Monday, September 21, 2009

Good Morning, Maple

So let’s start with an obvious question. How do I know that tree right outside my office window is a maple tree?

Easy answer. I grew up on a 10-acre parcel of land in western Massachusetts. On the other side of the road, there was a national forest. I literally grew up surrounded by trees, and my dad taught me how to identify them all—red maple, sugar maple, silver maple, red oak, white oak, red pine, white pine, sassafras, black birch, white birch, and many more.

This is a great thing to do for your kids because their brains are like sponges. They soak stuff like tree identification up and remember it their whole lives.

Thanks to my dad, I can recognize almost any tree in Massachusetts. But when I went to Costa Rica a few years ago, I had a lot of trouble remembering the names of the trees I saw there. My memory banks just aren’t what they used to be.

So how did my dad teach to identify trees? First, look at the leaves. Here’s what a Norway maple leaf looks like. They are 4 to 7 inches wide, and have five main sections, or lobes with fairly large “teeth” along the edges. You can see that some little critters have been gnawing on some areas of this leaf. I wonder who they are?

Some of you may have Japanese maples in your yards. The leaves look very different, don’t they? For maples, the leaves usually tell you all you need to know. But for trees that are a little more tricky, you can also look at the bark for help.

I recommend getting a good tree identification guide at the library and heading out into your schoolyard or neighborhood to see what’s there. Then take the kids out and have some fun.


  1. Melissa,
    Your maple is taking its time isn't it? Our maples are already turning a few random leaves yellow. Great tips on id'ing trees! We just saw Kate Messener read from The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z on Saturday, so leaf identification has also been on our minds.

  2. Very interesting, Nandini. You just live a few towns south of me.