Activities: Local Tree Identification
Updated: Mar 28
Matching Shapes Leaf Hunt
ages 4 - 7
This activity will encourage kids to notice the difference in shapes of leaves on the trees around them. How many leaf shapes can you find in your neighborhood?
leaf silhouette document
print out the "tree leaf silhouette" document and cut along lines to make cards or fold along lines and staple to make a book
bring the leaf silhouette cards or book out into your yard and see if you can find leaves that match the silhouettes (they will not be exact, but look for similar shapes).
Make Your Own Neighborhood Field Guide
ages 6 - adult
At first glance, many trees may appear to look the same but just like humans, each has its own unique characteristics. The more time you spend observing details and walking among the trees, the more you will be able to recognize the different species like old friends. This activity will help you to notice the bark textures and leaf shapes that make each tree unique. Once complete, you will have a homemade field guide of the trees in your neighborhood.
plain white paper
crayon with paper removed
Optional: make a blank notebook by stacking 6-8 pages of plain white printer paper, folding the stack down the middle, and stapling. You may also use a store-bought plain notebook. (You can also do this activity on loose sheets of paper if you choose).
Start exploring the trees around your house. Choose a tree to start and use the crayon (with the paper removed) turned on its side to create a rubbing of the bark on one of the pages. Be sure there is no other pages behind the page you are creating the rubbing on. You can try tacking the paper to the tree if you find that it is moving too much.
Find a leaf that belongs to the tree and tape it onto the page with the rubbing.
Watch the Tree ID video in the previous post to try to identify the tree and label the page with the tree's name.
Add any other notes that you would like to the page. (What do the seeds look like? Is there lichen or moss on the tree? How big is the tree?)
Repeat with as many different trees as you can find.
any age with adult help
I recently made red spruce tip tea and was pleasantly surprised by the citrus flavor. Spruce tea was a common spring drink used by Native Americans to boost vitamin C levels after the winter. It has also been used to prevent scurvy. Be sure to double check that you are harvesting red spruce. Many other conifers including other spruces, pines, and firs can also be used to make teas, but just be sure to do additional research if you plan to make a tea from another conifer. Pregnant women should avoid conifer tea.
water (3 cups per one cup of needles)
pot or tea kettle to boil water
new growth red spruce tips
Locate a red spruce (use the Tree ID video in the previous post to help identify one).
At this time of year, the trees should have light green new growth needles at the tips of their branches. Pick the new growth being careful not to harvest too much from one tree.
There is no need to remove the needles from the new growth. Rinse the needles while the water is boiling. Use 3 cups of water per one cup of needles. Pour boiling water over needles and let steep for at least 15 minutes. Add honey if desired.
Optional: chill for an iced tea.
Tree Niche Observation
ages 12 - adult
Tree species have co-evolved with many other native species in this area. I highly recommend watching Tom Wessel's video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCAvBmY7ZgA) on local co-evolution - it's quite fascinating! Many plants, animals, insects, and fungi occupy specific niches within individual trees and tree communities. Through this multi-day activity you may be able to observe this in your own backyard.
Choose a tree near your house (or multiple trees if you would like to compare the results between trees).
Spend a few minutes noticing and recording the different plant and fungi species that are growing on and around the tree (don't worry if you can't identify all of them). What plants are growing under the canopy? Are there any vines on the tree? Is there any lichen or moss on the bark?
Each day this week, visit your tree(s) for 5-10 minutes and record any animals that you see using the tree as food, shelter, or a resting location.
After the week, look at your observations. Were there consistencies at each location? Consultancies between trees of the same species? If you would like, do some additional research to see if your conclusions align with those that others have made. For example, there are certain lichens that you will almost always find on certain trees and birds that prefer some tree species to others.