What is Tree Identification?

Jessica Ellis

Tree identification is a term for the methodology used to describe different types of trees. Using visual and other observable criteria, the species and variety can be quickly identified. Using tree identification, gardeners can understand the proper care and needs of nearby trees, while scientists may be able to determine important factors about the past and present ecosystem based on the type of trees present.

Different types of evergreen trees may be difficult to identify due to their lack of flowers.
Different types of evergreen trees may be difficult to identify due to their lack of flowers.

There are more than 100,000 species of trees around the world, making tree identification a lifelong hobby for some. Although varieties tend to group together in specific habitats, there are exceptions that can make tree identification fun and even exciting. Like bird watchers or snorkelers, people fascinated with tree identification find much joy and entertainment in observing and correctly identifying a beautiful specimen.

A leaf from a fig tree.
A leaf from a fig tree.

There are several keys used to identify trees. Leaves, twigs, fruit, shape, and growth pattern can all help determine the species and variety of tree. Because species may exhibit only slight differences, many recommend carrying out tree identification with the help of a resource guide or book with illustrations or photographs. Having visual references will allow a quick and easy identification process, rather than inspiring frustrating debates about whether the leaf pattern is heart-shaped or oval. Although many Internet sites offer visual guides to tree identification, a pocket-sized book may be a better, more portable choice.

A leaf sample is usually the best way to begin the identification process. Most trees will either have leaves that look like needles, or traditional leaves that have a stalk and larger leafy portion. These two main varieties are broken down further by more identifying details. Needle-like leaves, for instance, are further described as either needle or scale-like. A needle-like leaf can then be broken down into categories of length, single or bunched up construction, sharp or blunt edges, and thickness.

Some experts suggest that tree identification is more certain when done through examination of flowers, which may be more consistent than leaves. With evergreen trees, the flower may be a cone-like, prickly structure. Although identification through flowers may be more definitive, it is also not always possible. Because many trees do not flower year-round, finding the flowers may become difficult.

Since trees live for hundreds or even thousands of years, understanding the composition and varieties in a forest or habitat can give important information about the past as well as the present. Certain trees may be unable to grow in certain climates, or may require a certain soil composition to grow. By understanding and correctly identifying trees, the ecosystem in which they live can be better understood .

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