Friday, October 17, 2008

Identifying Trees - A Leaf Tutorial

Can you tell an ash tree from a hickory? A spruce from a fir? Since looking at leaves in all their vibrancy is the thing to do this time of year, I thought I'd share with you what I've learned from this indispensable little book, Stikky Trees.

A gift from my dad, this book offers a one hour tutorial on how to identify the 15 most common trees in the US. That might be a little ambitious for a single blog post, so today I'm just focusing on the ones that are not evergreen: Oak, Maple, Ash, Hickory, Aspen, Sweetgum & Elm. Whenever possible, I've included photos of leaves collected from my backyard.

The maple is the most common tree in 16 northeast states, including New York. You might recognize the leaf from the Canadian flag. The 5 veins on this leaf are in a fan shape, branching from a single point:

On an oak tree, the veins are in a fishbone pattern:

Here is an aspen leaf. It's easy to identify because it's in the shape of a spade.


These are sweetgum leaves. Sometimes people confuse with the maple because it also has a lobed fan shape. But notice that the lobes of the leaf form more of a star shape.

Here's a leaf from a Tupelo tree. Tupelo is also the city in Mississippi where Elvis was born. The tupelo leaf has no teeth -- a smooth edge.

In contrast with the elm - which has a fishbone pattern and serrated edge.

Two common trees have leaflets -- the hickory and the ash. You can tell them apart by looking at the size of the leaflets. On a hickory, the leaflets are much bigger at the top than at the stem. (My grandfather once owned a steakhouse in Sandusky Ohio called "The Hickory." Ironically, it burned down to ash. )


On an ash tree, the leaflets are closer in size. Notice also that the ash leaf has a smooth edge.

Leaves evolved to contain lobes and leaflets because bigger leaves would rip in the wind, making the tree more susceptible to disease.

More on the evergreens next week!

About.com has an excellent tree finder function.

8 comments:

tut-tut said...

Hey, thanks! I think what I've been thinking were maples down here are actually sweetgum.

Shibaguyz said...

What a cool post... thanks for the info and the book tip!

Joanne said...

Out of the 16 most common trees, I could only identify 3! The Maple, Oak and Elm. Thanks for the study guide, I'll keep my eyes open in my travels!

Kitt said...

Handy! I can recognize a few trees, but for most of them I have no clue.

Denise said...

What a wonderfully informative post. I have enjoyed reading it very much as I am not well up on my tree identification. Thank you so much and awesome photographs. Thank you also for stopping by my blog.

joey said...

As a huge tree lover ... thanks for this nifty post ;)

joey said...

As a huge tree lover ... thanks for this nifty post ;)

Anna said...

This is an excellent post. I once knew them all. It is true if you don't use the knowledge, then it leaves you. Get it--Leaves you;)