Article #21, March1999
By Bill Cook
Ever looked on the Internet for a way to identify a tree? I’ll bet you didn’t find one. But now you can! A tree identification key for the Upper Peninsula forests has been developed by Michigan State University Extension. It is attached to the Michigan Society of American Foresters website and U.P. Forestry website maintained by the U.P. Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba.
The U.P. Tree Key website has three different keys that feature a total of 54 species. Species description pages mention a total of 73 species. One key is for conifers and two keys for hardwoods, a summer and a winter key. The idea with two hardwood keys is to provide the ability to identify trees without the leaves, as well as with the leaves. There are nearly 300 images and maps on the website.
A “key” or “dichotomous key” is a series of paired descriptions. The sample you have will fit only one of the pair. With that choice, the key will direct you to another set of paired descriptions, where once again, you will need to make a choice. This process continues until one of the descriptions ends in a species name. You then look at a more detailed description of that species to determine whether or not you have followed the correct path. If you don’t think you followed the correct path the first time through, you can go back and try a different route through the key. Keys can be fun as well as helpful.
This kind of identification tool requires observation of various tree characteristics. Some trees are fairly easy to identify. Loose, peeling, snow white bark easily identifies paper birch. But not all tree species have such distinguishing features. Other important characteristics include leaves, buds, bud scars, bark, branching pattern, flowers, fruits, general form or shape, site, and tree associations. Keys not only help identify trees but they also help teach about trees and what makes them different.
In addition to the keys and descriptions, there are range maps; species abundance lists for each county, an interactive glossary, a page on identification characteristics, and a couple of taxonomy lists. The site is cleverly linked to provide ease of use for schools, forest owners, and anyone else interested in identifying trees of the Upper Peninsula.
There have been several good image libraries available on the Internet for years but they require you to know what you have or what you’re looking for. This is troublesome for people who want to identify a particular tree they don’t already recognize. There are few actual identification keys available on the Internet and one of them is for the Upper Peninsula!
You can find the U.P. Tree Identification Key at http://forestry.msu.edu/uptreeid and http://forestry.msu.edu/upfor. Take a look and see what you think.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
J Road, Escanaba, MI 49829
906-786-1575 (voice), 906-786-9370 (fax), e-mail: email@example.com
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This website is maintained by Bill Cook, Michigan State University Extension Forest in the Upper Peninsula. Comments, questions, and suggestions are gratefully accepted.
Last update of this page was 22 September, 2005
This site is hosted by School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University.