Barking Up the Right Tree – Part 2

Here are the answers to yesterday’s tree trunk quiz. How did you do?

sycamore bark

American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis

One of the largest trees in Eastern North America. The white, mottled upper trunks and branches make it one of the most recognizable of our trees, especially in winter.

Ironwood trunk

American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana

I have always called this distinctive tree, ironwood, due to its dense, hard wood. The fluted trunk does look muscular, hence the name musclewood. Blue beech is another name I have heard for this generally small understory tree.


Hackberry, Celtis species

This one caused some of you some trouble. And, truth be told, I am not sure which of the two common species of this tree I photographed. The two found along this trail are C. laevigata and C. occidentalis, now known as Southern and Northern Hackberry, or Sugaberry. I think they are best told apart buy their leaves (and, those aren’t available right now). Both are characterized by warty knobs on the trunk, which can be sparse or dense (like this one). This one was in the floodplain, so I think it might be C. laevigata.

Flowering dogwood trunk

Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida

Our state flower (and the state tree of Virginia and Missouri), the flowering dogwood is a favorite, especially in spring. The red berries are a very important food source for many species of wildlife from bluebirds and turkeys to squirrels. As one person commented, she had learned that the bark looks like alligator skin. A co-worker said she learned the pattern looks like Kibbles ‘n Bits dog food.

Sourwood trunk

Sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum

The bark is deeply furrowed, and the tree trunk almost always leans, supposedly toward a former light gap in the tree canopy. The white spikes of flowers at the tips of the branches and the sour taste of the leaves are distinctive.

American beech trunk

American beech, Fagus grandifolia

One of my favorite trees, the American beech has smooth, gray bark, usually dotted with lichen patches. It often has a root parasite, beech drops, growing on the ground around it. This time of year, the dried leaves clinging to the branches and the elongate terminal buds are also distinctive.

Loblolly pine

Loblolly pine, Pinus taeda

Our most common local pine, the loblolly can grow to be quite large. It’s longish needles and cones are characteristic. The clouds of yellow pollen from this, and other pines, will soon be covering our woods (and cars, and…).

Shortleaf pine

Shortleaf pine, Pinus echinata

The other common pine in our local woods, the shortleaf can be distinguished from loblolly by its shorter needles, smaller cones, curved or contorted branches (when looking up, compared to the straighter branches of loblolly), and the flat, scaly bark. The bark also has tiny resin dots.

Now, practice identifying trees just by looking at eye level on your next stroll in the woods. An advanced tree trunk quiz will be coming soon.

6 thoughts on “Barking Up the Right Tree – Part 2

  1. Thanks, Mike. I impressed myself! :<) I actually "visually" Identified all accept the pines — could see the tree on my property that fit your pic even though I'm lousy with names (same lame excuse). I could see the loblolly too, but I NEVER remember its name. I guess it's good we have so few. Now I would ask you to drop by and do the same with our four different oaks and four different hickories! I'll give you the white and red oaks now. :<))

  2. American hop-hornbeam is Carpinus caroliniana, not Ostrya virginiana. It’s easy to get the two confused since Carpinus caroliniana is called Hop Hornbeam. I’ve come up with my own mnemonic so I can remember which one is which.

    • Indeed, Richard, I made a “knothead” move with that one:) Just rushed to write it before work and totally messed up. Thanks for the correction – I updated the post with the correct info. Share the mnemonic if you like.

  3. Mike, Walter wants to know what the difference is between Shortleaf and Virginia pine.

    Thanks, Betsy

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Hey Betsy…Virginia Pines have bark that is more flaky in appearance than Shortleaf, lacks the resin dots, and has a reddish cast as you move up the trunk. Looking up into the tree, it is easier to tell as the Va. Pine has numerous very small cones relative to the other pines around here. I don’t have any here for pix, but here is a link that shows the traits of Va. Pine –

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