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September 17, 2012

Firs, Pines, Spruce: Can you tell one from the other?

You can tell by the color of the sunlight that autumn is approaching and as it arrives, hot days and sweltering temperatures slowly become a distant memory. Besides the yellow dusted sun-rays, we can also see signs of fall as the leaves display their delightful colors across Utah’s Landscape. After this delightful display of fall colors, the leaves plummet from their  branches to blanket our lawns and hillsides. The faded, crispy-crunchy foliage stays there only to be covered by the blistering storms of winter, where it will eventually become part of the soil and perhaps lend nutrients to the tree from which it came from. Before the trees’ leaves are taken far away by autumn's winds we can learn a thing or two from taking a closer look at them. 

Looking at the shape of a leaf is one of the many ways to identify tree species. Some of the other identifiers are: Bark, fruit and flowers, silhouette, and leaf arrangement. 

On Saturday, a group of educators attended the Alta Ske-cology/Places We Live workshop that included a Project Learning Tree activity, “Name that Tree”. Participants not only learned how to identify trees, they learned fun activities to play with their students that involved going outdoors and science concepts. This activity also includes a relay to get students up and moving! 

Maura Olivos, the Sustainability Coordinator and Ecologist at Alta’s Environmental Center, took us on a tour of the Ske-cology program. The Alta Ske-cology program allows students to learn about their natural environment through a first-hand experience. Maura gave us a detailed tour of Alta’s trees and discussed the wildlife that can be spotted in the area. Here are the tips Maura shared with us in identifying trees:

Here’s what to look for:
  • Determine the Region you are in to narrow the tree species you may encounter (climate, elevation, etc.)
  • Silhouette/Shape: Height, tree limb patterns, generalize shape (bushy, messy, narrow, triangle, oval, etc.)
  • Bark: Color, texture, design
  • Needles/Leaves: color, shape, characteristics
  • Cones: size, growth pattern, color
Here’s a fun memory trick to identify leaves in coniferous trees:
Firs - flat and friendly
Pines - paired and pointy
Spruce - square and sharp

After getting a crash course in tree identification, we all began to see the trees individually. Instead of seeing just a tree, we saw an Engelmann Spruce or a Subalpine Fir. With ideal temperatures and beautiful scenery, now is the perfect time to visit Alta. If you are interested in attending an Alta Ske-cology/Places We Live workshop, contact Charice Bourdeaux at: Charice@usee.org or visit our website to learn more about environmental education resources and programming. 
Below: Places We Live workshop

Below: Pictures from the Alta Ske-cology Tour and the PLT "Name that Tree" activity.

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