A Tree Identification Booklet
for South Carolina Forests
Toothed Simple Leaf
Characteristics: The oblong-pointed leaves have straight parallel veins. The leaf margins are coarsely saw-toothed, pointed at the tip. The trunk is light-steel-gray and beautifully mottled. Very visible in the woods in fall and winter since it retains its pale brown leaves until early spring. The nuts are edible and an excellent food for wildlife.
Location: Look for this tree in the moist rich soils of uplands and well-drained lowlands. It will often grow in pure stands.
Use: The wood is heavy, strong, shock resistant, and bends easily when steamed. It is good for containers because it does not give an odor or taste to the contents of the container.
FUN TREE FACT: The smooth bark entices knife carvings into its trunk which sadly will last the life of the tree.
Characteristics: The American holly is an evergreen tree with a dense crown of leaves that are spiny-toothed, thick, stiff, and leathery. The spring flowers are small and white; and the fall berries are bright red.
Location: This tree grows on moist or wet well-drained soils, especially flood plains. It is common in the forest.
Use: The evergreen fruiting branches from wild and planted hollies are popular Christmas decorations. The whitish, fine-textured wood is especially suited for inlays in cabinetwork, handles, carvings and rulers. Many kinds of songbirds, gamebirds and mammals eat the bitter berries.
FUN TREE FACT: The white wood can be dyed various shades, even black.
Characteristics: This is a small, shrubby tree with one or more short trunks angled or fluted. It is seldom taller than 25' to 35'. The bark is blue-gray in color, smooth, often with the appearance of a muscular arm. The leaves are pointed at the tip and sharply double saw-toothed with many nearly parallel side veins.
Location: Generally found growing in rich soils or wet areas.
Use: The nutlets and buds are eaten by wildlife, such as bobwhites, pheasants, deer and rabbits.
FUN TREE FACT: The name comes from horn for toughness, and beam, an old word for tree. The wood is extremely hard and tough.
"Wild Cherry", "Rum Cherry"
Characteristics: The leaves are elliptical, finely saw-toothed, and shiny dark green. The bark is dark gray, smooth with horizontal lines, becoming irregularly fissured and scaly. The small white flowers visible in the spring develop into black cherries in the fall. A disease called "black knot disease" is common on this tree. Look for the swollen "black knot" on the branches and trunk.
Location: Black cherry grows throughout the state. It is common along edges of fields and roads.
Use: The valuable wood is used for furniture, paneling, professional and scientific instruments, handles and toys. Wild cherries furnish food for many songbirds, turkeys, squirrels, raccoons, deer and rabbits.
FUN TREE FACT: Wild cherry syrup, a cough medicine, is obtained from the bark. Jelly and wine are prepared from the fruit.
Characteristics: Ordinarily a small to medium tree with a short trunk. The leaves are oval in shape and wide, 5 to 6 inches across. If you find a leaf, feel the soft hairs underneath. The leaves can form into three different shapes: (1) oval, (2) mitten-shaped, and (3) three-lobed. The three shapes can occur on the same tree. The bark is smooth and light gray. The fruit is sweet, juicy, and edible in late spring.
Location: Look for this tree on moist, flat soils along waterways.
Use: The wood is occasionally used for fenceposts, furniture, interior finish and agricultural implements. Wildlife, especially songbirds, eat the berries.
FUN TREE FACT: Choctaw Indians wove cloaks from the fibrous inner bark of young mulberry shoots.
Characteristics: The bark on a young birch is shiny pinkish-brown or silvery-gray, separating into papery scales. As birch matures, bark becomes thick, fissured, shaggy, and gray-black in color. The leaves are oval, pointed and have doubly-toothed edges. The fruit grows erect on the twig.
Location: Birches prefer wet soils of river banks, lakes, and swamps.
Use: Birch is a valued landscape tree. The wood is quite hard and used for furniture. Birch seeds are quickly eaten by turkey, songbirds, and rodents.
FUN TREE FACT: The bark was used by Indians to start fires with a bow and drill.
Characteristics: The leaves are elliptical or lance-shaped and very finely sawtoothed. Sourwood has clusters of flowers similar to the wildflower, Lily-of-the-valley. The glossy foliage turns red in autumn.
Location: Grows on moist soil in valleys and uplands with oaks and pines.
Use: Sourwood is an attractive ornamental throughout the year. Both names, meaning "sour tree", refer to the acid taste of the foliage.
FUN TREE FACT: The flowers are a common source of nectar for bees to produce honey, called sourwood honey.
Southern Bayberry or Wax Myrtle
"Candleberry","Southern Wax Myrtle"
Characteristics: This small tree or shrub is an evergreen with leaves that are very aromatic when crushed. The narrow leaves have coarse saw-toothed edges. The shiny yellow-green leaf has tiny dark brown gland-dots above, and tiny orange gland-dots beneath. The fruit is covered with bluish-white wax and clustered together.
Location: You will find the wax myrtle growing on many different soil types. It grows well on moist, sandy soil and in upland hardwood forests.
Use: The Wax myrtle is a popular evergreen, ornamental hedge screen. It is also a source of honey.
FUN TREE FACT: Early settlers separated the fruit's waxy covering in boiling water to make fragrant-burning candles, a custom still followed in some countries. Be careful planting this tree near your house. The foliage ignites easily.
Swamp Chestnut Oak
"Basket Oak", "Cow Oak"
Characteristics: The leaves are long, wide with wavy margins that have rounded teeth on each side. The leaf is shiny dark green above and the underside is coated with thick silvery-white fuzz.
Location: This oak grows well on moist sites including well-drained sandy loam and silty clay flood plains along streams.
Use: The wood is hard, tough and very strong. It is used in construction, flooring, and implements. It is very difficult to kiln-dry.
FUN TREE FACT: Called a basket oak because baskets were woven from fibers and splints obtained from splitting the wood. These containers were used to carry cotton from the fields. The sweetish acorns can be eaten raw, without boiling. Cows consume the acorns therefore the name "cow oak".
Characteristics: This tree is a thicket-forming shrub or small tree. The twigs have straight spines that look like thorns. The leaves are almost as wide as long and are pointed at the tip and coarsely saw-toothed. They are yellow-green with sunken veins above. The fruit is orange, brown, or yellow thus the name yellow hawthorn.
Location: Look for yellow hawthorn in dry, sandy gravely soils, at woodland borders and in pine forests.
Use: The fruit is eaten by some birds. There is no commercial use for yellow hawthorn.
Fun Tree Fact: The yellow fruit is used to make jelly.
"Cork Elm", "Wahoo"
Characteristics: The leaves are small, 1 to 3 inches long, elliptical, and the margins are coarsely saw-toothed. Examine the slender twigs for a thin corky growth or "wings". The bark is light brownish-gray.
Location: It is common on dry, gravelly soils. Look for this tree in abandoned fields also in moist valleys and in hardwood forests.
Use: Because of its pleasing appearance, it is a valued ornamental and street tree.
FUN TREE FACT: In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fibrous inner bark was made into rope for fastening covers of cotton bales.
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