Tree Investigations (JHARVNC)


This introduction to trees may include using identification keys, studying tree characteristics, learning about physiological functions, identifying trees by leaves and dating trees by rings.

Grade Level:

K - 12

Recommended Setting:

Classroom or outside

Outdoor Activity:



Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith


Education Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993


45 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:

25 - 30

Special Conditions:

Weather permitting


  • Understand the benefits of trees
  • Explain the types of native trees in Arkansas
  • Describe the structure of a tree
  • Explain how different parts of a tree help the tree function

Key Terms*:












*See glossary for definations


Specimens of tree leaves (if playing a Project Learning Tree game, pick up the proper supply box)


Trees have basic conditions for survival and must compete to survive. Trees have several parts that act together to keep it healthy.

Basic Survival Needs

  • Living organism – what trees need to grow (Every Tree For Itself game)
    • Soil and its nutrients
    • Sun used for photosynthesis
    • Water

Parts of a Tree (Tree Factory Game)

  • Trunk – support for branches with pipeline or tubes to transport water and nutrients
  • Branches – support for leaves with pipeline or tubes to transport water and nutrients
  • Bark – protects the tree
  • Heartwood – known as dead wood which forms the central core of the tree
  • Sapwood/Xylem – brings water and nutrients from roots to the leaves
  • Cambium – thin layer of growing tissues
  • Phloem – inner bark that carries sap (sugar and nutrients in water) from leaves to the rest of the tree
  • Leaves – food factories that use the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar or food
  • Roots – anchor tree in the ground and absorb water and nutrients
    • Lateral roots – spread out from the tree
    • Taproot – grows straight down and is the main support




  1. Seat participants.
  2. Explain that a tree is a living thing (characteristics of life).
  3. Discuss what trees need to survive. (Younger participants may play the Every Tree for Itself game.)
  4. Discuss the parts and functions of a tree. (Play Tree Factory game from Project Learning Tree.)
  5. If time permits, take participants on a tree hike discussing these parts and/or identifying trees.


Younger participants may play a game option from Project Learning Tree such as Every Tree for Itself. Older participants may spend more time outside identifying trees.


  • How do we know a tree is a living thing
  • What does the bark do for a tree?
  • What does the trunk do for a tree?


Refer participants and teachers to tree resources in gift shop and through AGFC.


Bark (tree) – the outside covering of the stems and roots of trees and woody plants; protects from external threats, rids the tree of wastes by absorbing and locking them into its dead cells and resins, and includes phloem which transports large quantities of nutrients throughout the plant

Branch (tree) – secondary woody stem or limb connected to, but not a part of the central trunk of a tree or shrub; large branches are called boughs and small branches are know as twigs

Cambium – a thin layer between the xylem and phloem of plants

Heartwood – older, inactive central wood of a tree or woody plant which is usually darker and denser than the surrounding sapwood

Leaves – any of the usually flat, green, above-the-ground parts that grow in various shapes from the stems or branches of plants and trees 

Phloem – the living tissue in vascular plants that carries nutrients, particularly sucrose, to all parts of the plant

Roots – underground portion of a plant that lacks buds, leaves or nodes and serves as support, draws minerals and water from the surrounding soil and sometimes stores food; also an underground stem such as a rhizome, corm or tuber

Sapwood – the outer portion of wood that lies between the cambium and heartwood

Tree – a perennial woody plant having a main trunk and usually a distinct crown

Trunk (tree) – the thick, central woody stem of a tree

Xylem – complex tissue found in vascular plants