Fall is the perfect time to get out in nature and study deciduous trees and their leaves. The landscape is full of vibrant colors! When autumn gets close the trees start to prepare for winter. The days get shorter and the weather gets colder.
In autumn the chlorophyll pigment in the leaves doesn’t have as much sunlight to use as energy. The tree isn’t able to absorb water into the leaves and cell membranes grow over the tubes where the water travels through. When the water isn’t present, the chlorophyll begins to disappear and the yellow xanthophyll and orange carotene begin to pop! You might even see some shades of purple as you study the leaves! Sometimes sugars get trapped in the tubes and cause the sap to turn purple or red!
Tree & Leaf Identification
The Best way to start studying Trees and leaves is by learning their leaf structure
A simple leaf is a single leaf that is always attached to a woody stem.
The outside Edge Can be identified as:
- Entire: (smooth edges)
A Compound Leaf is a leaf (attached to the woody stem) Whose leaflets (several smaller leaves) are attached to the middle vain (green stem), but have their own stalks:
Alternate or opposite
Look at the green stem touching the woody stem to find if it’s alternate or opposite.
It’s important to always look at how it is attached to the woody stem! YOu will see in these photos they aren’t attached so you would need to look at them on the tree!
- Alternate: Do the leaves alternate on the woody stem?
- Opposite: Are the leaves side by side on the woody stem?
Opposite Leaves: Acronym
- Maple: several types (Box Elder is a type of Maple)
- Ash: blue, white, and green
- Horse Chestnut
Use a Dichotomous key to identify the tree
Look at the leaf attached to the woody stem and determine if it’s:
Study the leaf and determine if it’s:
- Doubly Compound
STudy the outside of the leaves:
- Entire: smooth
- Lobed: Maple, Oak, Sycamore, Tulip
Nature Walk to study trees and LeaVES:
Take a walk with your child around your special nature spot. Collect a selection of different fallen leaves and compare the colors and shapes. See if your child can identify the simple leaves. Look at the trees and see if they can tell you the leaf arrangement. Are the leaves alternate or opposite on the woody stem? Are they simple, compound, or doubly compound? Select your favorites to record in your nature journal and label.
Nature journal Ideas:
- Leaf rubbings: label the leaf structure
- Draw the leaf and label
- Press leaves for a bookmark or to put in journal
Study and Observe a Tree:
When all the pigment is gone, the leaves begin to die and turn brown and crunchy. This is a great time to choose a tree to observe and study through the seasons. Similar to your child’s “sit spot” and they can record the changes over time. A great book for adults wanting to learn more about trees is The Hidden Life of Trees. The children’s version is linked below and I highly recommend it!