Creekstone Press

Northern BC's publisher


Review of Trees and Shrubs in Winter

Many native plant enthusiasts fall under the spell of wildflowers with their showy petals, perfumed fragrances and bewitching ways. But some of us have a soft spot for plant life that is often overlooked – and there is no form of plant life that is more often overlooked in winter than deciduous trees and shrubs.

For most people, trees and shrubs only start to get some attention when the year’s new leaves emerge, and then again in fall, when the same leaves go out in a blaze of autumnal glory. But for those months when deciduous trees and shrubs go naked and leafless, they seem, for most, only stark reminders of winter’s dark, cold duration.

But really, isn’t this the best time to get to know your neighbours? When they’ve shed their fancy clothes and look-at-me ways, when you can get to see them in all their beautiful simplicity?

Last winter, I took the time to get to know many of the native deciduous trees and shrubs in my neighbourhood. I became intimate with the sweet-smelling buds of Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa (black cottonwood); I figured out which of the shrubs in a nearby meadow were Corylus cornuta (beaked hazelnut) and which were Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon) and I tried to sort out the different Ribes species, using prickles – or the lack thereof – as a guide.

How I wished I had had a field guide – and not the usual field guides that focus on leaves, flowers and fruits, but one that focused on twigs, buds and bark. There are some out there, but they tend to be for eastern North America or are expensive and unwieldy tomes.

This winter, however, I will have a new guide to help me: Trees and Shrubs in Winter by Rosamund Pojar. Although the book is subtitled “An identification guide for northern British Columbia”, you’ll find many species of coniferous trees and shrubs, and deciduous trees and shrubs that are found throughout much of the province.

The book, conceived originally as a study aid for natural resources classes taught by Rosamund, is a terrific resource for anyone with an interest in native trees. There are simple keys using characteristics seen in winter (foliage and cones for the conifers, bark, buds and twigs for the deciduous species) to help steer you in the right directions. Each species gets a detailed write-up with specific descriptions as well as notes on similar species and how to tell them apart, geographical ranges and interesting tidbits of information.

Take for example, this comment on Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir): “Surely this tree must suffer an identity crisis! Its common name suggests that it is a fir when it is not, whereas its Latin name means ‘false hemlock’ – all because European explorers who first discovered it had never seen a tree like it before as it is endemic to the west coast of North America and they were confused as to what to call it.”

The illustrations by Evi Coulson are terrific and are the perfect complement to the text. All in all, Trees and Shrubs in Winter is a book that you need on your shelf or in your backpack. I can’t wait for all the leaves to fall.

Review in menziesia Fall 2010