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Basics of Tree ID


Identifying and Classifying organisms is fundamental to Biological Sciences. All living things are divided up into groups. Each individual in the group has similar characteristics. The broadest group is the Kingdom and the most specific group is the species. 


The first step in tree identification is knowing that there are always distinguishing characteristics that separate one tree species from another. By examining different tree parts you will be able to confidently identify the different trees around your school. This will require some careful detective work on your part, but it should be fun and easy.

Here are some clues that you will need to examine:

  • TREE TYPE --Deciduous or Conifer?  Tree or a shrub? Determining these things starts you off on your way to tree identification.
  • LEAF --Leaves are often the easiest way to identify most trees. Are the leaves arranged in an opposite or alternate pattern?
  • BARK --Bark can be helpful for identifying some types of trees. 
  • FRUIT --The wide variety of fruit shapes makes them useful when identifying trees. 
  • TWIG --You can actually tell a lot just by looking at the twig. 
  • FORM --The way a tree grows can tell you a great deal about a tree. 
After collecting all of your clues, you should use our leaf key to verify the tree species you are identifying. It also contains links to detailed descriptions about different tree species.

Some of the text and photos provided in this section courtesy Rodney Nice, Student Presenter, Fall 2000 (Check out Rodney's Recipe for sassafras tea!)

Leaf Key


For More Woody ID Information Check These Links



  1. Which taxonomic class of plants has a mature seed surrounded by an ovule?
  2. How do you know if a leaf is simple or compound?
  3. How can a twig help you to identify a tree?



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