Trees of the Eastern Forest – Field Recognition Level II

   July 28 – August 1, 2021 

    Nancy Stranahan, Arc of Appalachia Director

    & Brent Charette, Naturalist & Appalachian Forest School Host

Held at the Highlands Nature Sanctuary with field trips to other Arc preserves


$450/person includes optional certification; twelve meals and all curriculum.

$15 discount on registration for current Arc members


Optional 4-nights lodging at the Sanctuary –  $40/night/person shared; $65/night private room

Sunday Certification Test only: includes lunch (no breakfast) $45.00



Can you imagine the forest that greeted the first European explorers trekking across America’s landscape? Does it seem possible, with only slight exaggeration, to state that a squirrel really could travel from the east coast to the Great Plains without setting foot on the ground? Consider the reality of forests with trees so large, and so dense, that people looked like Lilliputians standing among them. Of the 700 million acres of fragmented forest that remain, our woodlands have – in nearly every case – lost much of their integrity, diversity, complexity and resilience when compared to the original virgin forest.

Why should we focus time and energy to learn field recognition of the trees of the Great Eastern Temperate Forest? Because this forest represents one of the largest, yet least appreciated biomes on the planet. The diversity represented by constituent members of this forest community are the backbone of healthy ecosystems, neighbors in or near our own backyards. It is difficult to be a vocal advocate for this unique environment, our home, if you are unable to speak confidently, calling the residents by name. Additionally, there are over 200 species of trees that call the Eastern Temperate Forest their home. By your efforts to learn just 80 individual trees, just 20%, you will be able to comfortably identify the great majority of the trees in a vast geographic region stretching from New York to Georgia, from Virginia to Illinois.

On this sylvan journey we will spend four days in the outdoors, walking among towering giants and the not-so-lofty understory trees that are all essential players in the ever-unfolding saga of the forest. We will encounter wooded landscapes from a variety of perspectives – partly as objective observers, partly as detectives, and sometimes as poets. Recognize this as an opportunity to create, and then stock a tool box that utilizes all the evidence at our disposal to decipher the combination of site, bark, fruit, twigs, and leaves that give a tree its unique identity. This skill set will be useful in any forest environment to help unravel the mysteries of the wooded residents there. Perhaps they will become cherished friends, sought out as companions on your life’s journey. There is a sense of wisdom held in a majestic life form that, in some cases, may be 400 years old or more.

Nancy Stranahan, Director of the Arc of Appalachia, and one of the leaders of this course, expressed her first tree identification encounter this way:

“Nearly 50 years ago I stood at the edge of an open field and witnessed an expert naturalist identify the trees in the edge of a woodlot on the far edge of a large field. I was enchanted. I said, ‘Show me how.’ And he did. This is how we learn the most important things of life: person to person, mentor to student.”

Enter the forest grove with open minds and begin the next step of your personal learning adventure. Then, pass it on.

What you will take home…

Expanding on the variety of trees earned in the tree course, level one, by the end of this course you will be able to recognize in the field over 80 species of trees by bark and by leaf, even in challenging situations. You will learn the ecological habitats in which various trees grow, and which trees like to grow in which trees’ company. Especially important for teachers, whether you are teaching students in a formal setting or your grandchildren in your backyard, you will also learn interpretive stories and facts about the forest you can share with others. We will nurture and encourage novice dendrologists, and encourage intermediate learners to higher levels of mastery.

What is the difference between Level 1 and Level 2?

Level 1 introduced you to the most widespread and universally distributed tree species of the Great Eastern Forest, the most common trees of riparian floodplains, succession forests, and mature forests; including the most common oaks and hickories. Level 2 focuses on the advanced skills needed to learn understory shrubs, distinguish between multiple species of oaks and hickories, and trees found in two new habitats: prairie-influenced forests and wetland forests. To see what tree species identification we will be pursuing in each course level, click here.  We highly recommend that, unless you are an advanced student, you complete the Level 1 course before attempting Level 2.

Who is this course designed for?

Teachers, nature enthusiasts, naturalists, outdoor educators, biologists, adventurers, home school parents, and students of biodiversity. All levels of students are welcome, and everyone’s learning will be nurtured equally and appropriately in respect to their background.

How do I get certified in Level 2 Tree Recognition?

All participants will receive a Level 2 certificate of completion at course end regardless of mastery. If you wish to pursue Level 2 certification, you need only to communicate your desire to the leaders in advance of Sunday, so that your morning quiz can be graded by an objective party (most participants self-grade their own performance). A nearly 100% precision in identification accuracy must be achieved to be awarded certification. There is no extra cost for certification unless you wish to attend Sunday’s session only, solely for certification purposes. All people earning Level 2 certification will be provided a certificate of competency and their names and contact information will be permanently recorded for reference and verification. Please see FAQ for more details.

Course Location.

This course is sponsored at the 2500-acre Highlands Nature Sanctuary in south central Ohio, the largest of the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System’s 22 preserve regions. It serves as the Arc of Appalachia’s main headquarters and shelters a magnificent forest reserve on the edge of the Appalachian foothills. The Sanctuary also features the Rocky Fork Gorge, a vertical walled dolomitic limestone canyon that is lush with ferns, liverworts, mosses…and of course trees of every size and description. The Highlands Nature Sanctuary is part of what we like the call the “Mother Forest,” a large sheltered forest that is tucked just west of the Appalachian Mountains and is known for the highest diversity of trees in the East. In 90% of the cases, the same trees that grow in the mixed mesophytic forests of southern Ohio, grow on the lower slopes of the Smoky Mountains. Thus, south central Ohio is a superb location to learn a high diversity of eastern trees.

Big American Beech Tree
Red Oak Leaves
White Oak Acorns
Previous Tree Course Participants
Chestnut Burrs
Witch Hazel Flowers
Paw Paw Flower
Admiring a Giant Sugar Maple