I’ve recently taken up a new hobby, I like to call it twig tracking.
I started twig tracking to feel more connected, to feel at home in all seasons. Twig tracking is just a fancy name for native plant identification through the cold winter months. It sounds a lot more exciting if you call it twig tracking.
This new hobby, distinguishing trees and shrubs in all seasons, has caused me to shift my perception. Rather than seeing a dreary landscape of brown sticks I see deep reds, grey-green hues, oranges, yellows and chestnut browns. I see interesting shapes and intricate designs. I now recognize plants by the form and placement of the developing buds, the structure of the branches, remnant fruits and new catkins, and the texture of the branches.
I was twig tracking recently when I discovered a new tree. I’d walked by this point countless times, in all seasons, and never noticed this particular tree, what was it? The overall shape of the tree resembled a Vine maple but the buds and winged fruits weren’t right. There were small lenticels and the bark was somewhat reminiscent of a Red alder, but different. After close examination, measurements, considerable speculation and a significant amount of time spent with various guide books I realized it was a Douglas maple. A new species for me! What an exciting discovery. I didn’t know we had Douglas maple on campus. The funny thing is, now I am seeing Douglas maples everywhere.
So next time you are out, wandering in this wintry landscape, stop and look at the trees and shrubs. Note the color, shape, texture, and size of the buds. Examine the branches, are there lenticels? What shape are they, are they raised? What is the texture of the bark, is it peeling or smooth? What color is it: brown, red or green? All of the clues can help you identify the tree in question. Who knows, maybe you too will take up twig tracking.