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Burr Oak State Park expert to teach hikers how to identify trees

Branch, leaf and bark patterns are all things Julie Gee looks at while trying to identify trees. 

On Saturday at 2 p.m., Gee, a naturalist at Burr Oak State Park will take people on a hike and teach them how to identify the trees around them. The hike will be two miles long and is free.

“Well, first you have to determine the branching pattern of the tree,” Gee said. “When you look at a tree that’s the first step.”

Trees can have three different branch patterns, Gee said. They can have opposite, alternate or whorled patterns. 

“I think it’s important to know about nature,” Michael Chanell, a freshman studying wildlife and conservation biology, said. “Just being out in nature sounds cool.”

The next step in identifying trees is looking at the leaves. Leaves can either be a simple leaf, such as from an oak or maple tree, or a compound leaf from a hickory or ash tree. Simple leaves are just one leaf and compound leaves have many smaller leafs on a stem. 

“Every tree has a different bark pattern,” Gee said. “Some trees are a real challenge if you are just looking at the bark.”

Bark patterns are also a large clue to determine the species of tree. Sycamore trees are easy to identify because they look so different from others, Gee said. 

People are more interested in trees during the fall season because of the changing leaves, Gee said. 

“In the fall, it’s kind of the season where people are thinking about trees because the fall color,” Gee said. 

She also gets a lot of people asking questions about the kinds of trees that are around the state park because they want to know what trees are good to plant on their own property. 

“A lot of people have a general interest of what kinds of trees are in their yard,” Gee said. “It’s nice for people to know what to expect when they are planting trees or know what trees they have so they can manage their property.”

“(This hike) could apply to my major because I might have to take a class like it someday,” Channell said. 

Gee has been working at Burr Oak State Park for four years, but she has had a longer career as a naturalist at other parks. 

“It’s fun for me to teach people how to identify trees and see them get excited about it,” Gee said. “I love teaching and being able to share knowledge.” 


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