Virtual Museum of Canada
Jardin botanique de Montréal 
Centre for Forest Research

Identifying trees

Look up! There are about 180 species of trees in Canada, more if we include all ornamental trees introduced in our gardens or along the urban sidewalks. How many of them do you know?

If one wanted to describe the Kentucky coffeetree without knowing its name, it might look like "the big tree trunk, with rough bark, which bears very long leaves divided like feathers and fruits like bean". Kentucky coffeetree is much simpler, don't you think! But what if, in speaking of this same tree, a cousin from Québec called it chicot févier or a French novelist referred to it as the romantic "arbre aux ossements" (tree with bones, because of its shape during winter)? All these names are common or vernacular names for the same tree. For hundreds of years, botanists have been harnessed to provide a unique name in Latin, science requires, at each tree. The Kentucky coffeetree, in all its aliases, is Gymnocladus dioicus.

But once names are given to trees, one must still recognize them! The leaflets of the black locust are quite different from the Kentucky coffeetree, spruce needles are square compared to the fir's... Welcome to the world of taxonomy!

Photomontage of different tree leaves