Identify the Northeast's favorite trees
By Patrick Bagley
AMC Outdoors, May 2009
Want to learn about local trees? For starters, stop worrying about their names. So says Nancy Ritger, AMC's senior interpretive naturalist, who advises hundreds of budding tree aficionados at AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center each year. "It's much more important to learn the patterns." With that in mind, here are a few of her favorite clues that could help you distinguish between maple, oak, and birch.
Like oak, birch trees also have alternate branching. Examining bark is the best way to identify birch. White birch, commonly found at higher altitudes, is known as "paper birch" because the bark peels away like a scroll. (Note: If you must have a scrap of this bark for a souvenir, take a sample that has already fallen to the ground; avoid pulling the bark from the tree as this compromises the tree's defense against invading insects and harsh elements.) If you are in a valley or by a river you will probably find grey birch, which has bark that stays snug against the tree. Also, distinct and black ridges that resemble eyebrows can be found where branches grow from the trunk of grey birches. Yellow birch is found high and low and its bark peels in thin, wispy strips. Birch leaves do not have any telltale lobes, however Ritger says the leaves appear somewhat heart-shaped. Grey birch leaves look like a heart, while those of white birch tend to have an aggressive side cut and tapered ends. Yellow birch leaves are almost uniformly oblong and least resemble a heart.