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Free images - All About Trees

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What is a Tree?

Is it a bush or is it a tree?  How can we tell the difference?  A tree has the distinction of being a perennial, woody plant with a minimum height at maturity of about 3 meters and a minimum trunk diameter of 10 cm. A tree sometimes has secondary branches which are supported by a single main stem or trunk.

Trees are like Humans -

A tree has sometimes been compared to a human being.  The tree’s trunk is like the body of a human.  A human has a spine, while a tree has a wood trunk.  Our bodies are covered by skin, while a tree is covered with bark.  Under the outer layer of a tree there are thick layers of living cells.  Just like our human cells, a tree’s cells needs oxygen and food.  Finally, both trees and humans need water and air in order to live.


Trees in North America are either Deciduous or Coniferous.  
What’s the difference?


Deciduous trees -

are sometimes called “broadleaf” trees.  Leaves are categorized into two main shapes:  those having a “simple” leaf with a single blade; and “compound” leaves wherein a leaf will have several small “leaflets” or blades growing from each side of the leaf stem.  Most deciduous trees lose their leaves during the cold of autumn. During the fall, and particularly after a sudden cold snap, leaves change to a wide array of colours turning from bright yellow to orange and crimson. The sap tubes close and the leaf’s water supply ends resulting in the leaf drying out and dying.  Deciduous trees remain bare until they grow new leaves the next spring. Although there are many species, collectively they are also known as “hardwoods”. 


Why are the fall leaves of deciduous trees so colourful?

Cold weather and the drying out of leaves cause the green chlorophyll to disappear.  This uncovers brilliant yellow and orange pigments.  The last bit of sugar in some leaves results in a red pigment.  A dry fall season will result in dull, pale colours, while a rainy season will increase the chance of sharp, brilliant colours.

Many deciduous trees flower in the spring when they are leafless and just beginning to grow new leaves. The flowers help in the pollination process since they can easily be seen by insects and there are no leaves to obstruct the wind from transporting the pollen.

Examples of deciduous trees include:  Ash, Birch, Maple, Oak, etc.


Coniferous trees -

Trees that belong to the “conifer” group, have cones and needle-like leaves.  They are sometimes called “evergreens” or “needle-leaved” trees (although there are exceptions).  A typical characteristic is that conifers feature leaves that are like needles or scales. Conifers do not flower, but do produce seeds in the form of cones. The seeds of the conifer group of trees are attached to the upper side of the cone scales.  These fall out of the cones in warm weather.  Although conifers are also known as “softwoods”, some coniferous trees have very hard woods. 

Did you know...

that the majority of coniferous trees are evergreen, which means that they keep their green foliage throughout the year?

Sugar pine trees have the largest cones which may reach lengths of 12 to 15 inches and may take as long as two years to mature. 

The easiest to recognize conifers are also known as “Christmas” trees that are used by many cultures to celebrate the Christmas season.  They appear triangular with short branches at the top of the tree and longer branches at the bottom.  Pine tree needles grow along a thin branch and appear as though they were glued together in clusters.  Various species of pine can be identified by the number of needles that each cluster contains.  White pine needles are easy to remember since the name “white” contains five letters just like the tree has five needles. 

Examples of coniferous trees include:  Fir, Spruce, Pine, Larch, etc.


The Roots of Trees -

Roots are an important part of a tree’s anatomy.  They serve to anchor the tree and hold it in place against strong winds in addition to taking in moisture from the ground and move it up the roots to the branches and leaves.  This moisture contains minerals that the tree uses with the food it makes to build new bark, wood, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds.  In the winter, food is stored in the roots for use next spring when the tree begins to grow again.


Did you know….

that large trees like Oak trees have roots that spread as wide as their branches.  Picture what you see of a tree above the surface as the same in size below.

Some trees have a long “taproot” that grows straight down with smaller roots or “rootlets” sprouting out from it.  Other trees have many smaller roots that grow just below the surface of the soil.  Have a look at this Pine tree that is using the cracks in rocks to anchor it.  Trees do, however, fall victim to high winds in soils that have shallow surfaces like those that grow in the Canadian Shield .


The Trunks of Trees -

The trunk of a tree is made up of many layers.  First there is the rough outer layer, followed by the inner bark, and then a thin, white layer called the Cambium.  The cambium is the main growing part of the tree.  The next layer is called the sapwood.  Every year as the cambium grows, another layer of new wood is added to the sapwood.  Sapwood contains tube-like cells through which water and sap travels through the tree from its roots to the leaves.  These cells also store energy, seal wounds and fight invading microorganisms.  In the fall, the inner most rings of sapwood close off and now become a part of the trunk known as heartwood.    While sapwood is living, heartwood cells are dead and serve mainly to add structure and support to the tree.  

Right:  A Woodpecker has damaged multiple layers of this Pine Tree in its attempt to find insects within the tree.  

Did you know…

that you can discover the age of a tree by counting the number of rings that are in the sapwood and heartwood?


The Bark of Trees -

As a tree grows, it’s trunk becomes larger.  The outer bark becomes tight and on some trees it cracks and breaks.  Notice the deep furrows on the Pine tree bark below.  On some trees, however, like the paper birch, the bark stretches and then peels off.  

Left:  The colourful bark of a Pine Tree.


Did you know….

that native peoples used strips of birch bark with which to build canoes?  It has become a practice by campers to peel off the bark of the birch tree to use to light campfires.  This is not good practice since it will harm the tree and allow pests to enter its core and damage or kill the tree.




The Leaves of Trees -

Known as photosynthesis, the leaves of a tree perform the most important action of a tree.  Leaves collect carbon dioxide from the air through tiny pores.  Using a green pigment called chlorophyll, leaves soak up sunlight and use that energy to combine the carbon dioxide and water from the roots into sugar – the food for the tree.  Miraculously, oxygen is created when this occurs.  The oxygen exits the leaves and enters the air.

Sugar is dissolved by the tree’s sap and is carried to all part of the tree as food.  During the winter, the sugar turns to starch in the tree’s roots for storage and turns back into sugar again for use in the spring.  

Right:  The new green spring leaves of a Maple Tree.


Did you know…

That the maple syrup you enjoy on your pancakes is made from the sugar in the sap of a variety of maple trees?  In the spring, the sugar that was stored in the roots of the tree begins to rise up into the leaves.  Maple trees are “tapped” by drilling holes into their trunks.  A metal spout is inserted from which will slowly drip the sap, usually into a metal bucket hung on the trunk or into plastic tubing.  Maple syrup is made from boiling the sap for long periods of time to boil off the water.  The result is a concentrated, sweet sticky syrup with a wonderful maple flavour that is used for eating, cooking and baking. 


Canada's National Flag

Canada’s National Flag, is also known as the “Maple Leaf”and features an 11-point maple leaf.  This format was adopted in 1965 when it replaced the previous Union Flag.  The design had been used prior to its official adoption since the 1980’s.  The maple leaf serves as a symbol that celebrates the nature and environment of Canada .



Palm Trees –

Palm trees differ from other types of trees since they have no true cambium or heartwood.  They have very long roots which reach through the typical sandy soil that they grow in to find moisture.  Coconut palm trees provide oil, nuts, and sugar.  Their palm leaves are used to produce a variety of objects.  


Buds, Flowers & Pollination -


Did you know…

that tree buds are formed at the end of the summer and they lay “resting” throughout the winter awaiting for spring?  Notice that the buds in the image left have a scale-like covering to protect the bud.  When the warm spring weather arrives, leaves and eventually flowers burst open from the buds.  Each type of tree has its own style of bud.

Trees produce seeds as part of the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower (the stamen) to the female part (the pistil).  Each flower produces many grains of pollen that is carried by insects and the wind.

Tree blooms are often categorized into three stages:  the first bloom, when the first male flowers are open; mid bloom, when half of the flowers are open; and leafing, when the first leaves appear from the bud and unfold completely.

Left:  The buds of Cherry Tree


Using an Apple tree as an example:   Twig with leaf buds >  flower buds  >  apple blossoms > apples begin to grow >  apple grows larger > ripe apple ready for picking.  

On a Maple tree, the male and female flowers grow in separate clusters.  While the seed flowers are a deep, bright red, the male flowers are light pink and yellow.  In the images below you can see the fertilized seeds of the female flower as they grow long and curve downward.  In a few weeks, wing-shaped seeds hang from the branches.  Children often play with the maple seeds by breaking open the sticky seeds and paste them onto their noses.  The fluttering seeds as they drop to the ground are playfully referred to as “helicopters”.  

Right:  The spring bloom of a Maple Tree.


Forests -

If you closely look at the vegetation in a forest, you will notice that not all trees are the same length nor have the same growth habit.  Trees that are taller need more sunlight and are usually the oldest.  Smaller trees may be so due to their species, or need the shade for growth.  Often they have been smothered by the taller trees and are small from a lack of sunlight.

Did you know…

That not only do trees purify our air, they also provide moisture?  One forest may give off many thousands of gallons of moisture on a hot day.




Softwood versus Hardwood -

Lumber used for construction typically comes from softwood trees like Spruce, Balsam, Pine and Fir.  Furniture  is generally made from hardwood lumber from Oak, Ash, Walnut and Hickory. 


Did you know that paper is made from trees?

Wood is ground and/or treated with chemicals to separate its fibers to form pulp.  Paper is made from this pulp.

Trees are further separated into the following classifications:  fruit trees that produce fruits such as apples, cherries, peaches, plums, oranges, etc.; nut bearing trees such as pecans, walnuts, chestnuts, etc.


Tree Dangers -

There are a variety of things that will harm a tree or forest.  A fire, often started by a careless human, is one of the most deadly.  Lighting also accounts for some forest fires.  Environmental factors such as wind, cold, and drought cause trees to die.  Trees also succumb to infections by insects and fungi.  Some trees may be smothered by a variety of mosses.  Animals often gnaw of the bark of trees causing injury.  One of the most destructive animals is the beaver which cuts down healthy trees with which to build lodges and dams.  



Above:  A beaver's dam built from cut trees.  At right, the chewed remains of a Poplar tree.'


Trees provide habitats for many wild animals and they in turn assist forests to survive.  Animals feed the small plants that grow in the forests, thereby weeding out the undergrowth to allow small seedlings to survive.  Squirrels disseminate pine cones through the forest.


Trees and forests are home to many wild animals like the White Tailed Deer above.


Squirrels help to spread seeds and use trees for their homes.



Did you know…

That a person who specializes in the care of trees is called an “arborist”?  



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The Wonder 
of Trees




"Even if I knew 
that tomorrow 
the world 
would go to pieces, 
I would still plant 
my apple tree."

~ Martin Luther ~









"I think that I 
shall never see
A poem as lovely
as a tree.

A tree whose hungry 
mouth is pressed,
Against the earth's 
sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks 
at God all day
And lifts her leafy 
arms to pray;

A tree that may 
in Summer wear
A nest of robins
 in her hair;

Upon whose bosom 
snow has lain;
Who intimately 
lives with rain.

Poems are made 
by fools like me,
but only God 
can make a tree."

~ Joyce Kilmer ~
"Trees" 1914









"The best time
to plant a tree
was 20 years ago.
The next best
time is now."

~ Chinese Proverb ~







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