Once Upon A Tree

Let's think about what what we know about a tree in general. Complete the Observe a Tree exercise below to start coming up with good questions!

Observe a Tree

As part of your class or at recess or at home, take ten minutes to observe a tree. It doesn’t have to be a longleaf pine tree - any tree will do! Bring a pencil and this handout to take notes and draw what you see.

  • First, sit or stand far enough away to see the whole tree. What shape is it? If there are other trees nearby, is your tree taller or shorter than surrounding trees? Draw what you see.
  • Observe the top, or the crown of the tree. What do you see? Are there any plants or animals that seem to live in or on the tree? That visit the tree? What are they?
  • Observe the trunk or stem of the tree. Do you see other plants or animals that seem to live in or around the trunk. Examine the bark. Sketch the pattern of the bark you observed.
  • Observe the branches (also stems) of the tree. Where do they grow out of the trunk? How thick are they?
  • Observe the leaves or needles of the tree. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Smell like? Try drawing one or a bunch.
  • Do you see any flowers or cones or other forms of seeds that are growing or that fell from the tree? Include a sketch of what it looks like if you found one.
  • Take a close look around the base of the tree. Do you see where the tree’s roots go underground? Do they seem to spread out or go straight down? Are there other plants or animals living around the base?
  • Take a few steps back. Where is the tree growing? What is growing around it?

Compare your tree to the longleaf pine tree

Now that you have made some careful observations of your tree, let's compare it to the longleaf pine tree. What did you observe that is similar to the longleaf pine tree? What is different?


The longleaf pine tree has the same general structure as the tree you observed, but its traits are distinct. The trunk or stem of the longleaf pine is very tall and straight, reaching more than 100 feet in height when it's fully grown. These trees don't grow many branches and they tend to grow up towards the top of the tree, or it's crown. The bark of the longleaf is very thick and rough which is important for survival in fires. The longleaf pine is a coniferous tree, which means that instead of growing leaves and flowers like a deciduous tree, it grows very long waxy needles that tend to grow in clusters of two or three that stay green year-round. And instead of growing seeds as a flower that turns into fruit, the seeds of the longleaf pine tree are found in the cones! The roots of a longleaf pine tree tend to grow deep into the ground to reach water.


Did you know that the longleaf pine tree is considered an endangered species? That means that scientists are concerned it might disappear forever if we don't do something.

Question to Ponder

What physical characteristics of the longleaf pine tree might help it survive in a region that has naturally occurring fires?

What makes the longleaf forest and ecosystem special?

One tree alone is pretty cool, but the community of trees - a forest - is where the magic of an ecosystem - the community of life - happens! Watch the first segment to this film - Secrets of the Longleaf Pine - to get a glimpse into the amazing community of plants and animals or ecosystem that thrives in a healthy longleaf pine forest.


Reflect on your observations in an O.W.L. table using these prompts:

  • I WONDER...
  • This LINKS to..