How to Identify a Tree

By: Julie Day

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:

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

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6 Comments on “How to Identify a Tree”

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  • Dave Says:
    June 1st, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Dave again here. I failed to mention I live in central Florida.



  • Dave Says:
    June 1st, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    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?



  • roni Says:
    September 13th, 2015 at 1:30 am

    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.



  • Frank Wodzisz Says:
    June 1st, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    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.



  • Linda Wynters Says:
    May 31st, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    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.



  • Barry Says:
    February 2nd, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    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?


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