Looking At Winter Buds

Trees are so tall, towering over my head. I wanted to see some winter buds and went looking for trees with branches within reach of my walking stick.

A walking stick is useful on a hike for lots of reasons. They help on steep and slippery slopes. They push bramble and rose branches out of the way.

My walking stick has a hook on one end. Originally the hook was for hanging plants, but isn’t needed for that now. What I do need is a way to reach those tree branches several feet over my head.

Winter tree identification relies on these winter buds. Each kind of tree makes its own kind of buds. Each family of trees has similar bud arrangements.

Pignut hickory winter buds
Unlike the oaks, hickories have a single terminal bud. Usually the bud is large. In the case of the pignut hickory, the original scales fell off leaving a downy set of scales protecting the tender leaves inside.

Hickories tend to have single large buds on the tips of the branches. Oaks have clusters of buds on the tips of their big branches. Maples have buds in steps.

As my main purpose was to take pictures of some silver maple winter buds, I walked down to the river. Trees lining the roads have branches high up over the road and lower branches, sometimes, on the other side. Smaller trees have branches lower down.

silver maple winter buds
Maples have opposite leaves so their winter buds occur in pairs on opposite sides of the twigs. The terminal arrangement has a single top bud and a pair of lower buds. The two larger buds are not leaf buds, but flower buds getting ready to open. Maples tend to open their flower buds in any week long warm spell in late winter.

There are branches I can reach with my hook I won’t pull down. These are brittle or short and stiff or have some other indication they will snap off rather than bend.

My botany project is starting up again and I hope to be able to do lots of work on it this year. Trees are a focus as I’m not that familiar with many of them. They are too tall to see well.

black oak winter buds
Black oak buds have angles on them. You can see the ridges on the buds. Like other oaks, the terminal buds have several in a cluster.

Wandering down the road I came across a hickory and several oaks. Later I found the hickory was a pignut. “Trees of Missouri” has pictures of winter buds in it.

One oak I knew was a chinkapin. The other turned out to be a black oak.

chinkapin oak winter buds
Chinkapin oak buds are reddish and big. There are several terminal buds in a cluster, but they are fewer and similar in size. The raw area under the buds is the leaf scar where last year’s leaf broke off.

The silver maple buds were a problem. The trees were there, branches fifty feet high. Finally I found one with a branch hanging out over the river.

Only a month or so remains to look at winter buds. The silver maple is already getting ready to bloom.

More about winter buds on trees is in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.