How to Identify Flowering Trees
Many trees produce a multitude of flowers in the spring or early summer, which in turn will develop into the fruits, nuts or seeds of the species. Flowering trees present a visually appealing sight, as species such as the flowering dogwood, northern catalpa and American plum open their blossoms. Various aspects of the tree, especially when they are in bloom, can give you the information you require to tell what type it is.
Smell the flowers, such as those on an American plum tree. Plums are not difficult to distinguish if you remember that the flowers come out before the leaves do in the springtime and that plums possess thickened twigs along with thorns in their upper branches. The flowers, white and growing in clusters of between two and five, have a strong pungent smell.
Look at the buds, flowers and leaves. The redbud gets its name from the color of the buds right before they open in the spring. Through the winter, they are brown in color, but this color changes to a deep pink as the weather improves. The flowers grow on the outer twigs for the most part and beat the leaves out, emerging in April. When the leaves do sprout, they have a discernable heart shape, the only member of the Bean family to have simple rather than compound leaves.
Use the sharp thorns of a hawthorn to identify this flowering tree. The thorns develop on the trees at an early age, and since the tree is vulnerable in its meadow setting to grazing animals like deer and cattle, the thorns offer protection. The thorns are long and sharp, so beware of them if you handle the tree. The flowers grow in clusters, are white and have a strong smell; some are pleasant in fragrance while other species of hawthorns have flowers with a disagreeable odor.
Focus on the large white bracts of the flowering dogwood as an identifying feature of this species. The dogwood has flowers best described as plain in appearance, but the bracts, showy leaves that surround the flower, make up for the flower’s lack of pizzazz. The bracts are large, at least an inch long, and you can make a positive identification by finding the small notches on each of their ends.
Picture small white trumpets when looking for the flowers of the northern catalpa. The flowers, which often will rain down upon the ground under the tree as the spring wears on, are white and have purple and yellow markings inside their tubular interiors. If the flowers are not on the tree, you can still easily recognize a catalpa. The leaves are large and shaped like hearts, and the fruit of the catalpa is a long seed pod that looks like a gigantic string bean.
- Ohio Tree Index
- A Guide to Field Identification: Trees of North America; C. Frank Brockman; 1986