For any outdoor enthusiast, identifying types of trees provides another way to enjoy nature and to feel at home while outside. Being able to identify nut trees offers an added advantage--you can return to the site at harvest time and gather the nuts. It's easy to identify nut trees when the nuts are present but a bit harder at other times of the year. As with any tree identification, you need to take a close look at the leaves, bark, branches and flowers to correctly identify the tree.
Find out which trees are likely to grow in or near your location. For instance, hazel nut trees grow in low-lying land, often near water. If you are in the southern part of the U.S., you are likely to see pecans. And if you are in Great Britain, you can look for almond trees, which also grow throughout the U.S.
Identify the type of bark on the tree. Almonds have smooth bark with randomly spaced pores in horizontal patterns. Hazels also have smooth bark, with mottled gray and brown colors. Pecans and walnuts have rutted and ridged bark--pecans with a gray-brown color and scales in addition to the ruts, and walnuts with a pale gray color and very deep ruts in an irregular pattern.
Look at the overall shape of the tree and they way it branches. On almond trees, look for slender twigs and small ridges on older twigs that have been left by fallen leaves. Pecans have stouter twigs that grow in a symmetrical pattern from the trunk. Walnut branches, on the other hand, grow in an irregular pattern and end in a grouping of twigs at the top of the tree.
Examine individual leaves for their shapes and structures. Almonds have long, narrow, pointed leaves with long stalks, while hazels have a single broad oval or almost heart-shaped leaf with double-toothed edges and a short, pointed tip. The double-toothed structure of hazel leaves will remind you of a serrated knife edge. Pecans and walnuts both have leaflets, which are offshoots of a main leaf stalk. Pecan leaflets can be up to 20 inches long and contain nine to 11 sharply pointed, oval-shaped leaves. Walnuts have much smaller oval-shaped leaves growing in a symmetrical pattern on either side of the stalk. If you crush a walnut leaf, you will stain your fingers with brown leaf juice.
Notice the type of flowers on each tree. For almonds, look for bright pink flowers that open on bare branches before the leaves have formed. Hazels, pecans and walnuts flower with pollen-producing catkins, which are long, wavy clusters of tiny flowers called bracts. Hazel male catkins are gray-brown and appear throughout the year. The hazel catkins expand to double catkins, called dangling lamb's tails, in the spring when they are joined by female catkins, which look like very small green buds with small red tufts at the end. Pecans have three catkins on one stalk, and walnut catkins are long and wavy.