How to Identify a Tree, Part 1

You’ve always loved trees, but you’ve never really known how to identify them. How do you identify a tree? Well, in this blog post, we’ll tell you a bit about how to identify a tree. It’s not that hard. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to do it. In fact, anyone can.

The first step in identifying a tree comes from knowing that there are always going to be distinguishing characteristics separating one species from another. All trees have features and clues that can help with identification. You just need to know what to look out for.

Look at the leaves or needles. Is it a broadleaf tree – these are usually deciduous? Is it a conifer? These usually have scales or needles. There are different features that will present at different seasons of the year. You can use twigs, leaf buds or bark to determine the type of tree if you’re searching in winter, for example.

You should also take notice of the surrounding area. Look at what’s growing around it. For example, is the tree near water? Some species are more likely to grow near water, scrubland, parks or the woods. You should always use as many features as you can. The more you use, the more likely you’ll be able to identify the tree. Take into account the overall size and shape of the tree, bark, leaves or needles, flowers, fruits, leaf buds and twigs.

Identify a Tree by the Shape, Appearance and Bark

Some trees have a distinctive overall appearance.  For example, a silver birch is narrow and light with an airy crown while an oak is big and has a broadly spreading crown. Trees in the woods often have narrower crowns than those growing in parks where they have lots of space to spread around.

Bark, the corky, waterproof layer of a tree, protects the tree against disease and external attack. Many trees, on first glance, have a similar-looking, brown bark. However, take a closer look. Does the bark have ridges or depressions? Are there peeling flakes or is it shiny? Is the bark a different color? Bark can be many colors. Grey, white, red and green are some. Is the bark young or old? Young bark has less ‘texture’ than older bark does.

Identify a Tree by Leaves and Needles

Leaf type, shape, appearance, texture and color are all key characteristics when you identify a tree. They are usually the most obvious feature, particularly in spring and summer. Needles and scales of conifers are also considered types of leaves. Broadleaf trees fall into two categories: simple and compound. A simple broadleaf has whole leaves. They are NOT divided to the central leaf vein like an apple or a birch tree. The edges of some simple leaves are indented or lobed such as sycamore, maple or hawthorne. Be careful not to confuse them with compound leaves. Compound leaves are feather-shaped and leaflets are divided right up to the central vein into separate leaflets. Compound leafs are either pinnate or palmate.

Pinnate leaves are feather-shaped and leaflets are attached in pairs along the central vein such as rowan, ash or elder. Palmate leaves join to a central point. They are palm-shaped, like the outstretched fingers of a hand. Horse chestnut has palmate leaves.

Leaves can have many different shapes including egg-shaped (ovate), long and thin (lanceolate), triangular (deltoid), round (orbicular) and heart-shaped (cordate).  The edge of leaves can also provide distinguishing characteristics. Look out for edges that are serrated or toothed (hornbeam and common lime), prickly (holly), wavy (beech) or lobed (oaks, hawthorn, sycamore and field maple). Leaf margins that are smooth and have no obvious features are called entire.

Next week, we’ll talk more about identifying trees. We’ll continue with leaves and move on to flowers, fruits and seeds as well as leaf buds and twigs. All can be identifying factors. If you have any questions about your trees, please contact us at Austin Tree Service. We can be reached at 512-341-8888.