Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Trees by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Trees by  Anna Botsford Comstock


Acorns of the red and the scarlet oaks.

Photo by O. L. Foster.

How To Begin Tree Study

Teacher's Story

dropcap image URING autumn the attention of the children should be attracted to the leaves by their gorgeous colors. It is well to use this interest to cultivate their knowledge of the forms of leaves of trees; but the teaching of the tree species to the young child should be done quite incidentally and guardedly. If the teacher says to the child bringing a leaf, "This is a white oak leaf," the child will soon quite unconsciously learn that leaf by name. Thus, tree study may be begun in the kindergarten or the primary grades.

1. Let the pupils use their leaves as a color lesson by classifying them according to color, and thus train the eye to discriminate tints and color values.

2. Let them classify the leaves according to form, selecting those which resemble each other.

3. Let each child select a leaf of his own choosing and draw it. This may be done by placing the leaf flat on paper and outlining it with pencil or with colored crayon.

4. Let the pupils select paper of a color similar to the chosen leaf and cut a paper leaf like it.

5. Let each pupil select four leaves which are similar and arrange them on a card in a symmetrical design. This may be done while the leaves are fresh, and the card with leaves may be pressed and thus preserved.

In the fourth grade, begin with the study of a tree which grows near the schoolhouse. In selecting this tree and in speaking of it, impress upon the children that it is a living being, with a life and with needs of its own. I believe so much in making this tree seem an individual, that I would if necessary name it Pocahontas or Martha Washington. First, try to ascertain the age of the tree. Tell an interesting story of who planted it and who were children and attended school in the schoolhouse when the tree was planted. To begin the pupils' work, let each have a little note-book in which shall be written, sketched or described all that happens to this particular tree for a year. The following words with their meaning should be given in the reading and spelling lessons: Head, bole, trunk, branches, twigs, spray, roots, bark, leaf, petiole, foliage, sap.


Mountain maple, sugar maple and red maple.


Tree Study

Autumn Work—

1. What is the color of the tree in its autumn foliage? Sketch it in water colors or crayons, showing the shape of the head, the relative proportions of head and trunk.

2. Describe what you can see of the tree's roots. How far do you suppose the roots reach down? How far out at the sides? In how many ways are the roots useful to the tree? Do you suppose, if the tree were turned bottomside up, that it would show as many roots as it now shows branches?

3. How high on the trunk from the ground do the lower branches come off? How large around is the trunk three feet from the ground? If you know how large around it is, how can you get the distance through? What is the color of the bark? Is the bark smooth or rough? Are the ridges fine or coarse? Are the furrows between the ridges deep or shallow? Of what use is the bark to the tree?

4. Describe the leaf from your tree, paying special attention to its shape, its edges, its color above and below, its veins or ribs, and the relative length and thickness of its petiole. Are the leaves set opposite or alternate upon the twigs? As the leaves begin to fall, can you find two which are exactly the same in size and shape? Draw in your note-book the two leaves which differ most from each other of any that grew on your tree. At what date do the leaves begin to fall from your tree? At what date are they all off the tree?

5. Do you find any fruit or seed upon your tree? If so describe and sketch it, and tell how you think it is scattered and planted.

Winter Study of the Tree—

1. Make a sketch of the tree in your notebook, showing its shape as it stands bare. Does the trunk divide into branches, or does it extend through the center of the tree and the branches come off from its sides? Of what use are the branches to a tree? Is the spray, or the twigs at the end of the branches, coarse or fine? Does it lift up or droop? Is the bark on the branches like that on the trunk? Is the color of the spray the same as of the large branches? Why does the tree drop its leaves in winter? Does the tree grow during the winter? Do you think that it sleeps during the winter?

2. Study the cut end of a log or stump and also study a slab. Which is the heart-wood and which is the sap-wood? Can you see the rings of growth? Can you count these rings and tell how old was the tree from which this log came? Describe if you can, how a tree trunk grows larger each year. What is it makes the grain in the wood which we use for furniture? If we girdle a tree why does it die? If we place a nail in a tree three feet from the ground this winter, will it be any higher from the ground ten years from now? How does the tree grow tall?

3. Take a twig of a tree in February and look carefully at the buds. What is their color? Are they shiny, rough, sticky or downy? Are they arranged on the twigs opposite or alternate? Can you see the scar below the buds where the last year's leaf was borne? Place the twig in water and put in a light, warm place, and see what happens to the buds. As the leaves push out, what happens to the scales which protected the buds?

4. What birds do you find visiting your tree during winter? Tie some strips of beef fat upon its branches, and note all of the kinds of birds which come to feast upon it.


Trees in winter.

Spring Work—

1. At what date do the young leaves appear upon your tree? What color are they? Look carefully to see how each leaf was folded in the bud. Were all the leaves folded in the same way? Are the young leaves thin, downy and tender? Do they stand out straight as did the old leaves last autumn, or do they droop? Why? Will they change position and stand out as they grow stronger? Why do the leaves stand out from the twigs in order to get sunshine? What would happen to a tree if it lost all its leaves in spring and summer? Tell all of the things you know which the leaves do for the tree.

2. Are there any blossoms on your tree in the spring? If so, how do they look? Are the blossoms which bear the fruit on different trees from those that bear the pollen, or are these flowers placed separately on the same tree? Or does the same flower which produces the pollen also produce the seed? Do the insects carry the pollen from flower to flower, or does the wind do this for your tree? What sort of seeds are formed by these flowers? How are the seeds scattered and planted?

3. At what date does your tree stand in full leaf? What color is it now? What birds do you find visiting it? What insects? What animals seek its shade? Do the squirrels live in it?

4. Measure the height of your tree as follows: Choose a bright, sunny morning for this. Take a stick 3 ½ feet long and thrust it in the ground so that three feet will project above the soil. Immediately measure the length of its shadow and of the shadow which your tree makes from its base to the shadow of its topmost twigs. Supposing that the shadow from the stick is 4 feet long and the shadow from your tree is 80 feet long, then your example will be: 4 ft. : 3 ft. :: 80 ft. : ?  which will make the tree 60 feet high.

To measure the circumference of the tree, take the trunk three feet from the ground and measure it exactly with a tape measure. To find the thickness of the trunk, divide the circumference just found by 3.14.

Supplementary Reading—Among Green Trees, Rogers; Chap. I in A Primer of Forestry, Pinchot; Part I in A First Book of Forestry, Roth; Chapter IV in Practical Forestry, Gifford.

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