A Walk in the Park: Tree diversity on the University of Minnesota Campus
Background and Introduction
An important part of understanding how ecosystems function rests with understanding their
In Minnesota, trees represent a conspicuous feature of the landscape and vary
greatly depending on not only where one might be in the state, but also proximity to water,
location on a hillside (crest, slope or base), or the degree of shading that might be present.
Knowing what something is, of course, leads to a great deal more understanding concerning the
surrounding environment because, at least in the case of trees, different trees provide different
resources for the ecosystem.
For example, oaks, with their prolific acorns provide an important
food source for deer, squirrels, and turkeys.
Other trees, such as northern white-cedar provide an
important source of thermal cover in winter for deer.
The identification of different organisms, in this lab our focus will be on trees, is based on the
identification of traits common to groups of similar organisms, but different from related forms.
In the case of trees, leaf shape, bark color and texture, and overall architecture (i.e., the
silhouette), and other traits are all used to classify trees into different taxonomic groups.
taxonomy has been instrumental in providing a common language for investigators around the
world to communicate information.
Taxonomy is a system of classification that allows us to construct an ordered understanding of
the natural world.
Biological taxonomy, often called Linnaean taxonomy or binomial
classification system, is probably the best known method of taxonomic ordering.
In this system,
living things are divided into a number of categories, called taxonomic ranks:
Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species
The methods of identifying where different organisms
belong are done in a number of different ways from complicated analysis of DNA to the
identification of important shared physical features.
In this lab, you will use a simple descriptive
taxonomic technique to identify trees around the university campus based on a number of easily
cataloged and observed physical characteristics including leaf shape, arrangement
orientation, fruit/seed characteristics, bark color and texture and the overall structure and shape
of the tree.
This lab will:
provide you with an experience-based understanding of taxonomic ordering.
familiarize you with the important species and families of trees present in Minnesota.
Get you outside to appreciate the beauty and tree diversity of your campus surroundings,
and enjoy the fall weather.