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How to Identify Trees by Their Leaves

Cheryn is back today, sharing an incredibly useful set of tips on how to identify tree leaves. This is my favorite time of year to look at the leaves, so it’s just in time. – Georgia

The weather (finally) seems to be cooling off a little, marking the beginning of autumn. As you enjoy a walk with your dog or a meditative stroll in the crisp, cool air, you might look at the trees you pass by and say, “I wonder what the name of that tree is?” Wonder no more–this article is all about how you can identify trees by their leaves! Here are some of the most common species you’ll find around.

How to Identify Trees by Their Leaves:



Oak leaves are easily identifiable because of their lobed leaves. They have rounded or pointed “knobs” around the leaf. The difference between round and pointed is that round lobed leaves mean that the oak is a white oak, and pointed leaves mean the oak is a red oak. Red and white oaks are just different species of oak, and two of the most common ones. The picture above shows round lobed oak leaves, meaning the tree is a white oak.



The maple leaf, featured on the Canadian flag, is pointy and symmetrical. The maple family falls under the genus  Acer, which means “sharp” in Latin. In most cases, you should be able to fold a maple leaf in half down from its stem to the tip, and have both sides align perfectly.


Cherry Blossom

Cherry blossom trees, also known as sakura trees, have oval shaped leaves. These leaves are also toothed, meaning they have jagged points all around the edges, like little teeth. They also have a pointy tip, making the oval shape more like a teardrop. Cherry blossom tree leaves look very similar to elm leaves; the way you can tell them apart is subtle, but you’ll see that elm leaves have more defined teeth, and are tougher than cherry blossom leaves, which are more fragile and thin.



Pine “leaves” are actually thin needles that grow in little bunches. Pine trees are evergreen conifer trees, meaning that they are green all year round and bear cones instead of fruit. Be careful when you touch them — you might get pine sap on your fingers which, although it smells amazing, will take forever to wash off.



I used to think these small, stubby, shrub-looking trees were baby pine trees, and that their needles would grow long and thin one day. I realized that they were not pine trees at all. They actually were a whole different species: yew trees. Yew needles are flat, round, and very short, perhaps no more than one inch long each. And no, the needles don’t get any longer or thinner, contrary to my childhood beliefs.



Fir trees look pretty much like your decorated tree during Christmas (without the decorations, of course) These leaves are almost a mix between a yew leaf and a pine needle: they are flat and thick needles like yew, but they are long and slim like pine. The tips of the needles are typically not very sharp, although the younger the tree, the sharper they will be. Fir leaves grow in bunches, like pine, but in a neater, cylindrical pattern, and less “fanned out.”



Dogwood leaves are thin and almost translucent; if you put them up in sunlight, you will see the light right through them, making the veins on the leaf visible. Dogwood leaves oval shaped. However, they aren’t always perfect ovals: some take on a bulky, round shape. Additionally, the edges of the leaves will curl slightly inward (because they are so thin!).

Photo: Magilkey


The confusing thing about sweetgum leaves are that they look very similar to maple leaves. Like maple, sweetgum has sharply pointed lobes that look like starts. Some species of sweetgum even turn red and orange in the fall like maple does (super confusing, right). One way to tell the difference is that sweetgum leaves are thicker than maple leaves and have more noticeable veins. If you touch a sweetgum leaf, you will notice that it is smooth and shiny, as if it’s been glossed over with translucent coating. Maple will lack this texture.

Photo: Woodland Trust


Beech tree leaves have edges are toothed and curved (even though the veins are straight and parallel veins). This means that although the edges are sharp and pointy, they are also wavy and curve in and inwards between each tooth. The surface of beech leaves have a smooth and paper-like texture. Perhaps this is why ancient Germanic societies used beech wood and leaves as a source of writing before paper was invented! Fun fact: young beech leaves make an excellent salad in the spring.



Hickory leaves are long and pointy, like walnut leaves. However, towards the end, hickory leaves will start growing a little wider (the base is thinner than the tip) to take on a raindrop shape. The underside of the leaves are a lighter shade than the outer side, with very thick, protruding veins. Still confused? Look for the huge hickory nuts; in the fall, when the nuts are ripe, they will split open a little, looking like dark brown flower bulbs ready to bloom.



Walnut leaves are long and not necessarily oval shaped, but definitely rounded. They have pointy tips and serrated (jagged) edges. On each branch, walnut leaves grow in two neat rows, usually with a single leaf growing out of the end of the branch as well. If you look carefully, you will also see that walnut leaves also have a hairy underside.

Finally, check out this article on how to make a really dirty hand cleaner to clean off all the dirt you may pick up in the woods (or your garden).

Know any other trees you can identify using just their leaf shape? Let us know in the comments below! You can also tag us on Instagram at @georgiapellegrini, and be sure to follow us on Facebook!

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