Black Oak

Identification: Our only oak with lobes both deep and pointed, with soft, pointy bristles at the tips. (Live oak’s much smaller leaves have very shallow lobes with sharp, pointy bristles; the lobes of our other large-leafed oaks are rounded and unpointed.) Black oaks are deciduous, but even in winter you can usually find some old […]

California Buckeye

Identification: When in leaf, buckeyes are hard to mistake: they are our only tree with opposite, palmately compound leaves (i.e. divided into 5 “finger” leaflets, like a palm, a hand). In leafless fall and winter, you can often still recognize them by their nicely rounded shape in open areas or more sprawling form in crowded canyon […]


Identification: Madrone’s most distinctive feature is undoubtedly its smooth red-tan bark, which encompasses the entirety of younger trees and the younger limbs of older individuals, and which often peels off in large papery strips. Old, thick trunks have dark brown, scaly bark, but somewhere on a madrone you will always find that hard to mistake smoothness. Unlike their […]


Identification: Often a shrub, but not uncommonly a small tree. Manzanita’s most distinctive feature is its smooth, hard, red bark, which sometimes peels off in small flakes. Leaves are small (~1.5”), simple, sturdy, and untoothed; flowers are white or pinkish little bells in winter and early spring; fruits are red berries. Madrone also has smooth reddish bark, but […]


Identification: Essentially always a small tree or shrub (generally upright, but sometimes forced to sprawl a bit) with simple, toothed, evergreen leaves that are not strikingly distinctive. If in doubt: they aren’t young madrones because they don’t have smooth red bark, and they aren’t young bays because the leaves are toothed, not smooth-edged, nor do they […]