Indiana Native Trees Winter Identification

Previously I discussed Indiana’s Central Till Region and the odds I might see 60-70 native tree species in the Johnson-Marion county area. So before I start learning them I need a starting point. How many Indiana Native Trees Winter Identification can I currently make? And why?

To begin with I’ve done a lot of reading over the last month on trees. Some of which I’m sure I’ll eventually share with you. But let me say I have never seen so many different names for the same species. I swear each tree has 3 or more common names. For now I’m going to stick with the common names from 101 Trees Indiana Field Guide but include the scientific name to erase any doubt.

Here are the trees I can currently identify in winter without the use of any field guides and how I can ID them:

Eastern White Pine – Pinus strobus  Because I took the time last year to learn it.

Eastern Red Cedar – Juniperus virginiana  Growing up we had one in our yard. Plus the shape and the reddish color of the tree.

Eastern Red Cedar

American Sycamore – Platanus occidentalis  The green-white bark and the large size make them distinctive.

Sweet Gum – Liquidambar styraciflua  The spiny fruit that hangs on the tree in winter is a giveaway.

Northern Hackberry – Celtis occidentalis  The year-round warty, light gray bark is distinctive.

Shagbark Hickory – Carya ovata  The peeling, long curly strips of bark are unique.

Shagbark Hickory

Pin Oak – Quercus palustris The lower branches start right above the ground and droop. Plus it still usually still has leaves.

Indiana Native Trees Winter Identification
Pin Oak

American Beech – Fagus grandifolia  Distinctive by lover’s initials carved in the smooth, gray  bark.

River Birch – Betula nigra  The orange, cream, and near-white peeling bark on the smaller tree make it the easiest Birch to ID.

Honey Locust – Gleditsia triacanthos  Thorns up to 12″. Enough said.

As you can see it’s basically the bark I use for easy winter ID. Eventually I’ll make and share a reference chart for more Indiana Native Trees Winter Identification but for now I’ll just keep it at a simple line for each.

Indiana Central Till Plain Species

Since there isn’t anything to report from the weekend I’ll pick up where I left off on my last post.  The post ended by stating even though there aren’t any unique Indiana Central Till Plain Species, it’s still home to a majority of Indiana’s species.  Which means I don’t have to go far to learn them. And remember to find a rare species you need to know your local species. In fact I can probably see 2/3 of the state’s butterfly and tree species by checking my backyard or local parks.

How did I arrive at the 2/3 figure? For birding I had previously posted my analysis. I concluded that with consistent birding I could locally see 180 – 200 species of the state’s 250 species. Approximately 75%. Of course I would expect a higher percent for birds since my birding skills are higher than my rookie status with other flora and fauna.

Also in the last post I referenced both the Butterflies of Indiana and 101 Trees of Indiana field guides. Both field guides come with maps showing which counties have had species recorded. Of course an argument can be made this isn’t the best way to demonstrate county sightings. The problem is maybe only one sighting might have been recorded in a county. But by studying the maps you can get a sense of whether or not you have a good chance of seeing a species.

Central Till Plain Species
As demonstrated in these maps the odds are good I might see the species on the left in my local Johnson and Marion Counties. But it would be a long shot for the species shown on the right.

After analyzing both books I estimate I might see around 2/3 of the states 101 Native Trees by checking the Johnson-Marion Counties area. And a similar number for the state’s 100 or so reoccurring butterflies.

Which once again shows you don’t have to go far to see and learn the majority of your state’s different species.

Indiana’s Natural Regions – The Starting Point

So where to begin my 2018 Natural History adventure? Well, seeing as the three Field Guides I currently own from the Indiana Natural Science Series begin with an introduction to Indiana’s Natural Regions, I’ll start there.

First the three books:

  1.  Jeffrey E. Belth – Butterflies of Indiana
  2. Marion T. Jackson – 101 Trees of Indiana
  3. Michael A. Homoya – Wildflowers and Ferns of Indiana Forests

All are published by Indiana University Press.

Indiana Natural Regions

Did you know Indiana is composed of 12 Natural Regions? But first, what is a Natural Region? From Homoya, et. al. 1985 “A natural region is a major, generalized unit of the landscape where a distinctive assemblage of natural features is present.”

Natural Regions, 1984 – Shows the natural regions and their subsections (Indiana Natural Heritage Data Center, IDNR) – (Lake Michigan and Large Rivers Regions not on key) Marion and Johnson Counties outlined in blue.

Each of the books goes into detail how each natural region pertains to their particular topic. Be it butterflies, trees, or wildflowers.

But to start my adventure I’ll concentrate on the section where Marion and most of Johnson County are located. Section 5B – the Central Till Plain section. According to the authors “This is the largest natural region in Indiana… and is topographically homogeneous. The section is a mostly undissected plain formerly covered by an extensive beech-maple-oak forest.” The better drained southern section where Marion and Johnson County are located supported American Beech, Sugar Maple, and Tulip Popular. One other point to note from the field guides is because of the section’s location and the scarcity of specialized natural communities, there are no restricted species.

In other words, since there are no unique land formations present as there are in the southern and northern sections of the state, there are no unique butterflies or trees.

But the Central Till Plain contains a large majority of the state’s “common” (I hate that term) flora and fauna. This will give me a great opportunity to learn those species before setting off to search for unique ones in other parts of the state.

And remember the only way to know a unique or rare species is to really know the “common” species.

Increasing Hours in the Field

In 2018 I’ll have goals for birds, butterflies, trees, wildflowers, etc. Even maybe a dragonfly or two. But the number of species of any of those will pale compared to the goal of Increasing Hours in the field to learn Natural History. And really “Getting to know” what I see during those hours. And that is the one main goal for 2018.

Have 5, Need 10+

2017 was a low year for time in the field. I didn’t even average 5 hours per week. For comparison in previous years I have spent up to 12-13 hours a week while working full-time. And these are actual hours in the field which doesn’t include driving time to and from birding.

The majority of those hours will probably be spent in the local Johnson-Marion Counties area. As previously stated I’m embarrassed I don’t know the local fauna and flora. Let alone the rest of Indiana’s. So the goal is learn the local area and hopefully take several trips to start learning the more distant Natural Areas of Indiana.

Increasing Hours
In 2018 I plan to take several small trips to explore the Natural Areas of Indiana.


And by concentrating on butterflies and their associated natural areas I should be able to spend time a day or two a week after work learning a few things. This is possible with birding but there isn’t a very good birding spot on the drive home. However there are a couple of small parks that look good for butterflies.

Work and Free Time

So hopefully changing positions at work last fall has set things up for more time in the field. The current position doesn’t have the travel like the old one. Just the daily 30 minute one-way drive to and from work. Which isn’t bad if I use the time wisely to learn things.

Big Push towards Natural History

As I posted lasted April I was going to move towards learning more things Natural History. And I did to a small degree by learning several butterfly and tree species. But I also found out, again, I need to be “all in” to learn something. I tried to combine “full-time” birding with learning other things. And it  didn’t work. With my “limited” free time I can’t do both birding and learn new things. So 2018 will see the Big Push towards Natural History.

By next fall I’ll hopefully be able to ID a large percentage of these trees at Brown County State Park. 10/21/17

I don’t plan to stop birding. But I do plan to devote the majority of time in 2018 to learning other Natural History items. How much time? I always thought Seth Godin’s blog post 10,000 Hours was a good start on the subject. 10,000 Hours, or whatever the time, is what distinguishes an advanced hobbyist from an expert in the field.

For example over the years I’ve noticed if I work at a hobby, which I have with birding, after 3-4 years I’ve learned about 80-90%. The remaining 10-20% would take several additional years to learn, if ever. I won’t become the expert on the topic but should be in the “advanced” hobbyist category.

For me this relates to 8-10 hours a week in the field plus an equivalent amount per week studying the topic. So approximately 1000 hours a year. In 3-4 years I’ll have put in 3000-4000 hours. Enough time to be good but not an expert.

I think I can reduce the time because of my birding experience. The mistakes I made not knowing a bird’s status and distribution or the taxonomy relationships of species, I can hopefully avoid with other flora and fauna.

And maybe I’ll learn the common wildflowers. Brown County State Park 10/21/17

So this coming year I’m going to put birding on the back burner. The hope is if I hit other Natural History items hard I’ll get a good footing on Indiana’s flora and fauna. Then over the following years tie it all together.

To accomplish this I’m going to use Butterflying as the vehicle for my next learning adventure.

As previously stated I see butterflying demands you know butterflies, larval hosts such as plants, shrubs, and trees, and the natural areas where they occur.

Big Push towards Natural History
Since I’ve learned a few butterflies I know this is a Red Admiral. But I can only guess at the plant it’s on… Brown County State Park 10/21/17

This learning adventure will be a zigzag path. I’ll continue birding, especially the BBS routes. But the emphasis for the next year will be on learning butterflies and their associated nature groups.

And I’ll share those travels as I travel along.