How to Identify Trees by Their Leaves

You’ll find a wide range of different trees in the forest as well as plants and other materials. Knowing what kind of tree that you’re looking at can help a great deal so far as knowing the strength of the wood, it’s use to you in cooking or whether or not the wood is actually toxic if it touches your food.

lakeside forest trees
Some kinds of wood are not the best to use for things like hot dog or marshmallow sticks. You’ll want to ascertain the kind of tree that you’re looking at for a lot of reasons. The leaves and the bark can give you some great clues to what kind of tree you’re seeing and help you to determine whether or not it’s safe, what kind of fire you’ll get from it and whether or not you want to use it for your camp.

The United States has many hundreds of different types of trees, but a few of the most common will be seen nearly everywhere, from north to south in mixed woodlands with just a few exceptions.

Many of these trees can be identified by their bark as well as by their leaves, so take a closer look at the tree, even in the wintertime and you’ll quite likely be able to identify them readily. Look for telltale signs such as acorns, beech nuts, pine cones, or chestnuts and that too will help you to identify them.

The Maple Tree

There are about 120 plus species of Maple tree growing all over the world. Several species are native to the United States and can be found in nearly every state of the United States. Sugar maple is slightly softer wood and of course you can get sap which can be boiled down to make maple sugar or maple syrup. The wood is long burning but does tend to have knots that may pop. That’s particularly true when it’s green so try to pick up fallen branches if you can. The bark is usually smoother and helps you to identify the tree. Maple trees have very distinctive leaves which help you to identify them. While they do differ slightly between the different types of Maple trees that you’ll find, most have enough in common to make them reasonably easy to identify.



The Oak Tree

Oak bark is generally very rough and jagged in appearance. Red oak has an acidic smell to it and the wood is a hard wood and long burning. It may take a bit more to get it started but once you do it will burn for a long period of time. The leaves are much like those in the images. You’ll find multiple types of oak growing in nearly every state in the United States, but the general leaf shape remains the same for all of them, making them relatively easy to identify.




The Aspen Tree

Aspen is a cold weather tree. They are middle sized and deciduous. They turn a gorgeous red and yellow in the fall. They grow in colonies so you’ll see many at the same area. They are also called quaking asp and several other names. Aspen bark is an important part of wildlife forage and some species of butterfly actually eat the flowers. It is a soft wood and quite strong but it doesn’t burn well and will take some time to catch fire.

One curious thing about aspen is that it is a naturally occurring salicylic acid, or aspirin so it was often used to treat joint pain and minor aches in the native American population. The leaves are quite distinctive, while the bark is smooth with some striation in color.

The Birch Tree

The Birch tree is also very common in the United States. It is sometimes confused with beech trees and has a papery bark which is usually quite smooth. The Yellow birch has a twig that when tasted, offers a wintergreen taste. The bark of most birch trees has a very characteristic marking across it. The leaves of the birch tree can identify it as readily as the bark can. They are either pointed or toothed in nature, rather like a saw looks. The wood is hard and burns well, but takes some time to catch readily, particularly when green.

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