This key can help you identify 69 of the most common native trees found in Alabama. Keys such as this one, which is based on a series of choices between two statements, are called dichotomous keys. This key was designed for use during the growing season; therefore, leaf characteristics are the primary features used for identification.
A listing of the common and scientific names for the 69 trees is found on page 9. This key will not work for trees that do not appear on this list. The following suggestions should help you as you begin working with the key:
- Always start at the beginning of the key and follow it step by step. Each choice will refer you to the next step, which may be a number, another section in the key, or the conclusion or species. It is a good practice to write down your order of progress, such as 1 – 2 – 4. This will make it easier for you to find and correct mistakes.
- Always read both choices, even if the first choice sounds correct. The second one may sound even better.
- If the choice between two statements is not clear, or you don’t have enough information to make the choice, follow both choices to their conclusions. Then, try to choose between the descriptions of the two resulting answers.
- Always look at several samples when keying a specimen. Key characteristics, especially leaves, can vary even on the same tree.
- When measurements are given, as in the size of the leaves, don’t guess. Use a ruler.
- Become familiar with the botanical terms used to describe trees. Terms used in this key are illustrated on pages 10 through 13. Some of the species covered do not occur throughout the state. The following codes indicate the general range where each occurs. S—southern third of state, C—central portion of state, N—northern third of state, A—all of state.
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