As autumn approaches and leaves drop to the forest floor, tree branches are exposed, as are the twigs, buds, and bark. Even though the leaves are gone, it is still possible to identify trees just by looking at these skeletal features. Some trees have twigs that can be used to make tea, while the buds of others can be eaten, and in a survival situation, the bark of some trees can be used.
Trees have an outer bark and an inner bark. The outer bark is the layer that protects the tree from injuries. The inner bark carries food that is made in the leaves to the branches, trunk, and roots. The sapwood, or xylem layer, carries sap from the roots to the leaves.
Harvesting the inner bark involves scoring the tree with a knife and cutting off strips, removing the hard, outer bark. The inner bark is then dried and ground into flour as an emergency food. Trees whose bark can be used for food include alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, elm, fir, maple, pine, poplar, spruce, and willow.
In late winter or early spring, certain trees are tapped to collect sap. In some places there are maple syrup festivals. Sugar maple is the one most frequently tapped. Cool, frosty nights and warm, sunny days are needed for the sap to rise. Other trees that can be tapped include birches, basswood, and hickory.
Twigs and Buds
The buds on a tree are actually made up of miniature leaves in their embryonic stage. Scales that vary in number and size according to the tree on which they are growing protect most buds. Buds that appear larger on the same tree are usually flower buds. Terminal buds appear at the end of the branch and are usually larger than the axillary buds located in the leaf axils.
The buds are arranged on the branch either in pairs or alternating. Sometimes they are in whorls, with three or more encircling the stem. Below the bud is a leaf scar where the previous year's leaf was attached. On the surface of the leaf scar is a varying number of small dots or lines, called bundle scars, where sap was channeled from the leaf to the stem. These dots and lines present a variety of patterns that can help to identify the tree. Using a hand lens is necessary in some cases when the bundle scars are very small.
Twigs and buds of some trees and shrubs can be nibbled on to relieve thirst, or in some cases, to make tea, including alder, arbor vitae, balsam fir, sassafras, spicebush, and sweet birch. Sassafras flower buds are large and can be added to salads along with the leaf buds, which are smaller.
Conifers have needle-like leaves and are known by most people because of their use as a Christmas tree. Most conifers are evergreen and the needles of some can be used to make a winter tea that is rich in vitamin C by steeping the needles in hot water. Other conifers that can be used to make a tea include Douglas fir, hemlock, spruce, and larch.
There are also broad-leaved evergreens that keep their leaves all year. Redbay and bay laurel are both members of the laurel family and have leaves that can be used through the winter months as a seasoning. The bay laurel grows on the west coast in California while the redbay is a native shrub on the east coast, growing from Delaware south to Florida and west to Texas.
Bayberry, also called waxmyrtle, is not related to the bays, but it has a scent that is similar to the bay leaf. It is a medium-sized shrub or small tree that grows on the east coast, with leaves that are much smaller than the other bays. It is a member of the waxmyrtle family and has leaves that are aromatic when crushed and can be used in the same way as bay leaves for seasoning. The leaves can also be steeped in hot water to make a stimulating tea.