Identify Maple, Sycamore, Yellow-poplar, Sweetgum Leaves

A Quick and Easy Way to Identify 50 Common North American Trees

So your tree has a leaf where ribs or veins radiate out of a single stalk or petiole attachment like fingers on a hand (palmate). Some people relate to these leaves more as having a "star form" or a maple-like silhouette. 

If this is what you see, you most probably have a broadleaf or deciduous tree that is either a maple, sweetgum, sycamore or yellow-poplar.

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The Major Maples

red sugar maple leaf covered by raindrops lying on a rough concrete slab
Red sugar maple. (Dmitri Kotchetov/EyeEm/Getty Images

Does your tree have leaves that are divided into three to five lobes, are usually less than 4 inches in size and are opposite in leaf arrangement? If yes, you have a maple.

Tips: Maples have opposite leaf arrangement where sycamore, yellow-poplar and sweetgum are alternate in leaf arrangement.

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Sycamore leaf
Sycamore leaf. Pinterest

Does your tree have leaves that are again divided into three to five shallow lobes but, when mature, they grow much larger than 4 inches in size and are alternate in leaf arrangement with a long, stout leaf-stalk? If yes, you have a sycamore.

Tips: Flaking bark is seen on the upper trunk with large patches of smooth bark. The smooth bark has "camo" creamy, yellow, tan and gray colors. Look for a ball-shaped fruit on or under the tree with a long stalk.

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closeup of tulip poplar leaf
Yellow-poplar tulip tree leaf. (Gary W. Carter/Getty Images)

Does your tree have leaves that are flattened or slightly lobed "cut off" across the top end, with 2 deeper lobes on either side of the midrib (the primary rib or central vein)? If yes, you have a yellow-poplar.

Tips: The leaf actually does look like a tulip in profile. When flowering, tulip tree has a distinctive yellow-green-orange flower encased in a green "vase."

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sweet gum leaf
Sweet gum leaf. (DLILLC/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images)

Does your tree have a leaf that is star-shaped and whose 5 (sometimes seven) long pointed lobes have veins from a notched base? If yes, you have a sweetgum.

Tips: Sweetgum leaves are almost star-like with their pointed deeply divided lobes. On or under the tree will be spiky, prickly balls and the bark can have "corky" wings.