How to identify trees by their leaves

how to identify trees by their leaves

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)

Star-shaped leaves

Norway maple leaf

Norway maple

Norway maple leaves are sharp at the tips compared to field maple and sycamore.

field maple leaf

Field maple

Field maple leaves are much rounder at the tips and smaller than Norway maple and sycamore.

sycamore leaf


Sycamore leaves are softer at the tips than sycamore, but sharper than field maple.

Palmate (hand-like) leaves

horse chestnut leaf

Horse chestnut

Horse chestnuts are the most common tree you are likely to find with characteristically hand-shaped leaves.

Spiky leaves



Holly trees have dark, shiny, very spiky leaves. Another spiky shrub (and a garden run away), is mahonia.

Lobed or wavy leaves

oak leaf


Oak trees have distinctively lobed leaves, often very gnarled, spreading branches – and a helpful clue – acorns!

hawthorn leaf


Hawthorn trees are usually a dense tangle of lichen-covered, shrubs with thorny branches.

Pinnate (or feather-like) leaves

identifying ash leaves


Ash trees have thin leaflets, often more than 5 to a stem and clustered at the tips of the branches.

elder leaves


Elder leaves are rounder than ash and often darker and thicker. In addition, it is a more-shrub-like plant.



Rowan trees have skinny, leaflets with saw-like edges. They also often have white lichen spots on their bark.

Leaf-shaped leaves

beech leaves


Beech tree leaves are quintessentially ‘leaf’ shaped and leathery. They are often slightly wavy around the edges.

hornbeam leaf


Hornbeam leaves might look like beech leaves, but they have deep  valleys between their veins.

identifying wych elm

Wych elm

Wych elm leaves can be spotted by their asymmetrical leaf base and their pointy (sometimes 3 pointed) tip.

Round leaves

identifying aspen leaves


Aspen leaves are  rounded (sometimes slightly pointed), very  delicate-looking leaves with gently-waving edges.

hazel leaf


Hazel leaves are larger than aspen with a marked tip. They are also narrow at the base, wider at the top.

linden leaves


Linden leaves look like upside down hearts, with a curved base, wide middle and widely 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.

hawthorn leaf

Simple leaf

identifying ash leaves

Pinnate leaf

horse chestnut leaf

Palmate leaf


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

Right! Now it is time for your tree leaves nature study.
Your first task, is to download the resource accompanying this lesson. Your second task, is to go out on a nature walk and find some tree leaves.
  • 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

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3 thoughts on “How to identify trees by their leaves”

  1. Hi J.J. Thank you for your kind comment. You are very welcome and I am so glad you found it useful. Is there any way I could help you broaden your understanding? I am always looking for useful ideas to help My Nature Nook readers. Leila 🌸

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