ID a tree

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Here is the bark of a Japanese Maple. This is an example of a plate-like bark pattern.
Primary biological content area covered

This activity will teach students how to identify trees based on bark patterns/descriptions. This activity will also teach students the importance of trees in today’s world and ways to decrease the destruction of trees for their resources.


All the students will require a handout made by teacher(s). All of the students will require a crayon to “rub” the bark with.


Trees- Bark Identification and Conservation Bark is the tough outer layer of a tree that protects it from the environment. There are many different types of bark depending on the species of tree. Trees are important for our environment because they are a source of oxygen, they are used for paper products and as an energy source. A good way to conserve trees and other plant-life is to use less paper and recycle. Bark Types*: Ridged and Furrowed – Most common bark pattern with a series of raised ridges that can be rounded or flat with series of sunken areas, known as furrows. Types: Oaks, Elms Blocky – Pattern of small squares, rectangles, or boxes. Types: Dogwoods, Ashes Platey/Platelike – Similar to blocky pattern, but plates are larger. Types: Maples, Elms Scaley – Rough, irregular pattern of patches, blocks, or plates and raised areas. This bark can be present at the top of the ridges of ridged and furrowed bark. Types: Hickory Sheeting/Papery – Occurs in sheets, which sometimes peel off creating paper like sheets. Types: Birches

  • All information on bark types was obtained from

Here is a cross section of a Yew. You can clearly see the layers of the tree leading up to the bark.
Description of activity

The students will be taken through an overview of bark in general and what to specifically look for in bark patterns. The students will be advised how bark is made up of many layers and it is the trees protection from many enviromental factors. Then we will give them bark patterns for the basic general species of trees (i.e. Maple, Elm). Then we will have set trees that the students will attempt to identify on their own and rub the bark pattern onto their handout for future reference.

The students will be asked questions about trees and the many uses of them. Topics that will be address are how trees provide habitat for many animals such as birds and they can also provide a place of storage for animals such as squirrels. Also, many smaller creatures use leaves for food such as ants and larger animals will eat the fruits of trees. If leaves are not eaten by animals they will decompose and give back many nutrients to the soil that the tree used to grow and live.

Since conservation is apart of the fifth grade curriculum there will be discussion about how trees are used to make paper and therefore paper should be conserved to save trees. Reusing paper and recycling paper are habits that will be encouraged as well as possibly planting new trees.

Lesson plan

The schedule for the lesson is very flexible. We will begin by talking about how bark is a protective outer layer and then go into an overview of bark patterns and ways to describe barks. We will then go over descriptions of barks for specific species (i.e. Maple, Pine, etc.). Students will then be taken to different trees (approximately 3-4) and have the students describe the bark patterns. Then the students will guess at what tree they believe that it is, based on the bark pattern. The students will be able to rub the barks onto their hand-outs.

While students are taking rubbings and guessing at what type of trees there are, the importance of trees will be noted and good conservation practices will be identified (i.e. not wasting paper, recycling, planting trees). Tree use topics can be noted now: trees as shelter, food source, etc.

Potential pitfalls

It may be harder than originally thought to identify trees based on their bark patterns. Bark patterns may be hard to rub onto handouts or may be unclear.

Math connections


Literature connections


Connections to educational standards

Students should be able to explain that "responsible management of the earth's resources (air, soil, water, trees) is beneficial for the environment and for human use". These educational standards are set by Vermont's Department of Education (

Next steps

Since not all of the students were able to rub the same tree at the same time, having the students draw out patterns of bark would be a nice way to move from station to station. Possibly including another page into the handout about the many uses of trees and then having students who are not taking rubbings of trees try to identify trees that are being used as shelters. If more than one teacher is available, different stations are each tree can be set up.

Here is a picture of Birch bark. As you can see it is very fragile and would be hard to get a good rubbing of.

There was one downfall with the birch tree. We had a birch tree as one of our trees to take rubbings from and it didn't work well but we were able to find some of the bark torn off on the ground so we ripped it up and give it to the kids to tape into their hand-outs after. Maybe having that done previously and then finding another tree before hand would have helped. The actual identification and rubbing of trees moved faster than originally thought and the students were very knowledgeable about different tree-types.

The students seemed to be pretty bored by trees in general. The students seemed to already know much about conservation strategies concerning trees which was nice because they were able to answer all of our questions easily. They were very aware of recycling practices and how paper/other tree products should not be wasted. Perhaps this lesson would have been more interesting to a younger age group, rather than for fifth grade students.

The plan worked well but adding more trees is a definite. Maybe having pieces of birch bark beforehand and tape for the students to place in their handout would be good. Also, having leaf images in the handout next to the bark rubbings would be helpful because then students can have both resources to identify trees. Leaf patterns would have to be used as part of the activity in the early Fall months or after trees have bloomed in the Spring.

Citations and links

All the bark descriptions were obtained from

Education guidelines obtained from