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  • Writer's pictureTeam Canopy

Branching Out: Learning to Identify Trees by Lindsey Alexander

Updated: Jun 7

A woman and a man stand in front of a large cedar tree
Lindsey Alexander and Jonathan Hines on Vancouver Island in Canada, 2022. This tree is a cedar, which they know because there's a giant sign that reads "CEDAR."

My history with trees is perhaps unlike other Canopy board members’ in that I was the kind of kid planning to move to New York City and went on hikes in Spring Mill with my dad pretending that each little stop on the trail was potential real estate. (“Don’t you love my couch (a classic moss-covered limestone)?” “This (stump) could be the kitchen.”) My mom’s family line was urban, my dad’s rural. I am staunchly suburban.

What this means, in my day to day, is I appreciate landscapes, but not fully. When I walk through the forest, I notice things I don’t yet have a vocabulary for; when I drive through an area, the trees are more a part of scenery than distinct individuals. (Of course, the communities they create, their shared affect, is part of the beauty of trees, but not all and probably not even most of it.)

Not to out him, but my husband feels the same. He likes to walk through IU’s arboretum and read their names. We both want to be able to identify trees by sight.

And 2024 is the year, or the year we begin to dig in. 

There are several apps that could help, such as iNaturalist and Pl@ntNet, both free. But to be honest, I don’t find I learn a ton from just being told the answer. Call me hard-headed, but I have to struggle a bit to learn. Plus, there’s the whole now-my-phone-is-out-and-my-brain-has-escaped aspect.

It seems like a tree ID book might suit me better, paging through to narrow down potential candidates until I land on the (hopefully) right one.

Ava, Canopy’s director, recommended these to me:

  • 101 Trees of Indiana: A Field Guide by Marion T. Jackson (her personal favorite)

  • Trees of Indiana Field Guide by Stan Tekiela

I’d like to keep a notebook to draw and take notes in–I tend to remember better what I’ve written down. But best laid plans–we’ll see how that goes. Flashcards have also been discussed.

I couldn’t be surrounded by a better group to learn with than the folks at Canopy, where our last few plantings have included Yellowwood, White Oak, and Redbud trees. (I do already know no tree volcanoes, thank you very much.)

If you see me in 2025, quiz me on the nearest tree. But maybe be kind and wait until it’s leafed out. I’m a beginner.

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