An activity to encourage careful observation of twigs and buds of fruit trees in winter.


  • Identify different parts of a winter twig.
  • Observe orchard plants in winter.
  • Identify orchard trees by twig and bud characteristics..


  • Prunings from several different fruit trees
  • Hand lenses for student teams
  • Pencils and notepads

Outdoor Procedure
Walking with students to the orchard, teacher points out opposite and alternate twig/branch formation. (Most trees have alternate branching. The Maple is a common tree with opposite formation.). The class gathers around a fruit tree. What do you see? After a few responses (nothing, branches, etc.), teacher asks students to look more closely and shows students buds, leaf scars, and bundle scars (dots on leaf scars).

Students choose two different tree types to compare. What are the similarities and differences between twigs on these two trees? All observations are useful. If there is no mention of the shape of leaf scars, number of bundle scars and the shape and color of the buds, teacher emphasizes them as important twig identification characteristics.

Indoor Procedure (optional)
Teacher distributes one cutting from orchard tree pruning to groups of 2 - 4 students. Each cutting must have at least one leaf scar and one bud.
Groups observe their cuttings and write down three characteristics of the twig. Using bud identification illustrations (see listed books), groups try to match the cuttings to the appropriate trees.

Each group labels twigs, shares observations and conclusions with the class, places twigs in water for classroom display.

Discussion Questions

  • How are fruit trees similar or different from trees in the schoolyard, on the street, or at home?
  • Are the orchard trees alive or dead? How do you know? If students answer dead, ask Will they come back to life?
The orchard trees are all fruit producing, and some are in the same plant family, so their twigs may seem very similar when compared to dissimilar twigs of non-fruit bearing trees.

Although deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves) do become dormant (slow down and even stop life processes) during the winter, bud production is a sure way to know that trees are alive and that their sap is flowing.