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Connecting to Nature in Urban Areas: Get to Know Your Local Trees

If you are someone who plans on kicking-it around at home this summer, a fantastic way of connecting to nature is getting to know your local flora and fauna. In this post, Arianne shares tips on how to identify common trees likely found in your neighbourhood.


Do you ever ponder on ways to connect with nature in urban areas?

With the pandemic’s restrictions of confinement and social distancing becoming slightly more relaxed, many urban dwellers and city slickers are more than ever ready to leave their metropolitan quarters for natural and slower-paced settings. With summer in full bloom, people are leaving and/or preparing for their summer vacations. Although the pandemic regulations have seemingly slackened, vacation destinations and travel locations are quite limited, especially with social distancing activities being the new norm. Thus, there has been an increase of people seeking solace to the nearest nature spots. After months of confinement, activities such as camping, cottage relaxation, RV & van travels, and outdoor activities are on the rise.

It is important to note, however, that even if these types of trips remain local, leaving for a vacation or a trip is a privilege, particularly with these uncertain times and economical setbacks.

Albeit not everyone has the luxury of taking off for an adventure in the woods, there are certainly several ways to relax within the vicinity of our urban homes, while connecting with nature. Luckily, we do not have to leave too far from the parameters of our abode to feel connected to the natural world! If you are someone who plans on kicking-it around at home this summer, a fantastic way of connecting to nature is getting to know your local flora and fauna. You could focus on any type of tree, shrub, flower, moss, grass, or herb…but today we will be focusing on trees.

Red ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica, in a Montréal neighbourhood.

Connecting to Trees

Think about it, how often we walk around our urban streets and parks of the towns we live, and easily disregard trees without fully acknowledging their roles, benefits, and beauty. They so easily become pieces of our landscape background, while we go about our daily lives. Trees are essential to urban spaces and are so easily taken for granted. It is understood that without them, our sprawled urban areas would suffer. They deserve a little TLC from the citizens living among them, and learning about them is a great way to connect to nature in your own backyard!

Trees are wondrous beings that clean the air of pollution, which is tremendously needed in urban zones. Some of these pollutants include nitrogen oxide, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone, and in turn trees provide the planet with oxygen. Moreover, urban trees (and all trees) help with climate change, by lowering temperatures which improve the urban heat island effect, and by converting C02 to oxygen.

Red Oak, Quercus rubra, in a Montréal neighbourhood.

Steps to Identifying Trees

What are the first steps to identifying trees, and what should you pay attention to? Research, observing characteristics, taking notes, and keeping a keen eye are great first steps (read below for more information). Because it's the heart of the summer, deciduous trees are a lot easier to identify due to the presence of their foliage, as well as the shapes and patterns in which their leaves grow. Coniferous trees, on the other hand, can be easier to identify all year round since they seldom lose their needles.

1) Quick Research! There are many resources and online field guides accessible on the Web for inner-urban tree identification. The best option, however, is to do a quick online search of the trees, flora, and fauna specific to your area. Generally, municipalities and cities will display resources on their websites about urban planning and urban plants. Thus, a good place to start is by doing your own research to discover the public trees in your urban area, and see what you're working with. This will help you identify the common trees planted and growing in your region. 2) Tree Characteristics Identifiable traits such as bark, the texture of plant matter, location (on an incline or flat terrain, sun exposure, type of soil), size, and smell, are all important indicators when identifying trees. Take note of all these details on your observed vegetation, and compare with the resources in your field guides and local municipality Websites.

Columnar Norway Maple, Acer platanoides 'Columnare', in a Montréal neighbourhood

From left to right: Patterns in which the leaves grow, bark colour and texture, and the shapes & sizes of leaves. These are all characteristics to keep in mind while identifying trees and plants!

3) Taking Notes While observing trees and plants, you may notice that the same species may look slightly dissimilar, and sometimes even appear to be a different species. For example, white birch can sometimes have dark bark, appearing as black birch or an entirely another type of tree. Often, older white birch trees' bark grows darker and thicker with time, thus age is an important factor while identifying trees. Taking notes about a tree's location, and surrounding plants and areas can also help identify your species in question. 4) Keep a Keen Eye Keep those eyes peeled! Observations and paying close attention to details will help guide you in your discoveries. Moreover, paying close attention to the cycles of a plant or tree through the seasons will help bring you closer to nature, and help you understand certain qualities of trees. You may even observe small animals, fungi, and insects on certain types of trees, which are also great clues when identifying tree species. Other interesting aspects you may notice are diseases in trees, which sadly affect many urban areas, and is an easily overlooked issue. With another 10 weeks of summer left, there is plenty of time to connect with the natural world outside the walls of your home. Identifying your local public trees is a fantastic way to learn more about nature in your own area, while opening your eyes to a world you may have never been curious about before. A whole network of these beings live among us and are constantly supporting us. Give your local trees a little love by getting to know them, and by understanding their roles and uniqueness. Happy vacation and enjoy connecting with nature!


Arianne LaBoissonnière has recently joined Stop Trashing It as an ambassador. Originally from Vancouver, though she is now located in Montréal, QC. She enjoys finding methods to be self-sufficient and self-sustainable and sharing these trends to increase environmental education.

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