How to identify trees by their leaves
Hello! In this tutorial, we are going to learn how to identify some of our most common tree by their leaves. Specifically, we will learn how to identify leaves by their shape. Are you ready? Lets get started!
(To help make it easier for you, I have divided the leaves into groups, so you can use these quick links to jump where you need to go x)
Palmate (hand-like) leaves
Holly trees have dark, shiny, very spiky leaves. Another spiky shrub (and a garden run away), is mahonia.
Lobed or wavy leaves
Oak trees have distinctively lobed leaves, often very gnarled, spreading branches – and a helpful clue – acorns!
Pinnate (or feather-like) leaves
Rowan trees have skinny, leaflets with saw-like edges. They also often have white lichen spots on their bark.
Wych elm leaves can be spotted by their asymmetrical leaf base and their pointy (sometimes 3 pointed) tip.
Download the resource for this lesson
How do you identify trees by their leaves?
Sometimes (but not always) one of the easiest ways to identify a tree is by looking at its leaves. Your clues are the shape, size, margins, tips and bases and arrangement of the leaves.
This might sound like a lot of things to look at, but really, usually, you only need to focus on two things – the arrangement of the leaves and their shape. These help you to narrow the leaf down. Then, the extra details like the margins, tips and bases just provide extra clues to help you confirm what it is.
The two types of leaf arrangement
When looking at leaves, I like to start wide and then move in and the best way to start wide with leaves, is by looking at their arrangement and how they attach to the branches or stems. There are two types of leaf arrangement: simple and compound.
Simple leaves are individual leaves, each with their own special connection to the twig or tree branch. While, compound leaves are a group of leaves which join together and share a connection to the tree branch. These can be further divided into pinnate and palmate.
Pinnate-type compound leaves consist of individual leaflets that join along a main stem and attach to the branch via the main stem. While, palmate-type compound leaves are individual leaflets that radiate out and join in one central point, from which a shared stem then emerges to attach them to the tree branch.
Well… there we go! In this lesson, we met some of our most common tree leaves and learned how to identify them all. I hope you feel more confident about identifying them now?
Just remember, there are many, many different trees – all with different leaves – and I have only covered a few of them here.
Tree leaves nature study
- Try and identify the leaves you find using the downloadable guide
- Handle the leaves and get to know their colours, size and shape.
- Notice the details of the leaves – their stems and how they attach to the leaf
- Look at the arrangement of the veins running through the leaf
- Run your fingers over the edge of the leaves and feel their margins
- Examine the underside of the leaves for fine hairs or fuzziness
- See how bouncy, crisp or delicate the leaf might be