Paradoxa Native Plant Walk

Sunday afternoon was a pleasant escape from cleaning up after six inches of rain with the high water that followed. Paradoxa, the Rolla chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society, held a winter tree identification walk.

Finding trees is easy in the Ozarks. They tend to be big and hard to miss. Over the winter most trees are bare trunks and branches.

For someone like me who depends on leaves and flowers to identify a plant, bare trunks and branches are daunting. Where do you start?

tree barks

Bark helps identify a tree in winter. The Osage orange bark (left) is yellow with long ribbons intertwined. Shagbark hickory (center) has long, thin plates of grey bark. American elm (right) looks like well worn gray pavement.

As the Paradoxa group wandered around looking at the different trees, several important things to look for became obvious. First was bark.

All trees have bark. Take a closer look at the bark. Bark is not usually smooth and featureless. Bark has color, texture and furrow patterns. The combinations help identify the tree.

terminal tree buds

Terminal buds are another help in identifying a tree in winter. Osage orange (left) has small buds on a big bulge. Post oak buds (center) have shingled scales and a gang of buds. Shagbark hickory (right) has a single large bud with two scales, one on each side. This bud is starting to open.

A second characteristic is the terminal buds. When a tree goes dormant in the fall, it makes leaf buds covered by scales on its branches. The one on the tip of a branch or twig is the terminal bud.

Some buds have many small scales giving the bud a shingled look. Others have two scales, one on each side.

Some trees have a single terminal bud. Other trees like to have groups of buds.

Paradoxa plant group

Two retired forest service men led the Paradoxa group on their winter tree identification walk.

The Paradoxa group looked at the bark and buds. Some were easy like the black walnut. Others were hard.

Where do you go for the hard ones?

One place is the winter tree guide published by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Missouri Trees guide has the bark and buds in it.

Paradoxa group hiking

The Paradoxa group includes people of all ages. Many are Master gardeners or naturalists. All are interested in Missouri native plants.

The more interesting place to go is on a guided walk like the one Paradoxa held on Sunday. Everyone on the walk is interested in Missouri plants. Each person knows a different set of plants.

As we walked along, we made comments about the different trees. Those who recognized the tree helped those who didn’t spot the best ways to identify it in the future.

The Missouri Native Plant Society has chapters like Paradoxa in many parts of Missouri. Anyone interested in Missouri plants will find joining the groups helpful and fun.