Tree Identification

Quick links:

This is an identification program for trees of Northeastern and Central North America. Fill out the form as best as you can and you'll find which trees match. It's better to start with a few characteristics you are sure about, then add more as needed. Use the "Back" button to go back and add (or subtract) characteristics. If you want to see all the trees in the database, simply hit "Identify" without checking any boxes. Fully identifying the tree is up to you.

Some books that can help include:

Tree Leaf Characteristics: see this image (from Wikipedia) for a useful description of the leaf terminology used below.

Check the characteristics that you see (you can always hit "Back" and change these later).

Conifer: Needles per Cluster
   Two needles per cluster
   Three needles per cluster
   Five needles per cluster
   Twelve or more needles per cluster

Conifer: Single Needles [diagram]
   Needles 4-angled in cross-section
   On peg-like bases, twigs remain rough even after needles removed
   Round needle-scars on twig, twigs rather smooth after needles removed
   Some needles scale-like
   Some needles 3-angled (V) in cross-section

Conifer: Length of Needles
   Length of Needles less than 1"
   Length of Needles 1-2"
   Length of Needles 1 1/2-3"
   Length of Needles 3" or more

Conifer: Flattened Needles
   Flattened needles have 2 white lines beneath
   Flattened needles have no white lines beneath

Length of Cones
   Length of cones 1" or less
   Length of cones 1-2"
   Length of cones 1 1/2-3"
   Length of cones 3" or more

Fruit [diagram]
   Conifer fruit is Berry-like
   Fruit is an acorn
   Fruit is a capsule
   Fruit is winged
   Fruit is a catkin
   Fruit is seed-like or a prickly ball
   Fruit is a nut
   Fruit is a pod
   Deciduous fruit is berry-like or fleshy

   Tree has Thorns

Leaf Edges[diagram]
   Leaf edges are untoothed (no small teeth)
   Leaf edges are saw-toothed

Leaf Arrangement on Twig [diagram]
   Leaf Arrangement is opposite
   Leaf Arrangement is alternate

Simple Leaves Only [diagram]
   Leaves have a heart-shaped base
   Leaves have a convex "V"-shaped base
   Leaves have a fairly equal, straight base
   Leaves have a lopsided base
   Leaves are about as long as broad
   Leaves are about 1 1/2-3 times as long as broad
   Leaves are more than 3 times as long as broad
   Leaves are not lobed
   Leaves have palmate lobes
   Leaves have pinnate lobes with bristle tips
   Leaves have pinnate round lobes
   Leaves have a flat petiole

Compound Leaves Only [diagram]
   Number of pinnate leaflets for compound leaves is mostly 3
   Number of pinnate leaflets for compound leaves is mostly 5
   Number of pinnate leaflets for compound leaves is mostly 7-9
   Number of pinnate leaflets for compound leaves is 10 or more
   Compound leaves have palmate leaflets

If you want to clear your choices, hit

Still stuck? One place that helps with all sorts of trees is Flowers Forums. Post your photo there and you're likely to get a quick response.

Ryan Haines (my older son) provides a free Android phone app version of this wildflower program, and Lee Dunbar has a free standalone version for the PC. There is also a free Leafsnap iPhone/iPad app for identifying tree leaves (unrelated and unaffiliated with this site - looks pretty slick!). A Tree Quiz page is also available, which lets you test and improve your knowledge. There are also identification programs for wildflowers and birds.

This tree database is not all-encompassing; it contains only 139 of the 800+ species native to North America north of Mexico. I have given some alternate names for some species, when there is no ambiguity. For example, I do not include "Scrub Pine", as this name is used for at least three different species (Jack Pine, Sand Pine, and Virginia Pine). I use the Audubon guide for names. If you find any errors or want to add more trees, write me. The database and perl program that runs here is free to download, and is fairly simple to figure out where and how to add trees.

The database is derived from the "Quick-Key Guide to Trees," by David Archbald, Doubleday Press, 1967 (long out of print, unfortunately). A number of corrections and additions have been made to the original data.

I started this project back in 1984, believe it or not, and am doing it purely for fun. If you like this program enough to feel like showing your appreciation, please consider becoming a member or giving a tax-deductible charitable contribution to the Cornell Plantations. I have no affiliation with this fine institution; rather, I was married many years ago in their beautiful herb garden.

There are many other sites dedicated to trees and tree identification, including:

last updated September 23, 2013
Eric Haines, [email protected]