Saturday 18 February 2006

Philip's Amazing Mad Capped Horse

We are all students of arboriculture, learning and expanding our knowledge every day.

A simple phrase proposed by a student from Deloraine, can unlock the mystery of tree identification.

The first thing that you must know when looking at a tree is what tree you are looking at. Previously we had discussed ways of identifying conifers, also referred to as evergreens. Mad cap horse is a simple way to remember the most common trees that have opposite branch arrangement. The way buds and branches are arranged on trees is one easy way to tell them apart. Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Caprifoliaceae, and lastly Horse chestnut all have this bud arrangement. Caprifoliaceae is a group of plants that include honeysuckle and elderberries.

When you look at a twig and the buds are exactly opposite each other on the twig, the buds are said to be oppositely arranged. The most common arrangement other than

opposite is alternate. This means the buds are arranged in a zig-zag pattern one on one side, then one higher up on the other side. Trees that have this arrangement include, elm, oak, birch, willow, locusts, hackberry, hazel and many others. With this basic information you can identify many of the trees on your street or in the woods. To go beyond this you need a good field guide with a proper key.

The first question in most keys is bud arrangement, opposite or alternate. If you remember Philips mad cap horse you may be able to get the answer without having to work through your key. Once you identify a tree several times you may be able to pick it out quite easily.

Humans are hard wired to differentiate subtle visual differences. This instinct helps babies identify their mothers. Later life the same instinct helps to identify your friend’s car! Once you know the characters in the forest lets you begin to know the interplay that goes on between them. Take time to remember the word key and practice your tree ID.

A high quality field guide is a great investment. When in doubt contact an ISA certified arborist as they are experts in tree ID. Every arborist is a student and if they are lucky they learn something new each day.