Tree IDs #1: Dendrology

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 02-21-2009 02:38 PM 2754 reads 1 time favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Tree IDs series Part 2: collecting wood »

Hi folks! I’m new here, as of tonight, but it already occurs to me that this might be the place for an idea I’ve been toying with. I’ve done minor carpentry-like woodworking since high school (31 now), but in the last 2 years, I’ve finally been able to rent a house with a detached 1-car garage in LA. Thus began my meteoric rise to choking myself out of said garage with tools and lumber acquisitions :)

Late last year, it occurred to me to wonder what the trees the woods I was using looked like. Suddenly I was getting into dendrology. I’d be at my day job all day, in my shop after that until I thought the neighbors couldn’t take the noise anymore, and then inside reading up on, and investing everything about trees, from leaf types, to grain nomenclature, and I’m positively swimming now with jargon, like “Janka Hardness Scale,” and “pith fleck.” I’ve been reading so much each night, and learning so much so rapidly, that I’ve needed to cool it a bit, just to be able to retain any of it. My brain isn’t keeping up!

When I went to visit my parents in our deep-in-the-woods home in NJ this past holiday season, I used the opportunity to finally go out and photograph the trees, and asked everyone at home who wandered too close what they knew about the trees, as I knew nothing at all. Surprisingly, almost everyone had something to contribute, so I learned a lot about swamp maples, black and white oaks, cypress, sycamore, and a handful of others. I also shipped a few logs from our wood pile, made from our trees, back to me, and some were nicely spalted! I miss home more than ever now :) I didn’t realize my dad’s old 2-acre lot had 40 trees, and nearly as many varieties, and I grew up there! He knew what they all were, and drew me a map (the house was sold a few years back).

Now I live in LA, and had been cursing that I’ve ended up here with no trees that I can go fell without anyone noticing, as we could in the 35 acres of forest back home, without making a dent. Then I realized something… LA is incredibly diverse in its flora, unlike home where there are maybe 20 tree types. Once I started noticing, I found that just my neighborhood has hundreds of species. It’s all imported – we’re a desert – so everyone has whatever they liked out of landscaping books, and the list is enormous. Lemon scented gums, japanese evergreen pears, giant weeping figs, and on and on. And every now and then they ARE felled, and then people have to figure out what to do with them. My officemate has already promised me more rubber tree than I can handle in my hatchback. It’s over 36” wide at its base, and the internet tells me it’s a decent furniture wood. Fun! I’m also keen to hit up tree doctors in the area, bumming for scraps from any and every variety in the county, perfect for my tiny shop.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking it would be fun to start a blog, wherein I go out and pick a new tree now and then, document everything in pictures (bark, base, full shot, leaves/twigs, any fruit/cones/anomalies, etc., and see if anyone out there would help me track down what it was. Is this something folks here would be into? I see that I can add blogs to series (this site keeps getting cooler and cooler), so I’ve preemptively started a Tree ID series for this reason. I think it would take a long time to find as many potentially interested parties as may be here already, and this way, I don’t have to get blogging software sorted myself.

Also, though I would post a few pics here anyway, is it considered foul-play to also link from here to a more image-based site, like Flickr, for the big, and very high-res image dumps (12 megapixel)? As an example, here's a tree I was really excited to finally identify in the parking lot at work last week. They’re all around the neighborhood, and so pretty, if pruned tremendously. All of the surrounding neighborhood is like a crossword puzzle now, and just driving to and from work takes me past maybe 150 species, almost all of which I don’t yet know anything about. How exciting!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

17 comments so far

View JohnVV's profile


22 posts in 4712 days

#1 posted 02-21-2009 03:04 PM

I would love to find out more. We have the books at home about trees, but nothing ever seems to stick.

So, please! bring on the pictures!


PS Click on the “pictures & videos friendly” link next to the buttons above where you write the blog entry to find out more than you may want about lining out to other picture sites.

-- -- John, Washington, DC

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 5193 days

#2 posted 02-21-2009 03:12 PM

Here is a link I learned from/refer to.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 5110 days

#3 posted 02-21-2009 03:19 PM

Gary, that is a wonderful tree. The burls on it look like they would yield some interesting projects. Looking at a tree and only seeing wood projects or hardwood lumber is a telltale sigh of being a true lumberjock.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 5025 days

#4 posted 02-21-2009 05:26 PM

Hi Gary, I think you have touched on a very important subject. On my next trip to Brazil my wife and I have already set up an outing with a renowned tree specialist in Sao Paulo to document and photograph as many exotic trees as we can find in an urban setting. He has written and published many books. He also has a fantastic list of trees already located and we intend to go on some tree hunts throughout the region. I am looking forward to this adventure. He also does wood sculptures and other woodworking and has an impressive collection of exotic lumber.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 5173 days

#5 posted 02-21-2009 05:59 PM

Gary welcome to LJ’s!!!
I for one would really be interested in viewing a tree blog, you are off to a good start.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4670 days

#6 posted 02-21-2009 11:04 PM

Looks like there’s interest! This will certainly make being in LA a lot more fun, out playing John Audubon to LA’s trees.

JohnVV – agreed! It’s like going to Spain, or Mexico to learn Spanish, vs. reading a Spanish I book. I’ve found it far more difficult to retain tree info I find in books and online unless I’ve seen it in real life. Then it becomes personal. I hope to make it feel a little more personal with good pics, and conversationally delivered info – if I know any – especially the info that would matter to us woodworkers (e.g. grain, density, workability, and such).

Daren – that link is fantastic! Looking through hardwoods sites, and seeing things like dots on maps of where certain trees come from has made me wish there was a nice contour map of trees and their growth regions set up in a really interactive way. It looks like that’s what you’ve sent me! Thanks!

Scott – wholly agree. Even though I’ve read that Erythrina caffra (the coast coral) yields really light, and if I’m reading it right, almost a cork-like wood, better suited for buoyant canoe outriggers than much else, the beauty of the bark and the thick, twisting limbs really has me wanting to quietly cut off at least a limb to see what I can see inside.

Rob – I love your site, and the idea of using reclaimed lumber. I admit to having a bit of a guilty conscience, wanting to make things from dead trees, when I love them so. That’s why I’ve been falling more and more in love with well-managed wood sources, the kind that don’t clear cut, keep the energy usage and carbon production low, and especially the ones that use wood we already have. Speaking of, I just finished up jointing, planing, ripping, and crosscutting a piece of the crating my band saw arrived in months ago. It’s amazing how such crappy-looking, dirty, and rusty wood can become perfect lumber again. It’s flawless, and laser-straight everywhere, once I cut around the nails!

John O. – are you a member of the IWCS? That sounds like the kind of commitment those folks put into their wood acquisitions! I just found their site recently, and after laughing that anyone would collect wood, started collecting wood in their standard sample size, too, and now I can also laugh at myself. Laughter is good for you, I hear :)

John G. – Thanks! It’s a done deal. I’m going to start picking trees to document, and I will need all the help of the friendly, knowledgeable ‘staff’ :) in here to figure out what in the world the vast array of species around me are. I’ve identified in the neighborhood of 10 now. Hundreds remaining!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 5193 days

#7 posted 02-21-2009 11:49 PM

”I’m also keen to hit up tree doctors in the area, bumming for scraps from any and every variety in the county”
To quote you Gary that is exactly what I do. I run a full time sawmill business just from “urban waste” logs. You are right in town there is a unique variety of species, since many/most were planted as ornamentals. Good luck in your ID adventures !

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 4873 days

#8 posted 02-22-2009 12:35 AM

I bought a few books on dendrology and still cannot find the wood I am looking for it’s a big branch of science excuse the pun.Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View manilaboy's profile


177 posts in 5223 days

#9 posted 02-22-2009 04:10 AM

Blog away! That will really be interesting.

“A whole lot of ships” or something of that sort wrote Pigafetta, Magellan’s chronicler, when he caught sight of the forested islands of the Philippines more that 400 years ago. Up until about 50 years ago, those forests are still there. The Philippine’s remaining old growth forest is now probably only 10% of what Pigafetta saw in the 1500’s. I really do not know if some species have become extinct. Some could have been.

Funny that you came up with the idea. I was also thinking of making an inventory of all the native tree species in the Philippines. I will try and contribute any which way I can. The Forest Management Bureau is just across the street where I always go to get government clearances.


-- "Real jocks do it on a bench"

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4670 days

#10 posted 02-22-2009 06:12 AM

Daren, I took a look through your site. Killer stuff! I love all the dovetail joinery work you’ve done. You say in a few places that some people see certain things as defects, or don’t like particular styles, but I was right with you through the whole gallery. All quite beautiful work. I really appreciate the information on running a sawmilling operation, too. Maybe someday, though not for a long time, I think. I would love to have a bandsaw mill, but that also means having the space to operate it (0.2 acre rental house here – neighbors right next to me, all around me), and probably something other than a 9-year old hatchback :) For me right now, I’m not doing much large stuff. I have almost no room left in the shop, and am designing ways now to get things up into the rafters, up in cabinets, out in a separate shed I built, and up from underfoot. I have piles of things all over. That said, I’d be very happy to just get small logs. Things people would throw in a fireplace I can use for little boxes, or stick in my lathe. I was happy to find a 1” diameter ‘stick’ of pretty dry wood in a parking lot awhile back!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4670 days

#11 posted 02-22-2009 06:13 AM

Scotsman – ever think of asking in here for the answer? Has it become a personal quest now, that you must complete on your own? ;)

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4670 days

#12 posted 02-22-2009 06:14 AM

Rico – I’d be interested in following along with pics, names, and descriptions of the woods native to your area if you’re up to posting about them!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 5016 days

#13 posted 02-22-2009 06:48 AM

Add one more person the the list of “interested”. I wish I had something to add at the moment, but for now I’m just looking forward to see what the group makes of this.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4670 days

#14 posted 02-22-2009 07:07 AM

Me, too, HokieMojo! Just having you as another interested party is a great addition in my book. I’ve really been putting off doing something with this recent interest in trees, save for identifying a few with late-night hammerings away at the Google search box. Many of them took a few weeks of occasional sessions like this to get anywhere, and some haven’t gotten anywhere yet. I’m even happy just to get leads. In some of my searches, a coworker, or family member will say something like “I think it might be some kind of pepper tree,” and then I have somewhere to start. This happened on Friday with my office manager on a walk to a local diner, and searches showed me that pepper trees do indeed look like what we saw on the way there, so now I have something more specific to explore. I think with all the woodworkers in here, I’ll get great leads, if not specific species names right off the bat.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View mmh's profile


3697 posts in 5010 days

#15 posted 02-22-2009 07:17 AM

What an exciting blog! I’m learning about different woods and try to get some idea of where they are from, etc., as there’s so much to know. I’ve met up with a wood scientist but his knowledge is way above me. I’m always scouting the neighborhood or where ever I am to find wood for my cane handles or just to admire. There’s such diversity in wood, it’s amazing.

Manzanita and madrone are some handsome wood found in that part of the US. I believe Manzanita grows in more arid areas, and madrone, lush areas. Happy hunting and ID’ing. Keep us posted.

I wish I knew someone in my area who milled trees, as I have some logs and I’ve spotted some beautifully burled trees that look like the owners may be interested in having them cut in the near future. I’ve managed to harvest some logs and those buggers get pretty heavy, not to mention take up space.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

showing 1 through 15 of 17 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics