How to Recognize the Trees in Your Yard

By: albertaarb - November 18, 2015

Canada is known the world over for its vast, lush forests of trees. Those of you lucky enough to live in Alberta are at the core of Canada’s logging and wood production, surrounded on all sides by breathtaking trees.

A very easy way to identify trees is to learn what the leaves of different trees look like. The fruit produced can also tell you, but leaves are easier to pick and identify throughout the year. Other indicators are the bark and possibly the size. Unfortunately, for far too many people, a tree is a tree. Made of wood, has leaves, and burns nicely in the stove over winter. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. We want to change that mentality, so here’s a list of three of the most common native trees in Alberta and how to identify them. You may even have one in your own backyard or local park.

Rocky Mountain juniper

A very long lived species, the Rocky Mountain juniper rarely grows larger than 10 m in height, and could even develop into a shrub or bush rather than a tree. Its evergreen leaves are scaly, ranging in color from blue-green to dark green. Since it is an evergreen, it will maintain its color all year round, no matter or hot or cold it gets. The color of the bark ranges from reddish-brown to gray, and usually shreds with age. The wood's incredible toughness meant it was used extensively by first nations people to make hunting bows, and today it used to make posts that last almost forever.  It usually faces south, and grows best on sandy soils.

Balsam poplar

The northernmost occurring American hardwood, the balsam poplar is a deciduous, fast-growing tree which typically lives a short life. Despite this, there are a few examples of this tree that are more than 200 years old, but these are very much the exception.

If you're not sure if you're dealing with a balsam poplar or not, a very easy way to check is to take a whiff of the buds, which should produce a smell similar to cinnamon. The leaves are a dark, shiny green oval shape, but as a deciduous tree, it will lose those over winter, so check the bark if you're unsure or curious. Its smooth bark ranges from light gray to brown in colour, and it will keep this colour throughout the year. It thrives in wet areas like flood plains and forest lands.

Eastern Cottonwood

And finally, we come to the Eastern cottonwood, a large tree usually found by rivers where the mud provides ideal conditions for seeds and saplings to grow. The trunk can occasionally develop multiple stems, making it easier to identify from a distance or without leaves. Its deciduous leaves are triangular, with a pointed tip and rounded teeth along the edges, but as it is a deciduous tree, you'll need to rely on other indicators, like the previously mentioned split trunk, starting in the fall .

They typically live for 70-100 years, but, similar to the balsam poplar, some examples have bucked the trends and have been dated to as early as 1699, or almost as old as Hudson's Bay Company (incorporated in 1670).

So, now that you know how to spot some of the more common trees in Alberta, head to your local park to see if you can spot any, and make sure to read up on other Alberta trees.

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If you have more questions or are in need of tree care services, we at Alberta Arborists can help you. We provide affordable solutions for your entire tree and shrub care needs. Our reputation is built on customer satisfaction & the quality of our workmanship. 

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