What is it about that word which seems to invoke a universal smile from people when It comes up? The smiles turn to chuckles when I mention the twig collection of over 100 examples which I once collected and carefully marked with name tags. I cut all the twigs to exactly the same length and used that collection as a study tool for years.
This all started during the years I worked in Hamilton but lived in Toronto. We often had afternoons free and I started and completed a project of walking every meter of the Bruce Trail within about 75 kms north and south of Hamilton. That’s a lot of twigs!
The Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington had some intriguing nature classes and I enrolled in one called ” Identifying Trees and Shrubs in Winter.” I still remember the instructor’s first comment: “It is easier to learn to identify trees and shrubs when there are no leaves.” This seemed to be the opposite of what common sense would tell us but proved to be absolutely correct.
For the first few classes we learned the theory of twigs and buds and then started to have a look at photos of the twigs of common Southern Ontario species. The instructor was correct. The twigs and buds of, for example, nannyberry could not be more different than those of highbush cranberry.
For the last few weeks, we went out onto Botanical Gardens trails and what a joy it was to see the variety of species found there. I still have my notes about the 27 shrub species that we had a close look at: “choke cherry” – bark smells like almond, “serviceberry” – longish pointed buds,
Eventually I convinced a friend from work that he should join the class and we both kept extensive twig collections in our lockers. Spare time was spent testing each other. “It’s buffalo berry. Is that gray or silky dogwood?”
All this to the general mirth of our co-workers.
That beloved twig collection met a sad end. Some family members felt that it was the cause of a small influx of spider webs in the basement stairs. Very quietly, it disappeared.