Tree Tuesday I

Lately, thanks to some extra free time and a lot of inspiration to get outside (no doubt due in part to the wonderful weather conditions of late spring), I’ve begun to take a strong interest in trees and tree identification. Many other young birders have recently chosen to expand their horizons and begin exploring other forms of life in the kingdom Animalia, including butterflies and amphibians. Always in support for the underdog, I too took up the cause, though I went a totally different way, instead selecting trees in the kingdom Plantae, as the subjects of my exploration into other forms of life.

My chosen ‘map’ for this exploration of new life is and has been the Sibley Guide to Trees by David Allen Sibley. Mr. Sibley has intended this book to be “a tree guide for birdwatchers” taking a holistic approach to tree identification and identifying each species by the “big picture” (i.e. size and shape) much like the similar approach used for birds.

Just like every exploration must have a navigational tool, each one must also have a mission. In my case, my goal is simply to learn a new form of life, have fun doing it, and hopefully affect my birding for the better as well. Instead of passing up trees as “common and uninteresting,” I aim to see the significance and beauty in every tree…much like I  try to do with birds.

I’ve also decided to start my ‘exploration log’ (in this case my life list of trees) from only the beginning of the exploration, verses before the adventure. My log includes other strict criteria for addition including the fact that I must ‘know’ each tree before adding it to the list. In this case, ‘know’ implies that I must feel comfortable with the tree and am confident that I can likely identify it on my own after the first encounter. Also necessary for addition is that fact that I must have identified the tree myself, without taking someone else’s word for it. While it is fine if I receive input from others during the identification process, I must make the final call for myself, even if they have already posed a possible i.d.

All these criteria must mean that I have to take it slow, and spend a good amount of time with each tree. My goal is to hopefully learn a few new trees every week, spending a good amount of time with each species, examining the foliage, the bark, the branch structure and the overall ‘gizz’ including general size and shape. I also hope to take basic notes and photos of every species, to better my understanding of that specific type of tree.

Just because I’ve seen, sketched, and identified a tree (and later checked it off) does not mean I can’t repeat this species later on. I hope to continue to study even the species I become familiar with and not just focus on listing ‘lifers.’ Besides, trees don’t have wings, nor arms or legs and are thus not going anywhere. With this form of life, I can truly take my time, and not rush through it.

Each week, I hope to highlight a new species of tree (or even an old friend that I recently enjoyed studying again) here in a post called ‘Tree Tuesday.’ The focus of this blog will do-doubt continue to be birds and birding, although trees have now received a special place here, too. And yes, I understand today is not Tuesday, but for this first ‘Tree Tuesday’ post, I’m going to cheat a little bit and make it on a Monday (I have an all-day class field trip tomorrow). Besides, ‘Tree Monday’ just doesn’t sound as good as ‘Tree Tuesday.’

Today’s featured tree is Common Apple (Malus pumila), a commonly cultivated and widely naturalized tree from zones 4-7. This species is deciduous and generally under 30 feet fall and occupies hedgerows, old orchards and fields. The growth of planting of this and other ornamental fruit trees has dramatically effected the winter ranges of some birds, including American Robin.

Common Apple’s wild ancestor (M. sieversii) is endemic to the mountains of Central Asia, and continues to be grown there today. From Asia, apples spread to Europe and then to the Americas. They have been grown in the aforementioned Old World regions for thousands of years. Recent DNA analysis has confirmed that the hybridization theory used to explain the origin of Common Apple (mentioned in The Sibley Guide to Trees) is false, and that all apples we eat are originated from M. sieversii.

A simple online search about Common Apple and its relatives will turn up some interesting information, including the fact that M. sieversii is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the ICUN.

My col-di-sac was formerly an apple orchard and the small ‘park’ area in the center still contains nine apple trees. Today, I spent a while with one of those very special trees, taking notes and examining all aspects of this wonderful plant.

A few photos below:

Common Apple – note the short, wide shape.

Common Apple leaf — blunt toothed with an ovalish shape

Common apple underleaf — note the lighter green color than the upperside. Also, I found the underleaves, leafstalk and new growth on branches to possess a fine hairiness.

Common Apple fruit – still maturing; I always find the fruit on our street (when matured) to be just slightly smaller than your normal, supermarket variety apples.

Today’s notes



Participants of the FFI/IUCN SSC Central Asian regional tree Red Listing workshop, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (11-13 July 2006) 2007. Malus sieversii. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <>. Downloaded on 04 June 2012.

Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Trees. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

National Park Service, Shenandoah National Park, “Apple Tree,” National Park Service: Shenandoah National Park, (accessed June 4, 2012).

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2 Responses to Tree Tuesday I

  1. Betsy Hermann says:

    Hi Alex,

    What a great idea to start educating yourself as well as us followers about trees. Bruce’s love of trees comes from his talent/hobby of making furniture. As a teenager, he worked summers for a local surveyor. He was quite surprised that he could identify trees by their Inside (lumber) and not by the living species in the woods. Hiking, books, & our love of the outdoors has increased our knowledge of live trees as well as birds and wild flowers. We still have so much to learn. FYI–Tree Tuesday gets my vote.

    All the best to you from Rangeley,

    Betsy and Bruce too

  2. Helen says:

    I love it, Alex! I have read about the new Sibley book and long been interested in ID’ing everything in the natural world myself. I will look forward to your new tree posts. Best, Helen

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