Certain types of trees dominate the landscape in New England, and by knowing a few distinguishing details, it is easy to find them.
The overall forest of trees in North America is divided into a few distinguishable communities, such as the mixed Appalachian community around the Appalachian Mountains, the Boreal forest in Canada, the Subtropical community of trees in southern Florida, and the Northern Hardwood Forest, which will be examined here.
The Northern Hardwood Forest ranges from Minnesota, across Wisconsin and Michigan, through Canada and New York, and into Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Tree Species of the Northern Hardwood Forest
The “indicator trees” of a community are those that are very abundant and easily found on a walk through the woods. Some rarer species are always present in every community, but are not considered indicator species because it takes some searching to find them.
Some indicator species of the northern hardwood forest are the White Pine, Red Pine, Sugar Maple, Mountain Maple, Yellow Birch, White Birch, Grey Birch.
How to Recognize the White and Red Pine Trees
Pine trees are evergreen – they do not lose their leaves in winter. Their “leaves” are modified into needles, to protect against water loss in dry conditions.
White Pine (Pinus strobus) can grow to a height of 150 feet tall, and has long, silvery needles. The silver hue of the needles gave this tree its name. The needles grow in fascicles (clumps) of five needles, which is a distinguishing characteristic because many pine trees grow needles in clumps of two or three. It has two types of pine cones: small cones (male) and longer cones (female), necessary for reproduction. These trees create a dense yellow pollen dust. They are prevalent on previously disturbed sites.
Red Pine Trees (Pinus resinosa) are also known as Norway Pines. They are characterized by their branches, which start at about the middle of the tree’s trunk and extend upward, making a round ball of branches and needles. They grow needles in fascicles of two. The bark of the trunk tends to be reddish in color near the top of the tree, giving the Red Pine its name.
How to Recognize Sugar and Mountain Maple Trees
Maple trees are deciduous trees – those that lose their leaves in the winter. They are also called broadleaf trees.
Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) have leaves that grow oppositely. This means that by looking at a stem, two leaves grow on opposite sides of the stem from the same spot. A leaf from a Sugar Maple is U-shaped between five lobes. A large vein comes from the bud of the leaf through each lobe.
Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum) is three-lobed, because the two basal lobes (on the bottom) are absent. It is V-shaped between the lobes. A main vein goes through each lobe, like the Sugar Maple. The leaf surface is rough, the underside is hairy, and the teeth around the edge of the leaf are coarse and all the same size.
How to Recognize the Birch Tree Species
There are three birch species in the Northern Hardwood Forest community that are considered indicator species: the Yellow Birch (Betula allagheniensis), Grey Birch (Betula populifolia), and White Birch (Betula papyrifera).
Yellow Birch trees have a silvery or bronze bark that is peeling into curls – which is very easy to distinguish from other trees. The leaves are oval with a heart shaped bottom.
Grey Birch trees have smooth light colored bark, which ranges from white to grey color. The bark does not peel like that of the Yellow and White Birches. The leaves are triangular in shape with a tapering tip. These trees are often found on previously disturbed sites.
The White Birch is very easy to recognize, because its white bark stands out among the trees of the forest. The bark looks like paper and peels into curls, which is why some call it the Paper Birch. The leaves are oval shaped like the Yellow Birches, but without the heart shaped bottom.
This overview of tree species in the Northern Hardwood Forest will hopefully point out some key distinguishing features of common trees in New England. They have defined the Northeastern area of the United States, and are therefore deserving of recognition.