Learn How to Identify Trees


Tags: trees, leaves,

LeafHow can I learn to identify trees? What are the best resources for learning to know an elm from a birch from a maple from an oak?

Eileen Lefter

Richmond, Virginia 

The best way to start learning how to identify trees is to spend time in the field with an expert who’s familiar with your area’s flora and can teach you identification skills. Look for courses and workshops offered by universities and community colleges; environmental and hiking organizations; agricultural extension offices; and local, state and national parks. 

But practice is the key to developing ID skills, and of course you can’t always have an instructor with you. So, regardless of whether you’re able to take a workshop or two, the bulk of your tree-identification education will be self-taught. You’ll want to learn the various characteristic features of a tree — overall shape and height; leaf shape, type, size and vein pattern; branch pattern; bark topography; twig and bud arrangement; and more. All of these features, when considered carefully together, determine exactly what kind of tree you’re looking at. 

Books and websites are the best tools for this, and there are hundreds. Which to choose? First, think simple. Look for guides with clear, plain-language instructions on identification, straightforward drawings of significant tree features, and detailed but nontechnical species descriptions accompanied by photos or illustrations. 

10/11/2010 7:16:53 PM

The national Arbor Day Foundation is a great resource and has an online tree ID guide that can be found at http://www.arborday.org/trees/wtit/ Another great source for all information relating to tree care is http://www.treesaregood.com/

Twigs and Heather
10/11/2010 4:21:22 PM

I was so happy to read this. I am a silversmith who uses many twigs and tree barks in my work. People always ask me what trees I use and sometimes I know and sometimes I do not. I live in New England so I definitely know my Maple Trees and Pines. I was so happy to find through one of your links that I use the European Beech twig pretty often too. Thank you kindly Mother Earth News for this information. I will definitely use it to inform my customers as well as to make myself more knowledgeable about the wonderful trees that grow around me.

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