Winter Medicinal Tree & Shrub ID : Inexperienced Path Herb College

I’ve liked bushes since I used to be a small woman, sitting excessive amongst their branches, making “soup” out of their spring catkins, and weaving small, supple crowns from their younger branches. As a grown herbalist, for a few years I targeted on herbaceous plant identification. However one winter a number of years in the past, I used to be lacking the inexperienced, as I all the time do. Strolling by means of the winter forests that yr, I slowly grew to become obsessive about winter tree identification. There may be a lot to see about bushes and shrubs, I discovered, and in such a special manner, when them within the late fall, winter and early spring.

Because of their bark and twigs, that are sturdy by means of all seasons, bushes and shrubs lend themselves significantly nicely to wintertime identification. The worth of winter tree ID is twofold for me. Firstly, I dearly miss the vegetation within the winter and getting out into the woods helps me really feel related to nature throughout the lengthy, chilly Montana winters. Secondly, as an herbalist, I really like to notice which bushes are rising the place in order that I would return to make use of them as medicines within the spring or summer time months. Study extra about harvesting and utilizing bushes as drugs in my article Tree Medication.

I all the time suggest revisiting the bushes within the different seasons as nicely, to search for extra identifiers and to get to know them higher.

Following are the perfect instruments for figuring out bushes and shrubs within the late fall, winter and early spring months.


Search for the vary of the tree to find out if the species grows within the space. the place is it positioned geographically? Ensure the circumstances are appropriate for every species’ development and copy. You may typically discover this data on a authorities web site. The one for america is the Unites States Division of Agriculture Vegetation Database.

Subsequent have a look at the habitat. Would the tree or shrub develop close to a stream? As an example, willows, cottonwoods and hawthorns are water loving and have a tendency to develop close to rivers, streams and seeps. Does it like moist websites, shade or solar? Does it choose to develop in an understory, within the woods or on a north or south-facing slope? What companion vegetation sometimes develop in the identical habitat?

Trying intently on the environment underneath and across the tree also can yield useful clues similar to final yr’s leaves, stems, fruits, berries, seeds and nuts. 

Leaves or none?

Irrespective of the species of tree or shrub, each leaf has a finite life span; every will fade and fall at some common interval. In seasonally altering environments, deciduous bushes will drop their leaves within the winter. Most coniferous bushes, similar to pine, spruce, hemlock, and fir will retain their leaves (needles) for years. Curiously, beech and oak leaves die, however many stay on the tree by means of the winter months. This retention of lifeless plant matter is named marcescence.


The bark on youthful bushes tends to look related, making figuring out younger bushes primarily based on bark extra of a problem. Though delicate to excessive variation can happen, older bushes often develop extra attribute bark options.  Search for bark colours and textures. Is the bark spongy? Is it flaky? Is it clean? Scaly? Fissures can develop when the outer bark splits because the tree grows. Fissures typically happen in youthful bushes and become furrows because the tree matures. These furrows could make distinct patterns, such because the lengthy, deep furrows with thick ridges of the cottonwood tree or the diamond formed ridges of the black walnut. Many birch bushes have a tendency towards flaky, peeling bark. Aspen bushes have clean higher bark with a lightweight cream-ish coloration. Older aspen can have a lot darker and furrowed bark, darkish brown to black in coloration, close to the underside of the tree.


Lenticels are the pores of outer plant tissue that present a direct alternate of gases between inner plant tissues and the ambiance. Bark is often impermeable and the alternate or launch of inner gases could be inconceivable with out lenticels. In different phrases, bushes breathe by means of their lenticels. They may be fairly attribute in form, coloration and texture. Some lenticels flip into horizontal traces because the tree will get older.


Buds comprise subsequent yr’s stems, leaves and flowers. Timber and shrubs produce buds in the summertime to arrange for subsequent yr’s spring development. This provides them an early begin when spring temperatures begin to rise. Bud scales are modified small leaves which tightly enclose the extra delicate elements of the bud. They defend interior leaves and flowers throughout the harsh winter months. Terminal buds permit the stem to develop longer. They’re the final buds on the tip of the stem. Warning: typically terminal buds may be damaged off, so examine a number of branches to be sure you know the true sample of the tree. The quantity, coloration and texture of the bud scales, dimension and form of the buds and presence or absence of terminal buds are distinctive to every tree.

Leaf scars

Leaf scars are left when a leaf falls off a twig. Have a look at the form, dimension and placement for identification functions. Vascular bundle scars are small marks on leaf scars that point out the place veins from the leaf have been related to the stems. Search for the quantity and the place of the scars. 


Examine to see if the branching sample is reverse (throughout from one another) or alternate (staggering). Watch out for fallen branches! 

You should utilize a useful mnemonic for bushes with reverse branches: “MAD Horse Bucks”. This stands for the next tree households: Maple, Ash, Dogwood,Horsechestnut and Buckeye.

To have a look at department coloration, deal with the youngest twigs with latest development.


I really like to make use of many senses when figuring out vegetation. Many bushes have distinctive smells. For those who can’t inform simply by smelling the bark, scraping a small little bit of bark can typically yield good outcomes. Though some individuals could have differing experiences and opinions, the next descriptions may also help decipher some bushes.

  • Some birches, together with Black birch (Betula lenta) and Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), odor like wintergreen. 
  • Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) smells like butterscotch or vanilla. 
  • Wild cherry (Prunus serotina) and Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) odor like bitter almonds.
  • Cottonwood (Populus spp.) has a balsamic odor, harking back to candy honey or musk.
  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) smells deliciously candy, like root beer.
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) smells clear, sharp and barely medicinal.
  • Walnut  (Juglans spp.) has a spicy citrus odor.  Humorously, it was as soon as described as “injurious to delicate individuals” in an previous natural. 
  • Cedar (Cedrus spp.) has a spicy, earthy, woody aroma.

Generally, we take into consideration figuring out vegetation primarily by their leaves and flowers. That is nice within the summertime, however I really like the concept of with the ability to establish bushes in all phases of their life cycle, together with fall, winter and early spring. I hope you discovered this text a helpful and provoking place to start attending to know medicinal bushes a bit higher.

Right here is a superb starting winter tree ID information from the College of Wisconsin Stevens Level:


© Elaine Sheff, Scientific Herbalist, RH (AHG) 2019

Concerning the Writer:
The creator of a number of books on natural drugs and therapeutic, scientific herbalist Elaine Sheff has been obsessed with sharing natural information for over 25 years. Her newest guide is Bare: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Pores and skin and Wholesome Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Inexperienced Path Herb College, positioned in Missoula, Montana, the place she strives to encourage and empower college students and purchasers to recollect their connection to the earth, the vegetation and their very own therapeutic course of. She is an expert member of the American Herbalist Guild and teaches workshops, and at conferences, each nationally and internationally. As an authorized Teacher of the Pure Household Planning and Fertility Consciousness Strategies, Elaine has helped many {couples} to keep away from or obtain being pregnant naturally. She has written quite a few articles about her household’s journey with epilepsy and a particular wants baby. Elaine has written for publications together with the Journal of Medicinal Vegetation and their Functions, Mamalode and AromaCulture journal. Elaine’s workshops have been featured at conferences together with the Traditions in Western Herbalism Convention, Montana Herb Gathering, Northwest Herb Symposium, Midwest Ladies’s Natural Convention, Spokane Natural Faire, the Ecoexpo, Mountain West Herb Gathering, Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence, and the Pacific Ladies’s Natural Convention. You may typically discover her bent over an herb in her backyard or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows along with her husband and sons. For those who’d prefer to study extra about medicinal vegetation, you may join with Elaine, and Inexperienced Path Herb College by way of the Inexperienced Path Web site or by means of social media: Fb, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram. You could find out extra about Elaine and her life work at


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