How to Identify a Tree

Tree branches.

“How do I go about identifying a tree in my yard?” -Isabel

There are almost 700 species of trees native to the US and Canada, not to mention naturalized and exotic varieties, which is more than more of us can keep in our brains. Identifying a tree isn’t all that difficult – all you need is a little information and a good identification resource, such as a tree key or guidebook.

Step 1: Take Note of the Tree’s Features

Observe, sketch, or photograph the main features of the tree, including:

  • Leaf size and shape
  • Bark
  • Flowers
  • Fruit, seeds, or cones
  • Overall shape and size

If you’re out walking and need a shortcut, you can make a fairly accurate identification simply using a leaf sample.

Step 2: Consult a Tree Key or Identification Guide

A “tree key” is designed to help you identify your tree by answering a series of multiple-choice questions. Most tree keys begin by asking you if the tree has needles or broad leaves, and it goes on to more detailed questions. Some tree keys also offer identification by twig, flower, or seed. There are many online tree keys available, including:

  • What Tree is That? (Arbor Day Foundation)
  • Online Dendrology Guide (Virginia Tech)

Another good resource is a tree identification guidebook, which categorizes trees according to leaf shape, flower type, fruit, cones, and seeds. Some tree identification guides include:

  • National Audubon Society Field Guides to Trees
  • Peterson Field Guide Series for Trees
  • Tree Finder

No matter what resource you use, simply compare your sample and information to the guide, and you will soon have your tree identified. Most have photos or diagrams that help to make sense of the terminology, and most have an easy step-by-step process to narrow down the choices. Before you know it, you’ll have that tree identified!

Julie

8 COMMENTS

  1. I have a tree in my office that needs to be IDed. It’s look like part of the palm family. Slim, has flat long leaves. kind of hard to discribe. Wonder if I can send a picture of it to your company?

  2. I have an unusual looking tree in my yard in southern NJ. I have cut it down and it keeps growing back. It has spade shaped leaves. It has clusters of seed pods that are large and don’t ever fall off the tree.

  3. I have a tree in my yard in florida, it flowers red orcid type flowers, then long type of fruit that resembles a potato but is very long up to a foot in a half. What kind of tree is this.

  4. I just bought a house and there is a tree in a large planter that I want to identify. There were originally 2 of them but one died. I want to find out how to take care of it as I am in Arizona and I think it may be getting too much sunlight. It appears tropical of some kind. The leaves are flat and very shiny. Its not a palm or anything like that. The leaves are purplish and green. It doesn’t bloom or produce fruit.

  5. I have a tree that has long skinny green leafs about 8-10 inchs in length and about 3 inchs wide, and it’s producing a smooth oval shaped fruit/nut of some sort. It is as big as the palm of my hand. I cut one open, and it has a white seed inside.
    Does anyone happen to know what kind of tree this may be?

  6. I want to know about my tree name and what kind of it.which has 40meters round shaped and broad wood. I have a idea to sell this tree.But I don’t know actual worth.please let me know

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