Identify and Name a Tree Using This Tree Leaf Key

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

Pick a tree in the forest or landscape, then collect a leaf or needle and answer the tree identification questions provided here. After answering questions, and by completing the interview, you should be able to identify a tree's name down to the taxonomic level of the Genus. You will also be able to select from one of several tree species and are offered additional links for drilling down to find an exact species.

Extra help: There are great tree identification books available for extra study and here are the best I have found to date - see Top Tree Identification Guides. I also provide my free TreeBook iPhone app as a companion mobile pocket guide for Apple users.

One caveat here:  The tree you are trying to identify should be a native tree of North America as defined by the United States Forest Service's  Forest Types of the United States. You should collect a sample of an average leaf or needle, observe the foliage parts and only then make an attempt to identify the leaf. Remember that this tree key is leaf-based and designed for spring and summer identification. Review Identifying a Dormant Tree if your tree is without leaves.

So, let's start the process by answering the following questions that ultimately lead you to the name of you tree!

01
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Trees With Needles

Pinetree
Michael Beck via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Some trees have foliage borne off the twig in the form of needles so each "leaf" is actually a needle. Needles can be found on a twig singly, in clusters or in whorls and conifers always retain some needles through the winter.

Trees that have needles are taxonomically listed together as a coniferous group with these common names: pine, fir, spruce, hemlock, larch and cypress.

Does your conifer have an evergreen leaf that looks like a needle? If so, continue to trees with needles.

02
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Trees With Scale-like Leaves

Arborvitae
andipantz / Getty Images

Some trees have foliage borne off the twig in the form of scales so each "leaf" is actually a scale. Scales are attached to twigs and most retained during the winter.

Trees that have scale-like leaves are taxonomically listed together as a coniferous group with these common names: cedars and junipers.

Does your tree have an evergreen, scale-like leaf? If so, continue to cedars and junipers.

03
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Trees With Leaves

Maple Leaf
Mark Coleman via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0))

True leaves are usually broad in dimension. They are always flat, thin and shed every year. They can grow singly off a petiole or have compound "leaflets" attached at a rachis off the petiole.

Trees that have a leaf are taxonomically listed together in the broadleaf or hardwood group with common names like these: oak, maple, hickory, birch, beech and sycamore.

Does your tree have a typical leaf that includes a leaf stalk, veins, and a midrib? If so, continue to trees with simple and compound leaves.