A tree identification key is a tool to help people identify trees. It was written to help students, forest owners, and other interested people identify the commonly encountered tree and shrub species of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. While this website was designed for the U.P., it will have some use across the upper Great Lakes region. Generally, as you travel south more species will occur. As you travel north or west, fewer species. Moving around the continent and within the region will result in different associations of tree species. There are 73 species of trees and shrubs featured for the U.P. with a lot of other information about them on this website. There are TWO sets of three keys that will help you identify the sample you're interested in. Try different keys to see which one best fits your learning style! Scroll down to learn more about this website.
One set of keys has all the choices for each key listed on a single page. This is good for folks who like to see everything at once. However, these traditional keys are more complicated, so it's easier to get lost or confused. But, once you get good at using keys, they are faster. Scroll down to see how this kind of key works.
A second set of keys uses a series of connecting pages, with only one group of choices per page. These keys might be easier for beginners who are just learning how to use a key. They might also be more fun! Scroll down to see how this kind of key works.
|KEY SELECTION TABLE
Click on the icon of your choice
|Coniferous Key (trees with needles)|
|Deciduous Summer Key (trees with leaves on)|
|Deciduous Winter Key (trees with leaves off)|
USING THE SINGLE PAGE KEYS !
Example: Deciding which key to use.
1. Tree is a conifer. It has needles. CONIFEROUS KEY
1. Tree is deciduous. It has broadleaves. (2)
2. You have a leaf sample. DECIDUOUS SUMMER KEY
2. You do not have a leaf sample. DECIDUOUS WINTER KEY
To use these kind of keys, begin at the number one (see the example above). There are two number ones. READ BOTH! Your sample will be described by one and not the other. The description you select will be followed by a number in parentheses, for example (12). This is the number you will scroll down to next. Sometimes you might skip several numbers. That's OK. Clicking on the red numbers will get you no where. After you scroll down, there will, again, be two choices (sometimes three). Pick the choice that best describes your sample. Read each description carefully. This is VERY important! Keep following through the key until you find a species listed in blue and underlined. Use your mouse to click on the name of that species and you will go to a species description page.
Using a key takes practice but it's fun after you learn how. It's an exercise in observation and comparison. Keep in mind there is a lot of variety within most species. Tree identification can sometimes be tricky for the beginner and sometimes for more experienced people. Be careful to read all descriptions closely and completely. Carefully compare the descriptions with your sample and your memory of what the tree and habitat looked like. There are a number identifying characteristics that can be used. It is best to use a mature tree, or one that is not a seedling or sapling. Deciding if a small tree is just a shrub or if it's a young tree can be difficult. The appearance of a tree sometimes changes quite a bit as a tree ages (kind of like people), especially bark characteristics.
USING THE CONNECTED-PAGE KEYS
These pages provide you with only ONE group of choices at a time. There is one group of choices per page, usually two choices. You must select the best choice, then click on an icon to get to the next page and another group of choices. This style of key makes sure that you stay on-track while finding your way to an answer. It's probably better for beginners. It is also a little easier to use the interactive glossary for terms and tree ID characteristics by clicking on a icon. Eventually, you will end up with a link to a tree species described on a species description page. The connected-page keys are what you will find if you jump right into the keys from the home page.
Just like the single-page keys, using this key takes practice but it's fun after you learn how. It's an exercise in observation and comparison. Keep in mind there is a lot of variety within most species. Tree identification can sometimes be tricky for the beginner. Be careful to read all descriptions closely and completely. Carefully compare the descriptions with your sample and your memory of what the tree and habitat looked like. There are a number identifying characteristics that can be used. It is best to use a mature tree, or one that is not a seedling or sapling. Deciding if a small tree is just a shrub or if it's a young tree can be difficult. The appearance of a tree sometimes changes quite a bit as a tree ages (kind of like people), especially bark characteristics.
USING THE SPECIES DESCRIPTION PAGES
A Species Description page will briefly describes that plant family (or families). You can read the family description or, at the page top, re-select the species of your choice. This re-selection will take you to a detailed species description further down the same page, usually with several photos. You can also simply scroll down the page. This is often a good idea to help you compare similar species. The detailed description should describe your sample. If it doesn't "fit", try going through the key again. Maybe there is a better choice somewhere in the key. Unusual words are blue & underlined. They are linked to a GLOSSARY where the definition of that word can be found, sometimes with a picture. Remember that blue links change colors after you have clicked on them!
Each species description has a "range map". These maps tell you in which counties a particular tree species grows. The maps and other images with a 3-D appearance can be "clicked on" to make the image larger. They are called "thumbnails". To return to where you were before you expanded the thumbnail, click on your browser's "return" or "back" button. The example to the right will show the names of the counties in the Upper Peninsula, if you click on the 3-D image.
OTHER PIECES OF THIS WEBSITE
There are several parts to this website in addition to the tree keys. Linked in various ways, there are pages for terms (glossary), taxonomy (scientific classification), a species list, species ranges & county abundance lists, and what to look for in a tree. It's an educational tool to help you not only identify trees but also help begin to learn more about the trees and forests of the Upper Peninsula.
In the future, additional modules will be added to provide information about the forest types these species grow in, how those forest types are managed, what kinds of products are made from a species, common insect and disease problems, wildlife often associated with forest types, and the forest history of Michigan.
TREE IDENTIFICATION BOOKS
"Trees of Michigan." 2006. Linda
Kershaw. Lone Pine Publishing. 272 pp.
Perhaps the most useful guide for beginners and casual observers, yet contains good amounts of information about the trees. Very well illustrated and organized, including range maps.
"Michigan Trees: A Guide to the Trees
of the Great Lakes Region." 2004. Burton V. Barnes &, Warren H. Wagner.
The classic reference for experienced and professional users. Technical and comprehensive. Line drawings.
"Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great
Lakes." 1995. Norman Foster Smith. Thunder Bay Press. 184 pp.
An excellent and colorful guide with concise descriptions and narrative.
"Identifying Trees of Michigan."
2003. Mel Koelling & Georgia Peterson. 24 pp.
MSU Extension Bulletin E-2332, available through local Extension offices.
An inexpensive guide that includes the most common trees of Michigan. Line drawings. An often-used classic that was reprinted in 2003.
A note about the images on this website,
A note to teachers about this site, click here.
Return to the Tree ID home page.
Return to Michigan Society of American Foresters home page.
Return to the MSU Forestry Extension home page.
This site created and maintained by Bill Cook, MSU Extension Forester for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Editing and modification is ongoing. Submit suggestions, questions, and corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 906-786-1575.
This site is hosted by School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science
at Michigan Technological University.