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What Kind of Tree Is That – Identifying Tree Characteristics

What Kind of Tree Is That – Identifying Tree Characteristics

Have you ever looked at a tree and wondered what kind of tree it is? Identifying trees can sometimes be as easy as looking at the leaves, perhaps not in fall or winter though. There are numerous ways to identify trees if we know what to look for. These tips can be handy if the tree you want to identify is too tall to view its leaves. Trees can be identified by their buds, flowers, bud scars, fruit, bark, twigs, form, branching pattern, and leaves.

What Kind of Tree Is That – Identifying Tree Characteristics


All types of trees have a bud that is unique to them. We can identify a tree by the shape, size, color, and texture of its buds. Some buds are pointed, and others are blunt. Some shine, while others are dull, smooth, or hairy.


Most trees have flowers. Some are instantly recognizable (think cherry blossom) while others are not so famous. Besides identifying trees by their flowers, another clue is when the flowers actually appear, as some trees bloom early in spring and some later on in the summer.

Bud scars

Bud scars develop where the leaves from the year before fall off. They are unique, having different sizes, face patterns, and shapes. In fact, some trees have rather large scars.


The word fruit is somewhat deceptive. We think of fruit as something we can eat. However, fruit is also applied to non-edibles, at least for humans anyway, such as pine cones, helicopters, berries, nuts, and seeds. More scientifically speaking, a fruit is an organ or container for seeds.


It can be a little tricky to identify a tree from its bark, as bark tends to change its characteristics as it ages. Nonetheless, each tree species will have its own distinguishing features such as a texture of varying smoothness or roughness, patterns, coloring, and thickness.


The twigs of a tree are quite distinctive, which is useful for identifying trees in the winter and fall months. Some twigs have ridges, others have spots. Some are slender and others thick. They can also be hairy or smooth. Twigs also change in color as they age, so keep an eye out for new twigs developing.


Many trees have a distinguishing form or shape. Some form a sharp point at the top whilst others are more fulsome and rounded in overall appearance.

Branching patterns

The patterns developed by branches can mainly be described as opposite and alternative.

Opposite patterning – side branches grow directly across from or parallel with each other.

Alternative branch growth – branches do not grow opposite each other. This is more common than opposite branching.

Another way to identify trees is to check the angle at which a branch is growing out from the trunk. The density of the branches at the top of the tree – the crown, is another way to identify a tree.


Identifying tree leaves is fairly easy. There are some obvious differences such as needles and conifer scales. Most tree leaves have distinctive shapes and edges, which make them easy to identify – think Maple leaves.

Additional Reading: Tree Identification

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