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Winter Wonders Tree Walk

Guide
Eucalyptus leaves in winter
Many trees in winter have their own special charm that brings beauty to the season. Whether it is brilliant berries, mottled or textured bark, or interesting branch formations, trees in winter have charming traits to enjoy.
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Ready to get started on your Winter Wonders Tree Walk? Follow these easy steps:

  1. Start with the How to Build a Tree Walk Guide; download, print, or craft your own.

  2. Learn about the traits of winter trees and select the ones you want to visit. 

  3. Use the Tree Inventory Project webmap to discover where these trees live nearby that you can visit and record it on your guide.

  4. Try it out! Take your tree walk out for a test run - can you find the trees you're looking for and identify them?

  5. Share your tree walk with neighbors and friends!


What is This Type of Tree Walk?

How to Build a Tree Walk Instructional Video

If you are looking for a new way to explore Portland, curious about the trees in a local park or neighborhood, or wanting to share a creative experience with neighbors, tree walks are a great way to stay connected. You can make your own tree walk anywhere in Portland using the Tree Inventory Projectwebmap.

If it is your first time using the online webmap, we have a quick introduction video available online. Learn to change layers, add filters, and discover which trees live near you.


Wonderful Winter Trees

The Pacific Northwest is well known for our evergreens - trees whose leaves, needles, or scales do not drop all their leaves at once, like deciduous trees do. There are many great cone-bearing evergreens to visit for fun structure, color, or form. Check out a few of these trees:

  • Visit a false cypress (Chamaecyparis)and try to determine which of six species the one you find is.

  • A popular tree seen at the Yard Tree GiveawayVanderwolf's Pyramid Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) has a brilliant blue-green canopy that delivers a splash of color in winter. Check out one of Portland's many parks to find these gorgeous trees. 

  • The Pacific Northwest's iconic Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is a popular indoor holiday tree when it is small - but what can it look like when fully mature?

Holly with berries

Radiant red fruit on a tree brings a bright pop to an otherwise gloomy winter day. Discover the pome clusters on a hawthorn (Crataegus), holding onto the branches long after the leaves have fallen. Enjoy the drupes (or stone fruit) of an American holly (Ilex opaca), and compare their evergreen leaves to those of the evergreen holly oak (Quercus ilex).

A tree's leaves can direct you to its identity fairly quickly, but some trees have such fantastic bark that you won't forget! Check out the ornamental Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), and its 1,000+ different varieties whose bark is exposed in the winter - so many showing a full spectrum of ruby coats. Find and feel the bark of a lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana), and a lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia), to determine which reminds you of silken lace. An uncommon find, trees in the eucalyptus genus have a range of colorful peeling bark that bring delight to any winter wandering.

With areas of Portland in hardiness zones 8b and 9a there's a lot that can grow here. See how many different evergreen oaks you can find that now call Portland home:

Broadleaf evergreen trees on Knott St
This picture was taken in January of 2020 - a street full of green trees enjoying our winter rains.

Bambooleaf oak, Quercus myrsinifolia

Silverleaf oak, Quercus hypoleucoides

Southern live oaks, Quercus virginiana

Canyon live oak, Quercus chrysolepis

Holly oak, Quercus ilex

Interior live oak, Quercus wislizeni

Blue oakQuercus douglasii

California black oakQuercus kelloggii

Waiting for those first blooms? Although it is not regulated by Title 11 as a tree, the popular ornamental evergreen Camellia will be one of the earliest pinks you will see. Mark your maps with the closest star magnolia, Magnolia stellata, to watch for one of Portland's first (regulated) trees to bloom - with their showy flowers arriving before its leaves!


Tree Identification Review

Need to brush up on your tree vocabulary? Check out the Online Dictionary from the International Society of Arboriculture for everything from abiotic to zipline!

A winter tree comparison of a deciduous oak and an evergreen giant sequoia.
Some leaves may hold on to the branches of deciduous trees through the winter, but an evergreen stays ever-green during our rainy season.

The introduction to tree identification for most amateur arborists is through their leaves - which works great for two-thirds of the year. Can only the most expert among us still identify trees through the winter? Certainly not! 

Start with the easiest visual identifier this time of year - does the tree have any leaves, needles, or scales present in the winter? Evergreen trees hold on to their foliage for more than one year, while deciduous trees will be bare every winter. 

The trees we call broadleaf are categorized as angiosperms because they produce a flowering body. Some trees have showy flowers, others have pronounced bracts, and a variety of unimpressive catkins take the name of a flower on other trees.

Gymnosperms are trees with "naked seeds" - most happen to be cone-bearing trees, also called conifers. This ancient line includes Ginkgo - see if you can find an uncommon female with fruit but do not touch! How does this seed compare to the cones of a Douglas-fir or a grey pine?

Broadleaf evergreen trees and deciduous conifers each make up 1% of the trees in our parks. Why do you think there are so few of these? What are the most common trees found in Portland's parks?

A broad leaf, needles, and scales.

Winter Tree Identification

The anatomy of a twig can help identify whos who when trees lose their leaves.
The anatomy of a twig can help identify whos who when trees lose their leaves.

So what can we use to identify deciduous trees in the winter? Leaves are not the only trait to look for - different tree species have unique branching, bark, and buds that you can learn to recognize.

Use a dichotomous key or a pocket guide to compare these tiny twigs and buds. Using images to compare with is a great way to get started and familiarize yourself with this new branch of tree identification.

Learn to identify patterns in bark – what other patterns do you know?

Share Your Finished Tree Walk!

Send your completed How to Build a Tree Walk Guide to ufvolunteers@portlandoregon.gov

Buds on a twig.

More Resources

SelecTree - Cal Poly

What Tree is That? - Arbor Day Foundation

Common Trees of the PNW - OSU

What Tree are You? - USFS