Identifying Trees in the Crane Lake Wilderness

It is time to have a little fun with trees. Trees are critical to our environment and our way of life. From the air we breathe to the materials we build houses with. So, we will take a look at them in a couple of different ways and maybe we will learn something big and small.

Crane Lake is located on the Canadian border within Superior National Forest. Superior National Forest is the 6th largest National forest in the United states covering over 3 million acres. As part of the Northern Boreal forest it is comprised of a mix of conifer (pines) and hardwood trees.

The landscape of trees and the rock outcropping are truly unique to our area. As you travel the waterways and observe the hundreds of islands and shore lines one is amazed on how nature works to have these beautiful trees appearing to grow out of rock. But let’s take a closer look at the trees.

Did you know that you can identify trees by looking at the whole tree or just a small part of the tree? Most of us can tell a white pine from a maple tree or a birch tree from a spruce tree. However, if we look at the small parts it can be a little trickier. Each tree has its own figure print. The figure print is made up by individual parts of the tree. Some of the tree parts like bark, needles, leaves, and cones when compared against each other is not too hard. Looking at a needle vs a leaf most of us can see the difference. Looking at the bark of a birch tree vs. a spruce tree again isn’t too bad. However, can you identify the tree just by looking at its needles? Let’s see if we can.

I will use needles for my little challenge on tree identification. How do you identify the difference between a spruce tree and a balsam tree? How do you identify a white pine? How about a Norway Pine? Each of these trees have a different “needle bundle”. For example, both the balsam and spruce have a bundle of two needles. However, they are different on the branch. The balsam needles will be flat along the line of the branch, where the spruce needles will appear to circle around the branch. Also, the underside of the balsam branch will be a lighter color. The white pine is the only pine with a bundle of five needles. Find a white pine, look at the branch, and count the needles in a bundle. The Norway pine has a bundle of two needles like the spruce tree and balsam tree, but the needles are longer (2-3 inches) and bigger in diameter. We can do our needle identification for all the pine trees. Along with bark, leaves, and cones.

I have only given just a small sample of fun with tree identification by just looking at the needles. You can do the same thing with the other parts of each type of tree. So, for your next voyage into the forest I recommend that you put together a few thoughts to play a “tree game”. It is fun and challenging. Also, it gives you appreciation that each of these beautiful trees has its own set of figure prints.

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