Tree Talk

In the fall all the deciduous trees and shrubs in PEI lose their leaves as they prepare for winter. When spring comes the leaves return to the trees and photosynthesis commences. In PEI, there are number of native deciduous trees and shrubs. This module will introduce the children to the various deciduous trees and some of the more common shrubs. They will learn the difference between trees and shrubs, be introduced to photosynthesis, and discover how trees and shrubs reproduce.

Lesson 1- Trees vs. Shrubs....and Some Info on Leaves

Distinguishing between a tree and a shrub can be difficult. Sometimes shrubs look more like a tree or a tree looks more like a shrub.  Generally speaking, trees have one main stem (trunk) that at 1.4m the diametre is at least 7.5cm. They have a definitely formed crown of foliage and reach at height of at least 4m at maturity. Shrubs, on the other hand, have multiple stems that may grow straight up or lay close to the ground. Shrubs are usually less them 4m high with a diametre no more than 7.5m. Like with everything, there are always exceptions to the rules, but for the most part this is the case.


Simple vs. Compound

Simple Leaves - single leaf blades with a bud at the base of the leaf stem

Compound - more than one blade; referred to as leaflets; all are attached to a single leaf stem

Alternate vs. Opposite

Alternative - leaves are staggered; not placed directly across from each other

Opposite - leaves are directly across from each other on the same twig

PEI Tree Simple or Compound Alternate or Opposite 
American Beech Simple Alternate
American Elm Simple Alternate
Black Ash Compound Opposite
Butternut Compound Alternate
Grey Birch Simple Alternate
Ironwood Simple Alternate
Large-toothed Aspen Simple Alternate
Red Maple Simple Opposite
Red Oak Simple Alternate
Striped Maple Simple Opposite
Sugar Maple Simple Opposite
Trembling Aspen Simple Alternate
White Ash Compound Opposite
White Birch Simple Alternate
Yellow Birch Simple Alternate

Lesson 2 - Tree with Compound Leaves

Black Ash

  • Size: 16m high; 30cm diametre
  • Appearance: grey bark with shallow fissures; scaly, slender trunk
  • Location: wet areas; sunny; rivers and brooks
  • Uses: basket making; seeds are important food source

White AshRare

  • Size: 21-24m high; 2m diametre
  • Appearance: grey or light brown bark; diamond shaped grooves
  • Location: scattered patches in Kings and Queens Counties; best in rich, well drained, lightly shaded areas
  • Uses: food, canoe paddles and tool handles

Butternut - Some debate to whether this tree is native; exotic looking

  • Size: 21m high; 90cm diametre
  • Appearance: Young – grey, smooth bark; Old- wide, flat topped ridges
  • Location: Light shading, moist, rich soil
  • Uses: Nuts for blue jays, red squirrels and chipmunk; Furniture

Lesson 3 - Trees with Simple and Opposite Leaves: The Maples

Red Maple

  • Size: 21m high; 60cm – 90cm diametre; usually smaller
  • Appearance: pale grey, smooth bark when young becomes dark and cracked
  • Location: moist land along streams and swamps; pure or mixed stands
  • Uses: furniture; winter food source


Striped Maple

  • Size: 10m high; 20cm diametre
  • Appearance: light stripping on the bark
  • Location: upland forest, moist not wet, shade; mixed forest
  • Uses: Food source; good for nests and perches


Sugar MapleThe Canadian Flag

  • Size: 25m high; 1m diametre
  • Appearance: compact crown
  • Location: rich, well drained light shaded area; mixed stands
  • Uses: nesting site, food, maple syrup, furniture and plywood

Lesson 4 - Simple, Alternative, No Lobes

American Beech - rapidly being killed by beech canker 

  • Size: 18m high; 45cm diametre
  • Appearance: short, crooked trunk; dense, massive crown
  • Location: moist, well drained slopes and ridges; pure or mixed forests
  • Uses: firewood, cabinet making and shipbuilding

American Elm

  • Size: 15m -18m high; 30cm diametre
  • Appearance: tall, straight trunk; branches start high 
  • Location: rich, moist, well-drained sandy loam or gravelly soil; grow singly or in mixtures
  • Uses: ornamental shade tree

Ironwood Rare; hardest and heaviest wood

  • Size: 12.5m high; 30cm diametre
  • Appearance: slender tree, light brown, scaly bark; sheds in narrow curling strips
  • Location: scattered patches in Prince County; rich, moist soil, partial shade
  • Uses: squirrels and ruffed grouse use buds and catkins; birds eat seeds; tools and firewood

Large-toothed Aspen

  • Size: 15m – 18m high; 30cm – 40cm diametre
  • Appearance: loose, open and irregular crown; brown, furrowed bark
  • Location: moist sandy slopes along streams; pure or mixed stands
  • Uses: food supply; used by beavers

Trembling Aspen

  • Size: 12m high; 20cm - 25cm in diametre
  • Appearance: smooth green bark, does not peel; stout crown, rounded top and open
  • Location: well-drained, sunny area; pure or mixed with white birch and large-toothed aspen
  • Uses: Pulp, waferboard: soft, brittle

Grey Birch

  • Size: 7-9m high; 30cm diametre
  • Appearance: distinct black marks on bark under each branch; peels very little
  • Location: Dry sites with white birch
  • Uses: seeds for winter birds; nest sites for red-tailed hawks and vireos; 
    Yellow-bellied sapsucker drill holes, sap runs out which attract ants

White Birch

  • Size: 16m high; 40 cm diametre
  • Appearance: brilliant white bark; peels easily
  • Location:  Dry exposed sites; sun; with poplar and balsam fir
  • Uses: seeds for winter birds; nest sites for red-tailed hawks and vireos; Yellow-bellied sapsucker drill holes, sap runs out which attract ants

Yellow Birch

  • Size: 21m high; 90 cm diametre
  • Appearance: Golden yellow bark; does not peel; sheds
  • Location: shade tolerant; moist areas with hemlock, red and sugar maples and white pine
  • Uses: seeds for winter birds; nest sites for red-tailed hawks and vireos; Yellow-bellied sapsucker drill holes, sap runs out which attract ants

Lesson 5 - Simple, Alternative, Lobes

Red Oak- PEI Provincial Tree

The red oak was quite common in 1534 when Jacques Cartier arrived to the Island. Early settlers used its wood for furniture, cabinet, veneer and barrel making. The population of red oak in the Island has declined due to land clearing and harvesting. In 1987, the Red Oak was named PEI's provincial tree. 


Four oaks are found on the Prince Edward Island flag; 3 saplings, one for each county and large oak for Great Britain. 

Although many consider the Red Oak to be on the Provincial Coat of Arms (adopted in 1905) and flag it has never been formally recognized. Some believe the acorns appear to be those of a white oak, not red.

  • Size: 18m – 25m; up to 90cm diametre
  • Appearance: smooth, slate grey bark; shallow furrows divided into long flat ridged
  • Location: full sun; can tolerate partial shade
  • Uses: acorns for squirrels and birds


Lesson 6 - PEI Shrubs

Find some shrubs around your home, school yard, neighbour park, etc. and talk about them.

Here is a list of shrubs native to PEI:

Common Name
Alternative Leaf Dogwood


Beaked Hazelnut
Choke Cherry

High Bush Cranberry


Hobble Bush

Mountain Ash

Red Osier Dogwood

Red-Berried Elder

Service Berry

Speckled Alder
Staghorn Sumac

Wild Raisin

Wild Rose
Winterberry Holly

Witch Hazel

For more information on each trees and shrubs in PEI, check out the links below:

Native Tree and Shrubs: A Collection of Publication from the Macphail Wood Ecological Project

Native Trees and Shrubs of Prince Edward Island


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