Lobed Leaf Classification

Balanced and Unbalanced Structures in Plant Leaves

Identifying a tree can be tricky, but examining the leaves on hardwood trees and needles on conifers can make the process a lot easier. As a matter of fact, most hardwoods and deciduous trees (with few exceptions) have leafs for foliage instead of needles. 

Once you are able to identify that a tree is indeed leaf-bearing, you can then further examine the leaves and determine whether or not these leaves are lobed, which according to the University of Rochester, have leaves "with distinct protrusions, either rounded or pointed" where "pinnately lobed leaves have the lobes arranged on either side of a central axis like a feather," and "palmately lobed leaves have the lobes spreading radially from a point, like fingers on a hand."

Now that you've identified the lobes, you can then determine whether the leaves have balanced lobes or if the tree contains a mixture of balanced and unbalanced leaves, which will help determine exactly what species and genus of tree you're observing.

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Unevenly Balanced Lobes

If your tree has at least some leaves that are asymmetrical and have unevenly balanced lobes, you probably have either a mulberry or a sassafras.

The unique qualifier for these types of leaves it that their lobes aren't symmetrical, though these lobes can still be further broken down and classified according to the shape of each leaf, wherein these leaves can be considered ovate (egg-shaped with a wider base), obovate (egg-shaped but broader near the tip), elliptic, or cordate (heart-shaped).

Typically, hardwoods, as opposed to conifers and other deciduous trees, have leaves with unevenly balanced lobes. Along with mulberry, sassafras several plants including bull thistle and the bittersweet nightshade have unevenly balanced lobes on their leaves. 

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Evenly Balanced Lobes

Pinnate Lobed Leaf. Pinnate Lobed Leaf

If your tree has a leaf with lobed projections that match on both the right and left sides, it's considered to be an evenly balanced leaf. Both palmately veined leaves like maple and pinnately veined leaves like oak fall into this category.

Indeed, most plants with lobed leaves are symmetrical, and for that reason, further classification is much broader in evenly balanced lobed leaves than in unevenly balanced.

Flowering trees and plants are often considered lobed as well and typically feature balanced leaves — though oftentimes these fall into different categorizations because of the unique shapes of the flower's petals.

Next time you see a tree, take a look at its leaves — are there protruding edges to the leaf? If you fold it in half will each side perfectly mirror the other? If so, you're looking at an evenly balanced lobe.