Trees: Fraser Valley


There are some easily identifiable trees in the Fraser Valley. But before you learn to identify them, you need to know a few terms:
There are 3 types of leaves:
1. needles – those thin green things found on Christmas trees
2. scales – small little green segmented leaves like little multi-headed snakes
3. broad leaves – those flat, wide green things found on trees without needles
There are 2 types of needles:
1. singles – each needle comes out separately from the stem
2. bundles – needles come out in bunches from the stem
There are 3 types of broad leaves:
1. smooth-edged – leaves with smooth edges
2. toothed – leaves with serrated edges like some knives
3. lobed – leaves with big indentations between sections

Here are some clues to help you identify trees found in our area:
An asterisk (*) beside a descriptor shows one of the easiest clues to memorize.


– The trees grow very tall and are very common in our area.
– *The leaves are scales.
– The bark is grey and stringy, sometimes tearing off the tree in long strips.
– The seed cones are tiny and egg-shaped; the pollen cones are tiny and reddish.
– *Red cedar trees smell like Christmas decorations.
– Yellow cedar trees are less common and smell like potato skins.
– Cedar wood is very durable and resistant to decay; it is used for fencing, decking and outdoor furniture; even after 100 hundred years, wood that has fallen in the forest can be used to make shakes for roofs. Yellow cedar wood is used for boat-building.

Western Hemlock
– *The trees grow very tall and have a top that droops over to one side.
(In ancient Greece, poison hemlock – a completely unrelated weed – was used
as a form of capital punishment; Socrates was killed with poison hemlock.
So, if the top of the tree droops over as if in death, the tree is hemlock.)
– *The leaves are needles, small, flat, soft and of uneven lengths; the tips look
bleached in spring, sort of like hair with foil streaks; think of a layered, bleached haircut.
– The tiny cones start out greenish and slowly turn brown with age.
– The bark has lots of grooves in it when the tree gets older.
– There are lots of these trees in the Fraser Valley; you can stand in a clearing and
look around for the trees with droopy heads.
– The wood is used for making doors, windows and ladders.

Lodgepole Pine
– The trees grow very tall and straight and slim.
– *The leaves are very sharp needles that come out in bundles of two like little tweezers.
– The bark is thin with fine scales.
– The trees prefer to live at higher elevations than found in Abbotsford, so you are more likely to find them on mountainsides rather than in the valley.

Douglas fir
– The trees are very tall and found everywhere here in Abbotsford.
– *The leaves are flat needles with pointed tips that stand out around
the twig like a pipe-cleaner, although the younger needles will sometimes lie
flat between your hands like young babies taking naps.
(If the older needles want to lie flat when you hold them between your palms
and have little notches at the ends and the cones don’t have little Douglases
caught in them, the tree is probably a grand fir.
Remember: grandparents sometimes need to lie down for little naps.)
– *The cones have overlapping scales with three-pronged bracts sticking out
from between them. Here is a little story to remember this clue: “Little mouse
Douglas was going on a field trip. ‘Be good!’ his mother said. Douglas promised
but, as usual, he misbehaved. He stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong
and got caught. He didn’t get away, either! Ever since, you can see Douglas’s
little hind legs and tail sticking out between the scales on a Douglas fir cone.”
– *The seeds float down like little helicopters.
– The wood is very strong (remember, it didn’t let Douglas get away) and is used
to make wharves, trestles and commercial buildings.

Pacific Dogwood
– *The trees are small and the branches are arranged in a circle around the trunk.
– The leaves are broad leaves: oval, small with tiny teeth and pointed tips; they
turn orange in fall.
– *The spring flowers are made of four to six white petals around a cluster of
tiny green flowers. The dogwood is the flower for British Columbia.
– The berries are dark red.
– The bark is smooth and grey.
– There aren’t a lot of these trees in the wild but they are often planted in gardens.
– The wood has been used for making piano keys.

Bigleaf Maple
– The trees are the largest maple trees in Canada.
– *The leaves are broad leaves: 5 deep lobes up to 30 cm. across with wavy teeth.
– The leaf stalks sometimes ooze a milky liquid when broken.
– The leaves come out in pairs from the stems.
– The seeds come in pairs that are joined at the base like wings.
– The bark is greyish brown.
– *There are lots of trees in Abbotsford and the leaves are big even when the
tree is still very short and young.
– The wood can be used for making furniture and musical instruments.
(Remember: the bigleaf maple is the biggest maple in Canada and is on our flag
and can be used to make the instruments that play our national anthem.)

Douglas Maple
– The trees are quite small and may have more than one trunk.
– *The leaves are broad leaves: 7 to 10 cm. wide and have 3-5 coarsely-toothed
lobes which turn bright orange in fall.
– The seeds are joined in pairs like wings.
– The bark is thin and smooth when the tree is young but gets rougher with age.
– There are lots of these trees in Abbotsford, in the wild and in gardens.

Vine Maple

– *The trees are quite small; they may even be shrubs.
– *The leaves are broad leaves: 6-11 cm. wide with 7 to 9 toothed lobes which
turn red or yellow in fall.
– The seeds are joined in pairs like wings.
– The bark is thin and usually smooth, but sometimes there are shallow cracks.
– There are lots of these trees in Abbotsford, in the wild and in gardens.

Black Cottonwood or Balsam Poplar
– *These trees are very tall and straight and like to grow near water.
– *The leaves are broad leaves: oval or wedge-shaped, a shiny dark green on
the top and a dirty whitish brown on the bottom; they smell a bit like honey
– *White fluff falls from the trees in spring.
– The bark is smooth when young and grooved when old.
– There are lots of these trees in Abbotsford, in the wild, in parks and on tree
– The wood is used to make tissues and paper towels. (Remember that white fluff
that makes people sneeze in spring!)

Red Alder
– These trees are not too tall and not too short.
– *The leaves are broad leaves: oval with coarsely toothed edges and pointed tips
that tend to curl under a little bit; they are bright green on the top and
a grayish colour underneath; the veins form a ladder pattern; the leaves stay
green until they drop off in fall.
– *The bark is greenish when young and greyish white when old, almost like birch
trees but the bark doesn’t peel off.
– *If you make a cut in the bark, the wood first looks yellow and then turns orange.
– There are lots and lots of these trees in Abbotsford.
– The wood is used for making furniture and flooring.

– The trees are quite small, up to 10 metres tall.
– *The leaves are broad leaves: long ovals with very fine teeth and veins that
look like ladders.
– The bark is smooth when young and scaly when old.
– *If you make a cut in the bark, the wood first looks yellow and then turns orange.
– There are lots of these trees in Abbotsford.

For illustrations and more information, see . . .
Parish, Roberta. Tree Book: Learning to Recognize Trees of British Columbia.

Teaching ideas

1. Gather samples of all the leaves, cones and seed pods ahead of time; practise the identifying clues until you can talk about the samples as if you’re telling a story.
2. Gather your group of students and tell them the story, showing them the samples and passing them around. Let the students take notes, maybe even providing them with an outline ahead of time.
3. Send the students out to gather their own samples. Give them about 20 minutes to gather samples, identify them and practise describing them with a partner or in a small group.
4. Start court: let students take turns holding up a sample and explaining what it is. Have fun with this. If students say a leaf is a needle, say that it’s a broadleaf and make them provide evidence like lawyers in a courtroom. Reward successful defences with treats, edible or otherwise. Keep going until everyone has had a chance to get treats.
5. Review by holding up samples and having students call out the names of the trees. Reward enthusiastic and accurate responses.
6. Go on a tree walk: lead the group on a walk by trees, stopping to point at individual trees. The first person to identify a tree by loudly and accurately calling out the name gets a treat. Reward noisy enthusiasm.
7. Smile lots because learning about the real world and being outdoors is fun!

[This page may be copied for use with students if the following credit is provided: ©2009 Sophie Rosen.]

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