Step by Step: How to identify trees

January 14, 2019 -  By
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There are an estimated 23,000 different kinds of trees in the world. While it’s impossible to know them all, it’s important for landscape contractors to be familiar with the varieties found in their parts of the country to ensure proper treatment and care.

To begin the identification process, contractors should thoroughly inspect the tree, making note of its prominent features, such as the leaves, bark, canopy, fruit and blooms. There are many resources available for contractors to then determine what kind of tree they are working with. The Arbor Day Foundation’s “What Tree Is That?” online quiz identifies trees based on a user’s location and information about the tree leaf’s shape, size and characteristics. The resource is available both online and as a portable pocket guide.

Smartphone apps also can help contractors identify trees while in the field. Leafsnap, created by researchers at Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution, is a helpful resource for iPhones. Users input their location and upload a picture of the leaf taken on a white background, and the app then identifies the type of tree.

VTree, an app created by Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, is an option for Android users. Users enter their location and answer qualifying questions about the leaf and tree. The app provides thousands of photos of leaves, flowers, fruits and twigs to make identification simple.

Follow these steps to begin the tree identification process.

Step 1

Map of U.S. (illustration: David Preiss)

illustration: David Preiss

Choose your region.

Step 2

Leaves (illustration: David Preiss)

illustration: David Preiss

Begin by studying the tree’s leaves. Determine if the leaves are needlelike, scalelike or thin and flat.

Step 3

Tree bark (illustration: David Preiss)

illustration: David Preiss

If no leaves are present, try to identify the tree by bark, zeroing in on the twigs and buds. Use available resources and apps for specific identification.

Download a PDF copy of this page from the magazine to use as a training tool at your company here.

Sources: The Davey Tree Expert Co.; The Arbor Day Foundation,

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