When a leaf falls from a tree twig, it leaves behind a bud. These lateral buds are the next spring’s leaves waiting for winter to come and go.
A lateral bud lies along the sides of a tree’s twigs. At the end of the twig is a terminal bud.
Hidden inside a terminal bud is more than a leaf. This bud can grow more twig, more leaves and even flowers. Yes, trees do have flowers.
Some flowers are big and showy. These often have their own larger flower buds. Other flowers are small such as the catkins on black walnuts and oaks.
Over the summer the terminal bud is busy growing all these new bits of tree. In the fall the bud covers itself up with hard scales for protection.
Bark is one way to identify a tree. Terminal buds are another. The Missouri Department of Conservation does have a thick booklet containing a key to identify trees by their buds.
A taxonomic key is a list of statements about something. One list was whether a twig had spines or not. If the twig has spines, you go to another numbered set of choices. If there are no spines, you go to a different set of choices.
If you make all the right choices, you end up with the name of the tree.
I do have this booklet. When I went out looking at bark, I took this booklet with me planning to key out those trees I did not recognize.
The first few sets of choices were easy. Then I came to one wanting me to cut off a twig and slice it open. I can do this. I do not want to do this.
At barely over five feet tall the only terminal buds I can reach are on saplings or small, very small trees. These trees are trying to survive long enough to become big trees and need all their terminal twigs and buds.
My solution was to take pictures of the terminal buds. Once back in the house I could take my time browsing through the two tree guides until I matched the bud to the picture.
Oaks and hickories are tree groups with many members that look much alike. The twig key will be very useful telling these apart.
There is a time limit for using these terminal buds. Spring weather will wake up these sleepers. Once they swell up and discard their scales I will have to wait until next fall to get out the twig guide again.