I used a dichotomous key for the first time way back in elementary school. Way, way back. Which means my memory of the details is fuzzy, but I do remember this: going out near the playground where there were some large trees (ash, willow, maybe cottonwood?) and some not quite as large trees (crabapples, I think) and we learned how to identify a tree using a key. Obviously, it must have been quite a simplified key, and probably just for the trees we would encounter out there. Regardless of how simplified or not the keys may have been, the lesson stuck with me; you can identify a tree (or any other plant) by paying close attention to its parts.
In the third installment of my reviews and recommendations for plant identification guides, we’ll take a look at a couple books about trees, one of which has a lovely dichotomous key to help you along.
(I took some photos of the books, but didn’t realize I had the lens cap on my camera. *face palm* So, if you click on the title of the book, you’ll be taken to the description of the book on the Logan Library website. I’m a big advocate of libraries, so check to see if yours has the books!)
The first book is “Trees of Utah and the Intermountain West: a Guide to Identification and Use“ by Michael Kuhns. This book gives well-written descriptions about both native and introduced trees that you will encounter in Utah and the surrounding states. There’s not really a good dichotomous key, so you have to have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking at before you thumb through the book to check and see if you are right.
However, one of the highlights of the book is the section on use in the back. There are extensive tables listing all of the trees in the book and their stats – mature size, aspect needs, whether it has specific ornamental qualities like flowering or fall color, general shape, and overall home landscape suitability. For that reason alone I would recommend this book.
The second book is the “National Geographic Field Guide to the Trees of North America“ by Keith Rushforth. This book is one that I would recommend if you want an easy-to-use general guide of trees of North America. Obviously not all trees within the country can be contained in one, packable field guide, but the most common ones are included. The dichotomous key at the front of the book doesn’t have too many technical terms, so you won’t have to have a botanical dictionary on hand to use it, but it does help to have some familiarity with plant terms. If you need some brushing up on the difference between simple and compound leaves or the different fruit types, there are some nice illustrations also included.
The key itself only gets you to the tree family, and then you have to thumb through the pages dedicated to that family to find your particular tree of question. That being said, having a reduced key makes for an easier to use (and carry with you) book.
Do you have any favorite tree id books?