Tennessee is a mountainous state that straddles the Appalachian mountain range. Large parts of Tennessee are woodlands. As settlers moved west through the state, they farmed the Tennessee region before moving on, leaving fruit and ornamental trees to grow wild. Today you can find many of these trees on woodland nature hikes. To identify the trees, use the same process that you would employ to identify unlabeled trees in a landscape or garden center.
Look at the terrain where you found your tree. Certain trees prefer to grow in certain areas. For example, dogwood trees grow best in well-drained soil in the shady subcanopy of a forest, while witch hazel prefers full sun.
Inspect the tree's structure. All flowering trees have distinctive structures. Fruit trees may have an artificial "ladder" shape as a result of the pruning they underwent as saplings. These trees will have a single stem, called a dominant leader. By contrast, crape myrtle trees may have multiple stems that grow from a single root ball, and a vase-shaped upright form.
Touch the tree trunk to examine the tree's bark. The bark of various trees will be shaped differently. Red maple trees have a smooth, light gray appearance when they are young that turns into scaly plates as the bark ages. By contrast, serviceberry trees have a light brown appearance and smooth texture.
Study the flowers when the tree produces them--they are the most common identifying feature of flowering trees. Each tree produces flowers that differ in color, shape and size from other trees. For example, redbud blooms are tiny, red-purple and round, while dogwood blossoms are large and symmetrical with prominent green centers and four creamy colored petals. By contrast, witch hazel has elongated yellow petals.
Pick a leaf from each tree and look it over. Each leaf has distinctive characteristics that are common for that tree. Red maple trees have simple leaves with a distinctive palmate shape and five lobes. Red maple leaves turn red in fall. Dogwood leaves are ovate in shape and also turn red in fall. Redbuds have heart-shaped leaves with smooth margins. The leaves of redbud trees turn yellow in fall.
Consult with the University of Tennessee extension service to verify the identity of the tree. The University of Tennessee maintains a database of trees that grow within the state. By consulting a representative from the university--such as a county extension agent--you can make a positive identification on the tree.
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