Tree Identification 101: What to Look for as You ID Your Trees

Hundreds of tree species grow in the US; no one guide can tell you how to identify all of them without being hundreds of pages long. We can, however, give you some tips to get started finding the names of trees on your property. Here’s how to look at your tree and pick out the most identifying features to help you determine its species.

What Kind of Tree Is This? How to Identify Trees in Your Yard

You can usually identify a tree through various features, including leaves, bark, shape, height, flowers, and fruit. Collecting information about what your tree looks like helps you search for your own answers and narrow down the possibilities.

Learn what to look for:

Tree Identification by Leaf

First, look at your tree’s leaves. Tree leaf identification relies on looking at a few different qualities:

  • Leaf shape. Does your tree have leaves or needles? Trees with needles, like pines or firs, are conifers, while leafy trees are deciduous. Some trees, like oak, maple, or ginkgo, have distinctive leaf shapes. Other differences may be more subtle: Do your leaves have smooth or jagged edges? Are the leaves short and round or long and narrow? Does a single leaf split into multiple points or lobes, or do many leaves grow from one central stem?

Conifers also have variations in their needles: some are short and flat, while others are long and feathery. Pull off a needle and roll it between your fingers. If it rolls easily, it’s probably a pine. If the needle feels flat and doesn’t roll, you have a fir tree. If the needle rolls between your fingers but feels square, that’s a spruce tree.

  • Leaf size. This one is easy: Does your tree have particularly large or small leaves? Many trees have leaves that would fit easily in the palm of your hand. If they’re much larger or smaller, it can help you identify your tree.
  • Color. What color are your tree’s leaves? Most are green, but many shades exist, from pale yellow-green to dark emerald. Leaves also come in other colors, like white, yellow, or dark purple. These unusual colors will be more helpful in identifying your tree, but all information helps! Also, note if you know what color your leaves turn in the fall.

Tree Bark Identification

Bark may seem relatively similar from tree to tree, but there’s a lot of variation between species.

Look for:

  • Texture. Tree bark comes in many textures and usually roughens as the tree ages. Tree bark can be described as furrowed (white oak), fibrous (eastern red cedar), scaly (black cherry), peeling (hickory), smooth (American beech), or papery (birch).
  • Color. Many trees have gray or gray-brown bark, but bark can also be white, silver, brown, orange, red-brown, and light and dark gray.
  • Special features. Some bark has unique features, like bumps or excessive lenticels (raised pores that allow oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out).

Describe Your Tree by Its Shape and Size

Tree canopies grow in all sorts of shapes, each unique to the species. They can be round and squat, gnarled and twisted, or tall and skinny. Some trees have extremely distinctive silhouettes, like weeping willows or poplars. You can describe trees with a few basic shapes: round (beech), oval (eastern red cedar), pyramid (balsam fir), or column-like (silver fir).

Include size in your descriptions. English oaks only grow to about 30-40 feet tall, while white oaks can soar well over 100 feet. Their leaves and shapes look similar, so this height distinction sets them apart.

What Else Grows on Your Trees?

Trees can grow more than leaves! Use descriptions of seeds, nuts, flowers, fruit, and even pollen to help you search for the right answer. Add more information to your search, like how many petals the flowers have, the size of the seeds, and whether the fruit grows in clusters.

What to Do With Your Descriptions

Once you know what your tree looks like, you can search the description online. You can also describe your tree to a professional arborist or use an online tree-finder tool (like this one from the Arbor Day Foundation) to learn what kind of tree you have.

If you can’t identify one definite species, just narrowing down the possibilities can help you determine the care your tree likely needs.

Ask the Experts for a Tree ID

When in doubt, call us up! The expert arborists at your local Monster Tree Service can identify the tree in your yard and recommend personalized care to keep it healthy throughout the years.

With a free tree inspection, we can solve the mystery and tell you what kind of tree you have and what care it needs, from pruning to fertilization. Call (888) 744-0155: to schedule a free inspection or request an estimate online.