Alabama A&M University and Auburn University list 66 trees as those most commonly found in Alabama. From sturdy evergreens such as loblolly pine to the delicate magnolia, Alabama trees offer a wealth of diversity. This diversity, however, can present a problem for those trying to identify these trees. Paying attention to each tree's unique leaves and bark is the key to successful identification.
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Conifers are trees that don't shed their leaves each fall. As a group, they are most easily characterized by their thin, needle-like leaves. Alabama is home to quite a few conifers. If you see scaly leaves and fibrous reddish brown bark, you might be looking at an Eastern red cedar. Eastern white pine has long needles in bundles of five. Alabama is also home to two conifers that part with tradition and lose their foliage in winter -- the fibrous foliage of the bald cypress and the white striped foliage of the Eastern hemlock.
Yellow pines are a group of conifers with needles in clusters of two or three. If the needles are only in clusters of two, the tree is likely a loblolly pine or a longleaf pine. If the needles are in groups of two and three on the same tree, then you could be looking at a slash pine, Virginia pine, shortleaf pine or spruce pine. To make distinctions among these trees, you'll need to study the characteristics of the cones, which vary in size and shape.
Hardwoods are deciduous trees. This means they shed their leaves in the fall and regrow them in the spring. The remarkable variety of these trees in Alabama can be daunting, but narrowing the field is easy once you know which characteristics to look for. Some leaf types you'll need to know are palmate leaves, those lobed to resemble a hand, or more feathery pinnate leaves. You'll also need to know the difference between simple leaves, those with one leaf per stalk and compound leaves, those with more than one per stalk. The buckeye for example, has leaves palmately compound. This means it has more than one hand-shaped leaf per stalk. The black locust tree has pinnately compound leaves, so more than one, feathery leaf per stalk.
Oaks are a type of hardwood broken up onto two groups, the red oaks and the white oaks. Red oaks have leaves with small bristles at the lobe ends and leaf tips. White oaks have leaves with rounded lobes and no bristles. Water oak and willow oak are types of red oak. Post oak and blackjack oak are types of white oak.
Other Deciduous Trees
Alabama is also home to true hickories, which have five to seven leaflets per compound leafm and pecan hickories, which have nine to 17 leaflets per compound leaf. You might encounter maples with their toothed, lobed leaves. Elm trees have oval shaped, ridged leaves. Ashes also have oval shaped leaves, but theirs are smooth as opposed to toothed. Tupelos are characterized by long leaves attached to long thin stems. And the delicate magnolia trees are easy to spot because of their hairy leaves and showy flowers.