What is Dendrology?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Dendrology is a subfield of botany which focuses on the study of woody plants. Many people often take the term “dendrology” to refer specifically to the study of trees, although it can encompass shrubs and woody vines as well. There are a number of applications for dendrology, with dendrologists working in environments which vary from lumber companies to environmental organizations. Training in this field is offered at a number of colleges and universities around the world.

Dendrologists are interested in phytoanatomy, which is the anatomy of plants.
Dendrologists are interested in phytoanatomy, which is the anatomy of plants.

As with other aspects of botany, one area of interest in dendrology is decisive identification. Dendrologists learn to identify woody plants, and to differentiate between species and subspecies which may display very subtle variations. They also produce identification guides for use by dendrologists and laypeople alike, and participate in the process of verifying the discovery of new species of woody plants, confirming that a discovery is original, determining who deserves the credit, and describing the new species in general.

Dendrologists are also interested in phytoanatomy, the anatomy of plants. They can study root systems, trunks, bark, leaves, needles, flowers, cones, and other anatomical features which may be present on woody plants to learn more about their function. The study of plant anatomy can also include analysis of ancient plant specimens such as those found in fossils, and the study of pollen, reproductive processes, and related topics. Phytopathology is also a topic of interest, with dendrologists studying disease processes in plants which can vary from fungal disease to parasitic infestations.

Generalized research to learn more about woody plants is another area of focus within the larger study of dendrology. Research can include everything from identifying plant species which could be used in environmental cleanup to studying the role of woody plants in society. Dendrologists may be interested in the economic value of plants, the breeding of pest-resistant cultivars, or the development of new ornamental plant cultivars which may be of interest in the nursery trade.

This field of botany can be pursued in the field, lab, nursery, classroom, forest, or garden. A dendrologist may work for private organizations, governments, educational institutions, and non-profits, doing a range of different kinds of work. For example, when people learn about the hardness ratings of wood, purchase furnishings made with sustainably produced wood, buy new ornamental trees for their gardens, or use a plant identification guide to identify a plant they see on vacation, they are benefiting from dendrology.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Dendro is also one of the cornerstone classes of any forestry program, as well. A forester wouldn't be of much use without knowing what trees were in the forest!

I loved taking dendrology in college. It was extremely challenging but rewarding once I had memorized over 100 tree species.

Many local parks and forest districts have special dendrology hikes or field trips that teach some of the most common trees in the area. If the opportunity arises, I would definitely take one of the classes. You wouldn't believe how impressed your friends are when you can name all the trees you see.


@cardsfan27 - Thank you for mentioning the VT dendrology key.

I know the trees in my yard, but I found an odd tree as I was walking the other day. The bark looked "warty," and I had never seen anything like that before. I used the key, and it turns out it was a hackberry. I'll definitely be adding that to my list of interesting trees.


For anyone interested in tree identification, there is a Virginia Tech dendrology website that has a terrific key to almost every plant in North America.

It helps to guide you through all of the important questions and explains the vocabulary along the way. I've used it several times and have always found what I was looking for. Plus I've learned a ton of new dendrology terms along the way.

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