Monday December 07 2020 North Branch Nature Center Winter Tree ID Hike by Phyllis Rubenstein and Bob PoppOn Saturday, December 7, 2019, a seasonal winter day with intermittent sun, 10 of us hiked about one and one-half miles on trails at North Branch Nature Center, identifying and learning about trees and plants. Winter identification of trees focuses on bark, branching patterns and buds as leaves have fallen off of most trees. Beech, with its smooth bark, does retain its leaves. However, black willow, white birch, yellow birch, gray birch, alder, ash, red maple, big tooth aspen, and cottonwood, all lose their leaves. Maples and ashes both have opposite branching, while the other deciduous trees have alternating branches. Staghorn sumac has distinctive red fruits in the fall and winter. High bush cranberry was still in fruit and also has opposite branching. Hornbeam, also known as muscle wood, has smooth bark as beech, but it looks like muscles. Eastern white pine, hemlock, and red spruce are conifers whose needles are visible year round. It was a lovely morning for an educational hike!