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6 Poisonous Snakes in California (And How to Spot Them)

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Prairie rattlesnake in Wyoming prairie

While California is a great destination for hiking, camping, fishing, and all things outdoors, there are some natural dangers you’ll need to look out for even in a place so close to paradise. After all, the beautiful weather and varied ecosystems that make California such a great place for humans, also make it a great home for animals, including a few species of venomous snakes. 

The good news is that out of the 33 native species of snakes in California, only six of them are venomous snakes. All of the venomous snakes in California are also rattlesnakes, which makes it a bit easier to tell the venomous ones from harmless native snakes. From this you might guess that some areas of California are safer from venomous snakes than others and you’d be right!

Snakes in Northern California vs. Southern California

In fact, it’s pretty rare to encounter venomous snakes in Northern California. Most people who deal with venomous snake bites in Northern California actually get bit by the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake, which is not native to California, but sometimes washes ashore.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snakes are native to tropical waters, but climate change and especially the increase in El Nino weather patterns have brought more and more of them ashore in California. The only native species of snake in Northern California that is venomous is the Pacific (or Western) Rattlesnake. 

In Southern California, though, you’ll find many native species of rattlesnakes. And rattlesnake bites live up to their reputation — they can be difficult to treat, painful, and in some cases life-threatening. For every species active in Southern California, however, an anti-venom has been created and will be available at most emergency clinics. EMTs in the area are also likely to carry anti-venoms for venomous snakes native to Southern California.  

The important thing is to make sure you’re able to reach medical care quickly if you do suffer a snake bite. Of course, the best situation is to avoid rattlesnake bites in the first place. So, we’ll cover a few tips for avoiding snakes in a bit.

But first, how can you tell the difference between a dangerous rattlesnake and the species of snakes that try to mimic rattlesnakes despite being non-venomous. Species of snakes like this are more common than you might think, and in California, they include species like the Kingsnake and Gopher snake. A Kingsnake bite won’t feel good, but it’s not nearly so serious as rattlesnake bites can be.

Red rattlesnake

Just because you don’t hear a rattling sound doesn’t mean there isn’t a rattlesnake nearby…be careful!

How to Spot Rattlesnakes

So how can you differentiate between venomous snakes in California, like the Mojave Rattlesnake or the Red Diamond Rattlesnake, and their non-venomous cousins? Coloration may be the most obvious thing to look out for, but a lot of these native snakes vary greatly in color, and some non-venomous species have colorations very similar to venomous ones.

So, let’s look at a few other key features that you can look out for to identify any rattlesnake, and then we’ll go into some more detail about each of these species of snakes and how to tell them apart from common look-alikes. Perhaps the easiest way to spot rattlesnakes is by the distinctive “rattle” at the end of the tail, which can produce a rattling sound, and appears as a solid single scale, rather than being made up of several scales.

While this can be an easy way to tell a rattlesnake from other species of snakes, it’s not fool-proof. Adolescent rattlesnakes may not have formed a working rattle segment yet. This is because the rattle forms from repeated shedding and young snakes may not have shed enough yet to form a working rattle segment. Besides, rattlesnakes can survive losing their rattlers and are just as venomous without it. 

Look Closely at the Head

Next, you want to look at the head shape. Rattlesnakes have a wide, triangular head while non-venomous snakes have smaller and rounder heads. One good rule of thumb is to look at where the head meets the neck. If there’s a great difference in width, you may be dealing with a venomous snake. Still, this isn’t foolproof though. Some non-venomous snakes can flatten their heads to look more like the triangular head of a rattlesnake or coral snake. 

Thankfully, most of the venomous snakes in the US are pit vipers, and this includes the rattlers in California. This means there’s another easy tell on their heads: pit vipers have two “pits” on their snouts which look a little like nostrils. These are actually infrared sensors used for detecting prey, but they’re a surefire tell for which species of snakes are venomous. 

Finally, you can also look at a snake’s pupils to differentiate between venomous and non-venomous species of snake. Venomous snakes have thin, vertical pupils that look a little like a cat’s eye. Non-venomous species have rounded pupils instead. 

Don’t Get Too Close! 

Now, these tips can be great for identifying a snake if it’s already bitten you or appeared unexpectedly, but you should keep your distance from any snake you see while hiking or camping, no matter how safe you think it is. Obviously, finding details like pits on the snout or pupil shape requires getting closer to the snake than is advisable.

 So, you should use these tips if you come upon a snake unexpectedly or are bitten, but you should not approach or disturb snakes in the wild, especially if they look similar to the venomous species that are present in California. Some non-venomous snakes are really good at mimicking poisonous snakes in California, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Species of Snakes in California: Non-Venomous Snakes

Of the 33 species of snakes in California, some of the most common non-venomous snakes include Gopher snakes, Kingsnakes, Garter snakes, and Racers. Garter snakes are common across the US and usually have two or three light stripes which make them fairly easy to identify. They’re a smaller species and the head will only be a bit wider than the rest of the body. 

One of the California snakes most commonly mistaken for a venomous rattlesnake is the Gopher snake. Gopher snakes have a larger head and they can flatten it a bit to give a more triangular appearance like a rattlesnake. Garter snakes will do this if threatened as well, but Gopher snakes are more successful in looking like a rattler.

Thankfully, behavior can be a helpful clue here as well. Rattlesnakes are ambush predators, and so will often be very still and hidden, and are very unlikely to approach or attack unless you disturb them first. Gopher snakes are a bit more outgoing and are more likely to move towards you.

They also move in smaller curves than rattlesnakes. So a snake making many, tight motions, is probably a Gopher snake trying to scare you off. If they get very close or bite you unexpectedly, look closely at the tail. Gopher snakes have a smooth, pointed tail. 

While a juvenile rattlesnake may not have a full rattle yet, they will have a rounded, hard “button” at the end of the tail. Again, you can also look for the telltale “pits” on the snout. You can also look at the scale pattern. Gopher snakes have more textured, ridged scales than other species, and so if a snake looks very smooth, that’s an indication it might be a rattlesnake. 

Kingsnakes are another common California species, and these are easier to distinguish from rattlesnakes. They have smooth scales unlike the ridged scales of Gopher snakes, but many species of Kingsnake have colors and patterns meant to mimic the other venomous snakes common to the US: coral snakes.

Some Kingsnakes have stripes like a Garter snake, but most have bands of white or yellow on black or brown. These guys actually eat rattlesnakes and are an important part of the unique ecosystems found in California. 

Species of Snakes in California: Rattlesnakes

With some of the lookalikes out of the way, let’s look at some of the key identifying features shared by the poisonous snakes in California. Since they’re all rattlesnakes, we can generalize a bit. Of course, there’s the triangular head and “pits” on the snout. But all of California’s rattlesnakes have some similarities in coloring and body shape as well. 

Rattlesnakes, as ambush predators, need to blend in with their surroundings. So, most rattlesnakes are brown or tan, with blotches along the back. Some, however, are green, and many other snakes (like Gopher snakes!) show similar color patterns.

So this isn’t a great way to identify a rattlesnake definitively. Rattlesnakes also tend to be wider and flatter than more active species. So a Gopher snake will be a bit thinner and rounder. Let’s dig into the specifics of the California rattlesnakes, though. 

1. The Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus Oreganus)

Western Rattlesnakes are the only truly dangerous snakes in Northern California. Their range extends across the whole state, with the exception of the Southern deserts. They’re often mistaken for Gopher snakes by hikers and campers and may not make a rattling sound if they’re too young.

There are three subspecies: Crotalus oreganus lutosus (Great Basin Rattlesnake), Crotalus oreganus oreganus (Northern Pacific Rattlesnake), and Crotalus oreganus helleri (Southern Pacific Rattlesnake). Colors can range from pale yellow to dark brown, but all subspecies have dark blotches on the back and sides with an uneven white border. Particularly, you should look out for a similar dark blotch on the snout. 

2. Western Diamondback (Crotalus atrox)

The Western Diamondback, or Crotalus atrox, is the most dangerous of all the poisonous snakes in California. Western Diamondbacks live in the Southeast corner of the state — think San Diego — as well as across the border in Mexico.

They’re dangerous because they’re larger and more aggressive than most rattlesnakes, growing up to six feet or more at the larger end of the spectrum. Western Diamondbacks are usually gray-brown with darker, diamond-shaped blotches along their back. While they can be light pink, yellow, or red, the distinctive diamond-shaped blotches on the back are an easy way to identify this dangerous species of snake. 

3. Panamint Rattlesnake and Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus Mitchell)

These two related subspecies are common throughout Southern California, up to the Mojave River in the north. The Panamint Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli stephensi) and Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus) are a bit harder to identify than the ones we’ve covered so far.

Depending on their habitat, coloring can vary widely, matching the color of the dirt in the region. Look out for a vague pattern of darker bands and speckles, but the best way to identify these rattlesnakes is by their rattle or the infrared “pits” on the snout.  

4. Sidewinders (Crotalus Cerastes)

Primarily found in the deserts of California, the Sidewinders’ range extends into Mexico, as well as through southern Nevada into Arizona, and even Utah. Sidewinders get their name from the distinctive way they move. They can “throw” raised loops of their body to the side in order to move in a kind of wiggling “S” shape.

They’re smaller than other species, reaching only about 30 inches in length, but they’re easy to identify when moving. If you encounter one that’s still and coiled, they also have a distinctive horn-like scale above each eye. Together with the infrared “pits” on the snout, these are two clear signs to stay away. 

5. Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus Scutulatus)

Mojave Rattlesnakes or Crotalus scutulatus, generally live in the Southeastern part of the state, and especially in the Mojave desert. They can also be found north and east of the Sierra mountains, though, in Inyo county, and possibly even farther west.

Mojave Rattlesnakes are usually between three to four feet as adults and can range in color from yellow to tan to olive green and even light brown. They also have dark diamond-shaped blotches on their backs though and will have narrow, darker rings towards the tail. 

6. Red Diamond Rattlesnake (Crotalus Ruber)

The Red Diamond Rattlesnake, or Crotalus ruber, generally lives in southwestern California, from about the Morongo Valley west, and then south along the coast into Baja California. This is one of the few venomous species present in Los Angeles.

Although there are plenty of harmless species, like Gopher snakes and Kingsnakes in the area surrounding Los Angeles as well. Red Diamond Rattlesnakes are similar in shape and size to the Western Diamondback (Crotalus atrox), although as the name suggests, they’re red, red-brown, or pink. Again, you’re looking for dark blotches on the back, a triangular head, and a wide, flat body. 

While hiking or camping where rattlesnakes are present can be dangerous, this guide can help you steer clear of danger. Remember, rattlesnakes are going to be larger, flatter, and less active than other species of snakes in California.

This means they’re also pretty easy to avoid and will do their best to avoid you. So if you see a snake or hear a rattle, just go around the area and try not to disturb the snake. It’s also a good idea to carry a walking stick, which can be used to move a snake out of the way if it’s impossible to go around it.

First Aid Training - Snake Bite. First aid course.

Snakebite first aid includes cleaning the wound and immobilizing the affected area. However, it’s essential to get to a medical facility right away for emergency treatment.

Dealing With a Snake Bite

Okay, so now you know what kinds of snakes are common in California, how to tell a rattlesnake from common lookalikes, and what kind of behavior to expect from snakes in California. Ideally, with this information in mind, you should never have to deal with snake bites in the first place. But let’s say you step into a snake’s resting place without realizing he’s there and get bitten. What should you do? 

Rattlesnake bites can be nasty, but most of those active in California will only cause a mild reaction. Since all poisonous snakes in California are rattlesnakes, a type of pit viper, the same antivenom will be used no matter which species of snake you were bit by. This makes it relatively easy to deal with snake bites in California. 

You should not attempt to treat the bite yourself or capture the snake responsible. Since the same antivenom will be used no matter what, the most important thing to do is to stay calm and get to an emergency room. You can wrap the bite in gauze to keep it clean and help with the pain, but there’s very little you can do on your own. Just call an ambulance, or get to an emergency room yourself if the reaction is mild. 

Common Snake Bite Remedies

In fact, many common snake bite “remedies” are actually dangerous themselves and should not be tried. Unlike in the movies, you can’t effectively suck the venom out of a bite. So don’t try to do that, or make incisions with the intention of sucking out the venom. All you’re doing is further damaging the skin and blood vessels around the bite. 

Some people believe that giving a snakebite victim alcohol, caffeine, or other drugs can help, and some try to ice the bite as well. None of these approaches will do anything for the snake bite itself and may exacerbate the reaction to the venom. So, just get to an emergency room as fast as you can, tell them what you remember about the snake that bit you, and they’ll assess whether you need an antivenom treatment or not.

Final Verdict:

So, with all this in mind, you should be set to avoid the most poisonous snakes in California, and deal with a bite if it does happen. The big takeaway is that most snakes, venomous or otherwise, won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.

Plus, the more aggressive ones you might encounter tend to be the least dangerous. In fact, you may be more at risk from Black Widow spiders, which can theoretically deliver almost 15 times as much venom as California’s rattlesnakes! 

 

Bonus tip: Check out this awesome video on how to treat a snake bite!

 

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How The Annual REI Dividend Works

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rei annual dividend explained

What is the REI Dividend?

The dividend is a sum of money that is awarded back to REI co-op members every year. The amount of money is based on two primary factors: a percentage of all eligible purchases made by a member and any rewards they accrued on their REI Mastercard during the previous year. You can think of it a bit like a tax return and purchasing points on your credit card — only instead of frustrating points, it’s just money. You can also get any unused amount of the previous year’s dividend added onto the next one, but this isn’t always the case.

REI is short for Recreational Equipment Incorporated, an American company that offers outdoor gear, as well as courses and vacation options.

If you aren’t familiar with their brand, they are known for having high quality and ranked highly in the review of the top tent brands on the market.

What sets it apart from other outdoor retailing competitors is that it follows the co-op business model. That means they offer a wide range of perks to their members, one of the most unique of which is their annual dividend. Since this is such an unusual benefit to the company, understanding the ins and outs can be difficult. So, here are some answers to many of the FAQs people have when talking about the REI annual dividend program.

 

REI, also know as Recreation Equipment International, is well-know for its outdoor supplies.

How do you earn the dividend?

First of all, only REI co-op memberships can earn a dividend. The good news is that being a member of the REI co-op is both inexpensive and easy. To become an REI member, all you have to do is go here and sign up for a lifetime membership. The upfront, one-time membership fee is only 20$, and there isn’t even an annual fee to keep your membership. However, only members that are considered active receive a dividend notice.

To be an active member of REI, all you have to do is spend at least 10$ merchandise in a year, unless it is the year that you first sign up. If you ever lose active status, getting it back is as easy as to resume making REI purchases.

REI Members earn toward their annual dividend by making eligible purchases. Almost any merchandise you buy directly through REI is considered eligible as long as you are purchasing full-price items. This includes the physical REI stores or through REI.com. One notable exception is that gift cards do not count toward your REI dividend. However, when you use a gift card to make purchases, that can be considered eligible as long as it otherwise would be.

The percentage that goes back into your dividend varies depending on how well the company did financially the previous year, but it tends to be around 10%. The calculation is made based on the product price alone, so sales tax and any other fees such as postage are not counted.

Unfortunately, none of REI’s experience purchases are considered eligible. This means that classes, special events, and the popular REI Adventures don’t get counted into your annual dividend. Service charges don’t count either, so rentals and labor fees are not factored into the dividend. The initial membership fee also is not eligible.

Any returns you make are removed from your dividend amount in the final calculation, and if it has already been calculated, then the dividend amount counts against the return amount you would receive. 

You can also receive a retroactive addition to your dividend based on eligible purchases you made at other retailers on REI merchandise, as long as it was in the same year. For example, if you bought backpacking equipment from Amazon that was the REI brand, then you can get that counted. You’ll just need to have your receipt handy to answer some information about the purchase. You cannot get retroactive additions to your annual dividend if the purchase was made before you became an REI member, though.

There is a slight workaround with the discounted merchandise, though. Members can receive an REI co-op Mastercard. As mentioned earlier, this has a built-in rewards system. One such reward is that when you use the REI credit card to purchase sale items, then you receive a 5% kickback into your dividend. It’s a much lower percentage than what you would expect to receive from a normal eligible purchase. However, savvy shoppers will be able to notice when the reduced pricing and smaller kickback turns out to be a better long-term value. 

 

When would I receive my REI dividend?

If you’re an REI member and have a balance, you’ll receive a dividend notice in March of the next year. All purchases you make from January 1st to December 31st are considered part of the same annual sum and will be available until January of two years later. So, if you made purchases throughout 2020, you’ll be able to use your dividend from them starting March 2021, and you’ll have the money available to you until you either spend it all or until the first day of 2023. This, however, is only the case if you don’t accrue any more dividends. Assuming you constantly make enough eligible purchases and spend roughly however much you earn from the program each year, your dividend balance should never expire.

 

Buying equipment from REI with an REI Mastercard is a great way to earn points towards your dividend.

 

So what can I do with the dividend?

This question is best answered with another question: “How do you want to spend your money?” For anyone who has ever been frustrated with trying to redeem credit card points or dealing with the restrictions of store credit, you are going to be blown away by the range of options REI gives you when it comes to your member dividend.

 

Use the dividend as store credit

The most basic option available to you is to use your dividend like store credit. If you can find it on the REI website, then you can buy it with your store credit. If your dividend balance doesn’t completely cover the total price of your purchases at checkout, don’t worry. It will still get deducted from the price and you’ll only have to pay for whatever is leftover.

If you’re near one of their physical REI stores, then you’ll be able to use your dividend to directly buy available outlet items from their stores. Your dividend works at every REI store location, so you won’t have to worry about not being able to access it if you’re shopping far from home. Just be sure to have your co-op member number ready. 

Even though buying them doesn’t sound toward your dividend, you can put your earnings on it toward booking an REI Adventure. If you’re a hardcore outdoors enthusiast, then you might be able to generate enough of a dividend to book a trip to a national park at no out-of-pocket expense.

If you aren’t quite that adventurous but still would like a fun experience, then look at spending your dividend on one of the many REI classes. There is something to learn for everyone. From riding a bike to navigating the backcountry, the basics of rock climbing to dozens of stewardship opportunities,  it’d be hard not to spend part of your dividend on enriching yourself with the REI classes.

You can also download the REI mobile apps. These make it even easier to shop with REI in general, but they can streamline the process of using your dividend in the online store.

 

Receive the dividend as a check

If you’d rather take the money that REI has awarded to you elsewhere, then you can request to have your dividend amount in the form of a check.

There are a couple of ways to go about getting the check. The most direct way is to go to a physical REI outlet once you have received a notice of a dividend balance. If you are not anywhere near an REI store, don’t worry. You can have your check mailed to you directly by filling out their request form. Once you have the form filled out, REI will have that information in their database and can mail you the check every year without any extra work from you, should you want that

The check can only be issued to the name of the primary membership cardholder. REI does not send out checks if your annual dividend does not exceed 25$, and they do not send out a check for the REI Mastercard holder reward amount that does not exceed 1$. You can request the check whenever is convenient, but they do not begin mailing them out until July 1st. 

You don’t have to receive the whole dividend as a check. You can go ahead and spend part of it as store credit on the online store. Then, whatever amount that is leftover, you can have it sent as a check. As long as all the other requirements have been met, of course. Also, if you attempt to use any of your dividend between the time of the check being sent out and you receiving the check, then it could result in either the check being void, or you being unable to use your dividend funds at all.

If for some reason you don’t want to use the online check request form, you can also make the request over the phone or by contacting them by mail.

 

You can get your REI dividend in cash or in purchase credits.

 

Get the dividend in cash

No, that’s not a joke, and there aren’t any strings attached. You can receive your annual REI dividend, in full, as cash. There are a few hoops you have to jump through, but none of them are fine print details that are going to keep you from turning your dividend sum into cash and doing whatever you want with it.

First of all, you can’t convert your dividend into cash after July 1st of the year after you earned the dividend. This is similar to the check option. Unlike the check, there is a cut-off point at the beginning of the next calendar year, so if you wait too long then your dividend can’t be turned into cash.

This option can only be done through a physical REI store, so if you don’t live near one then you will probably have to settle for the check option. If you plan on going to a store to get your dividend as cash, it would be a good idea to call them ahead of time and try to make an arrangement. REI stores only have so much free cash on hand. 

If you don’t call ahead, you might run into a situation where the store does not have enough cash to equal the dividend balance you should receive. In these cases, co-op members are given the option to receive the check. For some, that is a fine alternative, but people dead-set on getting cash should be aware of this.

One other thing to note is that the cash option is based on a specific year’s balance. This means, like the check option, if you spend any of your dividend funds as credit first, that would result in you receiving less cash in the end. Also, unlike the store credit option, you can’t compound years together. Since the years have cutoff dates that line up to where there is never an overlapping period between them, you’ll only be able to get your cash balance one year at a time, rather than building it across up to 3 years.

 

Can I check my dividend balance?

Yes! At any point, you can go to REI.com, and enter the name on your membership card along with your member number, and they will be able to tell you the dividend balance. This is not updated in real-time, so if you have been roughly keeping track and the amount looks odd when you check it, don’t worry. Most likely, it is just in the middle of being exactly calculated by members of the REI team.

 

Is the annual dividend the only benefit of Coop Membership?

Not at all! You’ve already read a bit about the REI Coop Mastercard and its reward system. You get 5% back with any REI purchases, 2% back through mobile transactions, and 1% everywhere else. This is all factored into your annual dividend along with all the usual 10% kickback from buying normal priced items. This means that anything you use the card on, even bills and groceries, is factored into your dividend.

Members get access to special pricing on certain items through REI. These are usually on things like classes and tours, as well as rentals on any outdoor equipment. This can be frustrating since the specially priced experiences aren’t dividend eligible purchases. Though, with dividend earnings and special pricing, it is easy to earn enough to pick up enough to pay for a class or two. 

Members-only events are probably the second-best part of being a member after the dividend. Some of the most popular of these events are new member-exclusive hiking trips or member gatherings to try out local brews. Without a doubt, Garage Sales are the star of members-only events.

The REI Garage Sales are hosted at REI outlet stores every so often. The merchandise of the Sales is made up of returns and other used goods, and come at a heavily discounted price. The products are as-is, and cannot be accepted for returns as of their return policy. Since the merchandise is on a case-by-case basis with the outlets, REI cannot guarantee specific inventory. All Garage Sales operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Garage Sale purchases cannot be put toward your annual dividend unless they are purchased with the members’ Mastercard. Though, the products are usually so aggressively marked down that it usually makes up for it. Plus, the Garage Sale merchandise is evaluated beforehand to assure that there are no major issues with it, so you don’t have to worry about the quality with the low prices.

 

Final Verdict:

The annual dividend is a unique benefit of being a member of REI’s coop. It saves the frustration associated with other rewards programs by just allowing the members to claim a monetary incentive. It is both pleasantly simple, offers multiple options to use your dividend as you see fit, and a great tool for people that love to maximize value in their shopping.

There are some ins and outs with the membership program to remember how to get the most out of the dividend. Though, remembering these details is more of a bonus than a requirement to earn on the dividend properly, unlike other rewards programs. On top of all that, you get several more awesome benefits for a single 20$ purchase. 

 

Bonus tip: Here’s a video from REI talking about the essential items for backpacking, which are available on their website: 

 

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Learn How To Identify 12 Types Of Trees

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Tree species are such a common form of plant life that they often go unnoticed in our daily lives. Generally speaking, as they don’t have finite lifespans, trees live much longer than other plant life. Some tree species can even live for thousands of years. Trees are no stranger to our planet — they have been around for nearly 370 years. Currently, planet Earth is home to more than 60,000 types of trees that play a vital role in the life we know and enjoy.

One of the first things children learn about in school is how common trees supply us with the oxygen we need to breathe. Our survival depends on plant life around the world continuing to thrive, including underwater vegetation, grasslands, and the approximate 3 trillion types of trees which currently grow on our planet. Learning how to identify tree species can be an important skill, similar to knowing how to start a campfire when it comes to outdoor survival. 

Throughout this article, we’re going to clarify and define what exactly a tree is and introduce you to the different categories that common trees fall under. We’ll also take a closer look at the most common types of trees that you’ll most likely come across, and explain how you can identify them correctly. Different types of trees have different types of leaves and bark that are characteristics of certain tree species. If you can spot the differences, then you’re a step closer in your quest of becoming a tree identification master. Now, let’s begin by differentiating between the two primary types of trees: deciduous trees and evergreen trees.

Related: The 10 best outdoor antenna’s for camping and rural areas

A field with a tree sunset.

All trees are either deciduous trees or evergreen trees.

What defines a common tree? 

In botany (the study of plants), trees are defined as perennial plants with an elongated trunk or stem which supports leaves and branches(Perennial plants live for multiple years, as opposed to annual plants which have a life-cycle of only one season.) However, this is a slightly limited definition, as the term “tree” can be extended to include any woody plant with branches and a trunk that grows significantly taller than the plants around it. 

Tree branches are supported by a large and strong trunk, which extends underground. Beneath, the trunk extends into widely-spread roots which collect nutrients and moisture and provide support to the tree species above ground. The branches which extend from the top of the trunk divide into smaller shoots, which spread to produce leaves. Leaves collect sunlight, converting it into energy via photosynthesis, in order to feed and grow. 

The trunk of a common tree is the strongest part, made from a woody tissue that supports the weight of the canopy. Tree trunks also contain vascular tissue, which carries nutrients from one part of the plant to another. Most types of trees also have a layer of bark around the trunk that acts as a protective shield. Although these are the general characteristics that fit every type of tree, tree species vary. 

There are two primary categorizations that all tree species fit into. The difference between these two categories is the first thing you need to spot in order to properly identify common trees. Most people already recognize the distinction between these different types of trees, but we’ll still go into detail about how you can identify them. Read on to discover which types of trees lose their leaves, and which tree species remain green all year round.

Deciduous Trees Vs. Coniferous Trees

Every single one of the thousands of tree species found on our planet fits into one of these two categories: coniferous trees (evergreen trees) or deciduous trees. Deciduous trees lose their broad leaves at a specific time of the year, typically fall or autumn. The word ‘deciduous’ literally means “to fall off at maturity”. As such, the leaves of these trees have an annual life cycle. In the spring, new leaves grow and quickly mature into broad leaves, green in color. Over time, they slowly change color leading to the wonderful fall color palette we all recognize and love, before falling to the moist soil. 

This is the case with the most common trees in North America, Europe, and other countries with a mild climate. In hotter tropical countries, deciduous trees lose their greenery during the dry season. Once the leaves have fallen, these trees remain bare wood skeletons until new leaf shoots begin to grow in the spring. Most deciduous trees are broadleaf, with wide, flat, green leaves. 

Coniferous trees, otherwise known as evergreen trees, keep their leaves all year round. No matter the season, evergreen trees are unchanging in appearance. This type of tree often has needle-shaped leaves, which withstand the cold temperatures better than more delicate broadleaf types of trees. Evergreen tree landscapes are especially stunning in the winter months when all other plant life looks dead. 

deciduous vs coniferous trees

Tree Identification: Basic Leaf Types

There are three different types of leaves that evergreen trees and deciduous trees can have. Broadleaves is a wide term that encompasses leaves of all shapes and sizes — so long as they are flat. Almost all deciduous trees have broad leaves: they can be oval, round, heart-shaped, and much more. The maple leaf of the red maple tree is an iconic shape that we all know. The term ‘Broadleaves’ encompasses much more than just common tree species, it also includes a huge range of different plant life. 

Most people will recognize common tree needles thanks to Christmas trees — many evergreen trees feature this shape. Common tree needles are long and thin and typically grow together in clusters or sparsely depending on the tree species. Evergreen trees lose their needles over time, however, this process doesn’t happen all at once as is usually the case with deciduous trees. Instead, the needles are lost and replaced gradually; similar to how humans lose hair. The third category of leaves that some coniferous trees exhibit is scale-like leaves. We see these on common trees such as Juniper trees and cedar trees, where the needles resemble the scales of a reptile.

A maple leaf in the rain.

The distinctive shape of the maple leaf makes this red maple tree easy to identify. 

12 Common Types of Trees and How To Identify Them 

Tree Species: Maple Trees

Maple trees are a common tree species found across Europe, North America, and Asia. They belong to the genus Acer family and are commonly associated with Canada — just look at the maple leaf on the Canadian flag. There are more than one hundred species of maple trees, the most common in Europe being the sycamore maple tree. Red maple, sugar maple, and silver maple are also common tree species you’ll commonly see in the countryside. Japanese maple trees are a common choice for bonsai where a small tree is groomed and maintained to resemble a miniature replica. 

Maple trees are famous for the sweet syrup made from their sap, which is a big reason why maple trees are often farmed in North America. Maple trees are a hardwood tree species. Its timber is often used to make baseball bats and musical instruments. The easiest way to identify a maple tree is by its distinct leaf shape, which is the same across all maple tree species. Maple trees can be small trees, reaching only 10 meters in height, or large trees more than 40 meters tall.

maple tree

Tree Species: Oak Trees

Oak trees are one of the most common tree families across the world; their wood is very hard and durable and resistant to most diseases. Oak trees come from the genus Quercus of which there are over 90 different species in the United States alone. They have been one of the most prized trees for building material for centuries, and are used in all kinds of industries, including musical instrument production. As there are more than 300 known oak tree species globally, when it comes to tree identification, it helps to break them down into further categories. 

White oaks feature round broad leaves and produce sweet acorns that take a year to mature. Black (or red) oak trees have bristles on their leaves and produce bitter-tasting acorns. The acorns from a red oak take two years to mature and are referred to as biennial oak trees. By identifying the maturity of the acorns on an oak tree, you can tell which type of oak tree it is. Most oak tree species are deciduous tree species, however, there are a handful of evergreen oak trees. The easiest way to identify an oak tree is by its acorns — all oak trees carry this fruit. The leaves of oak trees are lobed, with either rounded or pointed tips.

Oak Trees

Tree Species: Sycamore Trees

Try not to get the sycamore maple confused with true sycamore trees — they’re only related by name. The sycamore is a large hardwood tree in the genus Platanus and is a deciduous tree species by nature. The wood from these trees is incredibly hard and dense, and therefore it’s not commonly used as a building material. Sycamores can grow up to 40 meters and are one of the easiest types of trees to identify when it comes to tree identification.  

You can spot a sycamore tree by examining its bark. Don’t be misled by its leaves, which look similar to a maple leaf tree species. Instead, look at the color of the trunk. True sycamore trees have flaky bark which gives the trunk a red and brown multi-colored appearance, often featuring patches of white and grey. The Sycamore is a broadleaf tree species. You can identify them by their leaves which have three to five lobes with toothed edges.

A sycamore tree.

Sycamore trees are very large trees, with hard, dense wood. 

Tree Species: Pine Trees

Pine trees are another common tree found all around the world. This evergreen tree family of the genus Pinus is probably the most easily recognizable coniferous tree species in the world. The pine tree is a common ornamental tree with softwood. Pine tree leaves consist of clusters of green needles. This tree species is also easily identifiable by its hard cones, often referred to as pine cones. White pine and red pine are two common trees of this tree species and can be found throughout Canada, the United States (North America in general), and Europe. 

Pine trees are amongst the easiest tree species when it comes to tree identification. Pine trees are generally large trees that stand straight with needles that are mostly concentrated towards the top. Some species of pine trees can even grow up to 81 meters tall — they do it quickly, too. As pine trees grow into large trees so quickly, they’re incredibly useful when it comes to construction and furniture production. The softwood of the pine tree is easy to work with and features an attractive grain.

pine tree

Tree Species: Fir Trees

Fir trees, such as the balsam fir, Fraser fir, and noble fir, are all popular festive choices. This evergreen tree family is of the genus Abies and contains approximately 50 different species of tree. Fir trees are closely related to the genus Cedrus, or cedar trees. Fir trees have a much denser needle distribution than pine trees, giving them a fuller and greener appearance. 

Fir needles are soft and flat and tend to have two white stripes at the bottom of each needle. As they grow, fir tree cones tend to be green, purple, or blue and turn a golden brown as the tree matures. You can easily spot a fir tree as its cones grow upwards, whereas other coniferous trees have downward-pointing cones.

fir tree

Tree Species: Elm Trees

Elm trees are a common tree found mostly in forests and can be classed as either deciduous or semi-deciduous. There are about 35 different types of tree species within the Ulmus genus, including the American elm and the European elm. Elm trees are another ornamental tree species that are not generally appreciated for their wood or fruit. Elms are hardwood trees and therefore difficult to work with as a building material. 

You can identify an elm tree by its leaves, which are technically classed as broadleaf. There is quite a range of different leaves that grow on elm tree species, but they all have the same pointed oval shape. Elm tree leaves range between 7 and 16 cm long. Unfortunately, a pandemic of Dutch Elm tree disease wiped many elm trees from our streets and forests. However, conservation efforts are well on their way and the American Elm tree species is in revival.

 

elm tree

Tree Species: Willow Trees

Willow trees have some of the most distinctive shapes out of any tree in the world; their long drooping branches have a dramatic and striking appearance. There are approximately 400 species of willow trees and they are all deciduous trees. Willow trees can be small tree-like shrubs or grow to be medium-height. Willow tree leaves are always elongated ovals, but their color varies between species. Black willow trees feature dark, furrowed bark. 

Willow tree leaves can be green, yellow, or blue in hue, making these breathtaking trees even more beautiful. The wood from willow trees can be used to make wicker baskets and similar items, due to their long, soft, and flexible branches. Willow trees are arguably the easiest tree species to identify, as no other type of tree has anything comparable to its low sweeping branches. When temperatures drop in the fall, willow trees are among the last to lose their leaves.

Willow trees.

Willow trees are easy to identify from their long, drooping branches. 

Tree Species: Magnolia Trees

When people choose a tree to plant in their garden, Magnolias are an obvious choice. The Magnolia family contains both deciduous trees and evergreen types of trees, which can grow in a huge range of environments. These trees produce large fragrant flowers and cones of fruit that look like berries. In terms of tree identification, all types of the Magnolia tree are broadleaf. 

Magnolias are medium-sized trees, they grow fast and have softwood. As there’s quite a large variation in leaf size and shape in magnolias, the easiest way to identify this tree species is by the fruit. As their cone-shaped seed pods are unique in comparison to other types of trees, if you can spot these, you’ll know if your tree is a part of the magnolia family.

Magnolia Tree

Tree Species: Birch Trees

Birch trees, of the genus Betula, are a type of tree family containing about 60 species of hardwood trees. Often, the wood from birch trees is used as firewood or for making furniture. Birch tree bark is papery, often white or silver in color, and is its most identifiable feature. The branches of birch trees are long, and droop slightly, holding small, thin, triangular leaves. Oil extracted from birch trees can be used in both cooking and medicine. Birch trees are some of the most common trees on the planet with small leaves.

Birch Trees

Tree Species: Tulip Trees

The tulip tree is not actually related to the flower that shares its name. It’s called so because of its attractive yellow-green flowers. The softwood of the tulip tree is attractive but weak. For this reason, it’s often used for aesthetic purposes rather than construction. When a tulip tree is young, the bark is brown or ashy gray. As the tree matures, the color will darken, however rich and moist soil is necessary for this. 

The leaves of a tulip tree are almost rectangular in shape, featuring 4 to 6 lobes which can be up to 15 cm in length. Tulip trees bloom before their leaves grow, meaning once spring rolls around, their large leaves hide their blooming flowers. This distinctive feature makes the tulip tree easy to identify — try focusing on the leaves and the orange-yellow flowers.

Tulip Tree

Tree Species: Butternut Trees

If you’ve ever seen a tree species with what appears to be small green balls growing among its leaves, then you may be looking at a Juglans Cinerea. The butternut tree is a slow-growing,  deciduous tree that’s native to Canada and the United States. It grows in moist soil and has edible nuts that resemble green balls. You can easily identify this type of tree by its light grey bark, which gets rougher in texture with age. This large-leafed tree has no stems — its pointed leaves grow directly from the branch.

Butternut Tree

Tree Species: Cedar Trees 

Cedar trees are large trees from the Pinaceae family that can reach a towering 50 meters. Cedar trees are often used as ornamental trees and also make popular bonsai trees. This kind of tree is also a popular choice of men’s fragrance. In the United States, many of the trees that we refer to as cedar trees, such as the eastern red cedar (found in the Rockies of Colorado), are actually Juniper trees from the family Juniperus. When it comes to tree identification, cedar trees are pretty straightforward as they are one of the few kinds of trees with scaled leaves. In addition, their foliage is either dark green or bluish in color and grows in spiral clusters.

Cedar forest trees at night.

Cedar tree forests are some of the most beautiful natural spaces in the United States. 

Final Verdict

Throughout this article, we’ve identified 12 of the most common types of trees from across the United States and the world. Using this knowledge, you should now be able to accurately identify several of these tree species. Some of the more common tree families we didn’t cover include ash trees, hawthorn, larch, black walnut, hickory, hemlock, dogwood, walnut trees, and other species of the genus Picea. Although they’re beautiful tree species, they’re not as common as the trees that made our list. From butternut trees with green balls to huge weeping willow trees, it is our sincere hope that you enjoy identifying tree species as much as we do.

 

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How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Campsite (Stay Safe!)

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Having a phobia of snakes is a common fear among people and some research suggests that it may even be an instinctive fear present at birth. Regardless of the reason, encountering a snake at your campsite is not a pleasant experience and can be intimidating, especially if you’re in an area where snakes are native.

While it’s not always possible to completely avoid snake encounters while camping, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of an encounter and to be prepared if one does occur.

One important thing to consider when it comes to snake prevention is the choice of campsite.

Where do rattlesnakes like to hide?

Snakes tend to prefer certain types of environments, and if you can avoid camping in these areas, you’ll be less likely to encounter snakes. For example, you should avoid camping next to rock piles or outcrops, as these can provide snakes with plenty of hiding spots.

Similarly, areas with heavy brush or deadfall should also be avoided, as these can also provide snakes with plenty of hiding places. Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid camping directly next to water sources, as snakes often use these areas to hunt and to travel.

 

10 Do’s and Dont’s on how to keep rattlesnakes away:

  1. DO stay calm if you encounter a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are more likely to bite if they feel threatened, so try to keep your distance and avoid making sudden movements.

  2. DO keep an eye out for rattlesnakes while hiking or camping, especially in areas where they are known to inhabit. Look for warning signs such as a rattle sound, a V-shaped indentation in the ground, or the shed skin of a rattlesnake.

  3. DO wear sturdy boots and long pants while hiking or camping in areas where rattlesnakes are present. This will help protect your feet and legs from a bite.

  4. DO be aware of your surroundings when hiking or camping. Avoid stepping on or near rocks, logs, or other objects that could be hiding places for rattlesnakes.

  5. DON’T try to handle a rattlesnake, even if it seems docile. These snakes are venomous and can be dangerous if not handled properly.

  6. DON’T try to capture or kill a rattlesnake. This can be dangerous and is generally not necessary.

  7. DON’T attempt to play with or tease a rattlesnake. These snakes are not toys and can be very dangerous if provoked.

  8. DON’T leave food or trash out in areas where rattlesnakes are known to inhabit. This can attract rodents, which are a food source for rattlesnakes.

  9. DON’T try to move a rattlesnake out of your way. If you encounter a rattlesnake on a hiking trail or campsite, give it plenty of space and allow it to move on its own.

  10. If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, DON’T try to treat the bite yourself. Seek medical attention immediately, as rattlesnake bites can be serious and require medical treatment.

 

 

So, what is the best type of campsite for avoiding snakes?

Generally speaking, an open area with short grass is your best bet. Snakes are secretive creatures and tend to avoid being out in the open, so if you can camp in an area with plenty of open space, you’ll be less likely to encounter them.

It’s also a good idea to choose a campsite that is well-lit at night, as this will make it easier to see any snakes that might be passing through. If your campsite allows it, lighting a fire can also be a good tactic to deter snakes, as well as rodents, which are attractive to snakes as a food source. Just be sure to handle firewood carefully, as it can be a prime hiding spot for snakes.

Another important aspect of snake prevention is food storage. While snakes don’t generally have much interest in human food, they do prey on smaller animals such as mice and birds, which are attracted to food scraps and trash.

How do you keep snakes away?

To prevent attracting snakes to your campsite, it’s important to store food and trash properly. This means sealing trash bags and disposing of them properly, being conscious of dropping crumbs and cleaning utensils thoroughly after use, and storing leftover food in airtight containers away from your tent. If possible, you should also store food in an elevated area, such as a tree branch, to further protect it from rodents. Additionally, it’s a good idea to pack away anything on the floor when you leave the campsite, such as picnic blankets and tarpaulin, as snakes can use these items as hiding places.

Even if you take steps to avoid snakes and prevent attracting them to your campsite, it’s still important to be prepared in case you do encounter one. If you do see a snake, the most important thing to do is to keep your distance and let it pass.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that most snakes are not aggressive and will only bite as a defense mechanism. If you give them plenty of space and allow them to move on, they’ll likely do so without incident. However, if you do come across a venomous snake, it’s especially important to keep your distance and avoid trying to handle it. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, seek medical attention immediately.

To prepare for the possibility of a snake encounter, it’s a good idea to do regular checks of your tent and gear. Make sure there are no holes in your tent and that all zips are shut, as snakes can sometimes find their way inside through small openings. Additionally, inspect your gear and gear storage areas before use to make

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