budget. It has just enough information to help you identify the tree, and generally very good color photographs of leaves. However, the pictures of bark, flowers, and fruits are much smaller and of variable quality. Also contains information on tree uses, but no ID key or range maps. Widely available at Ohio nature centers and bookstores. An excellent book for the beginner-to-intermediate user. 


Field Guide to North American Trees, Eastern Region by Audubon Society
• 714 pages • >100 species• Color photographs• No ID keys• Regional range maps• Information on tree uses• Arranged by family

The Audubon book is fairly thick, but narrow and has a vinyl cover, so it fits a large pocket. It has lots of good pictures of leaves, bark, fruit, and flowers. It also includes range maps and line drawings of tree shapes for most species, and a bit of information on tree uses. It does not contain a key, but I find that the photographs are organized in such a way to make it fairly easy to identify species without it. Widely available at nature centers and bookstores. This is the book I‘ve turned to most often over the years, but 101 Trees of Indiana recently replaced it as my go-to book. The Audubon Society publishes a similar book for western trees. 


The Woody Plants of Ohio by E Lucy Braun
• 362 pages • Hundreds of species • Black and white line drawings  • Extensive ID keys • County by county range maps • Some information on tree uses • Arranged by family

To me, the bible of Ohio trees. The paperback version is medium sized – small enough to carry, but too large for a typical pocket. Contains beautiful line drawings of leaves, twigs and buds, fruits, and flowers, but no bark figures. Also contains county-by-county range maps for each species, and limited information on tree uses. Rather scholarly, but essential if you’re serious about Ohio trees. Available in paperback at:


The Tree Identification Book by George Symonds
• 272 pages • >100 species • Black and white photographs • No ID keys • No range maps • No information on tree uses • Arranged by leaf pattern, fruit, and other characteristic features

This is a large format book and not very portable. Contains large photographs of leaves, flowers, fruits, buds and twigs, and tree shapes. Photos are large but black and white, and sometimes have too much contrast. Includes neither range maps, keys, nor information on tree uses. It also includes photographs of bark, but due to the high contrast and lack of color, they’re often not helpful. But despite these limitations, the organizational style makes it a good book for identifying trees, and I’ve used it often. I would love to see an updated color version. Symonds wrote a companion book on shrubs. 


The Illustrated Book of Trees by William Carey Grimm
• 695 pages • >250 species • Black and white line drawings  • Extensive ID key • No range maps • Considerable information on tree uses • Arranged by family

Limited to eastern North America. Nice line drawings of leaves, fruits, flowers, twigs and buds. No range maps or illustrations of bark. Contains an extensive key and good descriptions of tree uses. Also contains a paragraph for each species that compares and contrasts it to similar species, which is very helpful in identification. Despite its volume, it’s actually quite readable. 


Golden Guide to Field Identification, Trees of North America by Frank Brockman
• 280 pages • Hundreds of species • Color drawings • No ID keys • Regional range maps • Limited information on tree uses • Arranged by family

Contains nice colored drawings of leaves, fruits, flowers, and occasionally bark. Contains range maps for most or all trees and very basic descriptions. Several trees per page. Inexpensive, widely available, and portable. A good choice for beginners, especially if you want a single book for the entire country. 


Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William M Harlow
• 56 pages • >150 species • Black and white photographs • Consists almost entirely of ID keys • No range maps • Little or no information on tree uses • Arranged by characteristic traits

This is a useful book, especially for winter tree ID. It’s portable – although a little large for most pockets – and inexpensive. Available new for under $10. Although I’m not generally a fan of ID keys, the book is small enough and the photos are arranged in such a way that you can identify most trees visually. 


Peterson Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs by George Petrides • 431 pages • 645 species • One-color line drawings (green)  • Extensive ID keys • No range maps • Limited information on tree uses • Arranged by identifying feature, especially leaf pattern

Widely available and portable. Detailed drawings of leaves and fruits. Extensive use of identification keys. No range maps or illustrations of bark, limited information on tree uses. Peterson is renowned for its bird guides, but I’ve never been a fan of the tree guide, as I find it cumbersome to identify trees through the extensive keys. And while it can be useful for identification, it’s not, to me, an interesting read, nor does it carry as well as the Audubon guide or 101 Trees of Indiana. 



A Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane

110 pages. As much about wood as the trees themselves, with Sloane’s beloved cartoon-style illustrations of times gone by. Sloane’s books are widely available at museum book stores and most are available in paperback. This is an easy read and one of Sloane’s most popular works. 


A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America by Donald C Peattie

606 pages, numerous species. A classic among tree lovers. Contains nice black and white drawings and fairly detailed descriptions that might be used for identification, but best known for its extensive, effusive, and very readable essays on trees, their uses, and their places in history. 


Red Oaks and Black Birches, the Science and Lore of Trees by Rebecca Rupp

276 pages, 20 species. A very readable book on a variety of interesting trees. I refer to this book frequently when writing about trees. 


The Folklore of Trees and Shrubs by Laura C Martin

221 pages, 100 species. This book contains a wealth of information on trees in history and their importance for lumber, food, medicine, and wildlife. Also contains information on planting. Very readable. Contains nice line drawings, but not intended for tree identification. 


Oak, the Frame of Civilization by William Bryant Logan

336 pages. An interesting book describing the historic importance of our most important hardwood, including its use as a human food source. 


America’s Famous and Historic Trees by Jeffrey Meyer

128 pages. An interesting read for lovers of trees, that discusses 17 trees, including a honey locust where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address and a pin oak on Elvis Presley’s Graceland. 


Tree Story: the History of the World Written in Rings by Valerie Trouet

Everyone knows that you can count the rings in a tree to determine its age. Trouet describes how variations in ring spacing and other features can be used to date historic wooden objects, to study climate history, and to derive information available nowhere else. 


A Tree a Day, 365 of the World’s Most Majestic Trees by AmyJane Beer

368 pages. This book devotes a page or so to a particular tree or type of tree for each day of the year. Each entry contains a beautiful illustration and a brief description. I read it every day. 

Comments are closed.