Looking At Tree Buds

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.

hickory tree buds

Hickory buds tend to be large. The terminal bud on the end of the twig is much larger than the lateral buds along the side of the twig.

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.

dogwood tree buds

Dogwood trees have both flower and leaf buds. The flower buds are big globular terminal buds. Some twigs have slender leaf buds as terminal buds. Other leaf buds are lateral buds.

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.

pawpaw tree buds

Pawpaw trees have a slender terminal bud. The larger fuzzy lateral buds are flower buds. The leaf lateral buds are very small and flat against the twig.

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.

white oak buds

White oak terminal buds are a handful of large 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.

black oak tree buds

Black oak terminal buds have a large central bud with small side buds.

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.

sassafras tree buds

A few days of warm weather and the sassafras terminal bud has swollen enough to split its scales 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.