The Keys to Firewood Identification

Firewood Identification is obviously important so that you choose the proper trees to cut down. Whenever doing tree ID, there are several different things to consider when identifying a particular species. The most simplistic and basic way to begin your task would be to look at a tree's form and foliage.


The form of the tree refers to its overall shape, and is a good way to intially narrow down the possibilities. For example, a maple tree will generally have an upright oval shape. Conversely, a spruce tree is going to have a pyramidal shape similar to that of a christmas tree. Being able to identify the general shape is a good starting point.

Some trees have leaves and others have needles. Generally speaking, decidous trees (the ones that shed their foliage) have leaves. Most trees with needles keep their foliage year-round. Trees with needles are typically referred to as Evergreens. Most of the best firewood species are decidous.

Okay, I didn't intend to insult your intelligence there, but I wanted to at least lay down some very basic stuff before getting into the details of firewood identification.

4 Distinguishing Characteristics

The four most important factors that I look at when identifying a tree are bark, branching, leaves and site conditions.

Bark can be a good indicator. Unfortunately a lot of species have very similar bark. But we are just trying to narrow things down a bit, right? To a beginner, a tree with unique bark could be the key to identifying a particular species. For example, shagbark hickory has bark that looks like it is vertically peeling off the tree. And sycamore has a very distinctive speckled look that is not easily missed. For trees like these, bark can be all that you need.

Branching is another good way to ID a tree. When I say branching, I am referring to whether the branches are alternate or opposite. An oppositely branched tree will have branches that are symetrical in form. Why is this important? Because there aren't very many trees with opposite branching. Knowing that a tree is oppositely branched is going to significantly narrow the possibilities.

Leaves are a great way to ID a tree. This is what a lot of people use as a gauge. Most folks know what a maple leaf looks like. However, knowing the subtle differences between a red maple and a sugar maple will yield you a superior species for firewood. Also, the fruit or flowers that a tree produces can be a distinguishing factor.

Last but not least is a little common sense. Where is the tree growing? Is the area wet? What other vegetation is around the tree? Knowing what conditions a particular tree tends to grow in can be a huge help in determining the species.

If you can master these four characteristics, you'll be a pro at firewood identification.

How can I ID a tree without leaves?

Believe it or not, it's really not that hard. Too many people become dependent on only looking at leaves when identifying a tree. In reality, sometimes it is easier without leaves.

The same rules apply with looking at form, branching and bark. Sometimes you can actually see the form and branching more clearly without all the leaves getting in the way. However, another ID method is paramount when doing winter ID.

You guessed it.....Buds! Buds are the little tiny nubs that you see on the branches. The buds will eventually unfold and produce the leaves and flowers that appear in the spring. They vary in shape, size and color. Knowing the different bud characteristics can help guide you in the winter.

What if the wood is already cut, how can I tell then?

This is where firewood identification can become a little more tricky. Obviously, you'll run into this when purchasing firewood. Bark, wood grain, and wood color are the only characteristics you'll have to help ID the wood.

Unfortunately, when wood is seasoned, the wood color may not be a good indicator. Depending on how long the wood has been drying, it will probably turn a grayish color and all look the same. My recommendation is to always deal with a reputable firewood company. That way you won't need to worry about getting bad wood.

Sounds great, now where can I find out the specific information about firewood ID?

Don't worry, I have all the information about specific trees on another page that talks about the different types of firewood. Click here to learn about the individual tree characteristics. There you will find firewood identification information on all of the typical species used as firewood.

Sometimes it's also handy to have a guide with you out in the field. If you think that could be the case for you, I recommend picking up a decent field guide like the one below.



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