Classification of Trees

TreeWorld has an inventory of more than 200 different types of trees and shrubs. Keeping track of the inventory is a challenge, especially since we typically have several different sizes in stock of the same tree or shrub. We have to maintain accurate and up-to-date records so that we can respond quickly and accurately to customer orders when they are received.

Nearly all trees and shrubs have acquired common names, which are usually based on some distinctive characteristic of the plant’s leaves, flowers, fruits, wood and so on. These common names provide useful clues in tree identification, but are sometimes inaccurate because the same common name may be applied to more than one closely related tree. The only method to be sure of a tree’s identify is by its scientific name.

Here at TreeWorld we keep our inventory records by scientific name but also include the common name since it is the name most often used by gardeners. For example, Quercus rubra, the genus and species, is the Red Oak. There are often variations in common names, such as Northern Red Oak or Champion Oak, which are equivalent to Red Oak. A tree may also bear more than one scientific name, called synonyms, because of new research; but there is always only one accepted scientific name. In this example, Quercus rubra was previously given the name Quercus borealis. At TreeWorld we use the modern accepted scientific tree names but also list synonyms if they are in common use. Since the discovery of DNA in the 1950s, scientists have been studying the molecular structure of trees which has led to many changes in classification and the assigning of new scientific names.

Modern tree classification occurred as part of the general system of scientific classification devised by the Swedish scientist Linnaeus in the 18th Century. Most plants reproduce sexually, and are organized into an evolutionary system of classification primarily based upon the structure of their flowers.

Flowers may be very small and inconspicuous or quite large such as those of the Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, in this instance flower size is revealed in the species name. Trees which share certain flower characteristics are grouped into plant families, such as the Beech family, Fagaceae, which includes oaks, beeches etc. Trees within the same plant family may exhibit great variability in size, leaf form and other characteristics.

live oak specimen
Certain forms of trees may be designated as varieties, which is a less precise classification below the species level. In many cases, a variety may carry a name based upon certain leaf characteristics or some other notable variation in tree morphology. The variation may not be fixed genetically and therefore cannot be replicated by seed propagation. However, it may be possible to carry the trait forward to a new generation by vegetative propagation.
Crotons are an excellent example of varieties. All of the major nursery species are classified under the single scientific name Codiaeum variegatum. TreeWorld has in stock 22 varieties of crotons which exhibit a wide range of highly attractive variations in leaf color and pattern.

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