Handy and Inexpensive, Guidebook Helps ID Common Western Trees

By RON SULLIVAN Special to the Planet
Tuesday July 27, 2004

The National Arbor Day Foundation has issued a pocket-sized booklet titled What Tree Is That? that’s worth the modest investment if you order in bulk—$3 for one, $25.25 for 35, $189.00 for 270, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling of any quantity. It calls itself a guide to the more common trees found in the western United States, from the Rockies to the Pacific shore. It’s one of those dichotomous keys—“If A, go to 13BS”—that drive me nuts to use but are useful for things that sit still for examination. 

The guide doesn’t start by distinguishing between wildland trees and city, park, or garden trees, which would be my first question. It does, however, mention, as italicized hints, whether some of the trees are native here; I guess that conveys some of the same information. The pictorial identifiers are all line drawings of leaves, some with fruit (nuts, acorns, samaras), on representative twigs. Some key questions (“Is it deciduous?”) assume an ongoing acquaintance with the tree. There’s a handy ruler (in inches) on the back cover. 

I have minor quarrels with fine points of a few sketches—those interior live oak leaves look more like willow—but using it in conjunction with a photographic field guide or something as thorough as the Peterson Western Trees guide by George and Olivia Petrides or UC Press’s Trees and Shrubs of California (natives only, but Hallelujah, it includes shrubs!) by John Stuart and John Sawyer, you can get a handle on the names and life histories of most of the trees around you. The little booklet is a good first step if you’re at ease with keying out species, or if you’re completely bewildered by the green thing in front of you. And it’s small enough to stick in your pack or glove compartment. Good for the Arbor Day Foundation for using soy ink and recycled paper. I do wonder why those folks seem determined to blanket the country in Colorado blue spruce, though—their perpetual offer for ten seedlings with membership is included in the book—but if you clip the coupon, you lose the single rangemap on its back. 


To order, call (402) 474-5655, go to www.arborday.org, or write to the National Arbor Day Foundation, P.O. Box 85784, Lincoln, NE., 68501-5784.