Observing Trees

I see a fair number of tree observations that are a single image, sometimes little more than a tree in silhouette. These are often impossible to identify. From my own experience, which is still on-going, I'll offer these suggestions for making better tree observations.

All of the following can be helpful in identifying a tree. As many of these as possible should go into an observation:

entire tree, or best approximation thereof
detail of leaf/leaflets, including needles for conifers
buds, bud scars, leaf scars
flowers and/or fruit/cones/pods, including any fallen to ground

Don't forget scale. How big is the thing in your photograph?

Obviously, there have some seasonally dependent items here. But that's good; go back to that tree, watch it through the year. Mature trees may hold a lot of these things above eye-level, so scout the ground below.

In New York City, where I live, many of the trees we come across on the street, and in yards, parks, and cemeteries, are planted specimens raised by the horticulture industry. This means that, for iNaturalist purposes, they are captive/cultivated or "casual" observations.

There is an existing street tree map https://tree-map.nycgovparks.org. It isn't error-free; when it first came out I noticed that the two common hackberries I can see from my window were classified as hawthorns. (There's a way to submit corrections.)

So the actual urban tree may not be worth an iNaturalist observation as such -- good luck on the trademarked varieties sold by the industry! -- but because the tree is habitat it's worthy noting what kind of tree it is and pairing it with your observations of what's living on the tree. Trees are home to algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, and liverworts. Invertebrates are all over them, from the obvious pollinators to the ants crawling up and down them all day long. And that ticking sound in the fall? A katydid!.

Don't forget the reptiles, birds, mammals....

Look for galls; nests/drays; webs; leaf damage from herbivores and diseases; pupae; ambush predators; eggs laid on leaves; beetle excavations and frass. E.O. Wilson has said you could spend an entire lifetime of exploration around a single large tree.

Lately, I've been observing the types of trees Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill into for sap.

הועלה ב-פברואר 27, 2021 05:04 אחה"צ על ידי matthew_wills matthew_wills


Great post! It is helping me think through a similar posting on iNat observations of fungi.

I've also been considering your thoughts about classifying NYC trees (specifically Green-Wood trees) as planted specimens. If it were possible to document trees that existed before the cemetery founding, could iNat observations of those trees then be treated as "wild" rather than "cultivated"? As I write this I'm realizing that even if these trees weren't deliberately planted, they were in a real sense "cultivated" in their management within the cemetery. But it would be an interesting project to tag pre-1838 trees as "wild" just to be able to track them and know about them. Perhaps the habitat they support would prove to stand out as different, with remnants of pre-cultivation life forms more prevalent.

פורסם על-ידי pcpalmer3 לפני כמעט 3 שנים

Lots of philosophical questions in the cultivated camp (as I see a lot of house plants keep being posted as observations here).

Prospect, a little later in origin, certainly has or had until recently, some pre-Olmsted/Vaux trees. Some were replanted, as evidence by the trauma scars and a picture somewhere of the mechanism they used to transport large specimens.

Conversely, all the new trees the G-W brings in now surely come with attached lifeforms. Lichens, definitely, but I also suspect gall wasps, for instance.

פורסם על-ידי matthew_wills לפני כמעט 3 שנים

Your post is helpful. As I don't currently live in the Northeast I sometimes make an observation of a New York City tree or plant just because they are species not found in my present area, or simply because I want to note them for one reason or another. But I wondered whether any trees in, for example, Central Park., could possibly be considered non-cultivated.

Somewhere there must be data on very old New York City trees. I would like to visit the possible pre-Olmstead/Vaux specimens, if they still exist.

פורסם על-ידי kimcwren לפני בערך 1 שנים

This is a question I wrestle with. The city’s actual woodlands are the most likely place. In Central, that means the North Woods. But then, restoration projects complicate the matter. For example, the Ravine in Prospect Park was first fenced off when I arrived in the city in 1993—years of abuse and a policy of clearing ground cover to prevent the Cong (uh, I mean criminals, but the late 1960s attitude was pretty much the same) a place to hide—meant there was no understory. It was hard-packed dirt and mature trees, and that’s about it. So all the understory in there now was either put in (a $10 million project over a decade), is the descendant of things put in, or spontaneous. The spontaneous is the rub when it comes to iNaturalist’s focus on the wild. In Prospect, developed after Central by Olmsted and Vaux, they actually invented a contraption to move fairly well-developed trees to new locations. For Green-Wood, a well-managed cemetery, where I do most of my observations, I add a lot of casual observations.

פורסם על-ידי matthew_wills לפני בערך 1 שנים

This is very interesting. Yes I know the North Woods; are you familiar with the area in Riverside -- part of a Keeping it Wild program, I think? I assume it's all managed heavily but presume that includes invasive species removal and encouraging natives. It's interesting to observe the changes in thinking about natural areas on the part of city planners, and the public. There are examples here in the Twin Cities as well, of areas of formerly heavily manicured parks and lake edges being gradually "restored" to a more -- at least bird-friendly if not really natural -- state. All the ground-clearing and removal of thickets and brush probably doesn't do trees any good, either.

פורסם על-ידי kimcwren לפני בערך 1 שנים

I love this recommendation -- always helpful to remind ourselves, that the more we look the more we see.

פורסם על-ידי amyplatts לפני 9 חודשים

An excellent post! I hope everyone reads it!

פורסם על-ידי susanhewitt לפני 7 חודשים

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