wpe5.jpg (2127 bytes)U.P. TREE  IDENTIFICATION  KEY
from Michigan State University Extension


Be careful to READ THE DESCRIPTIONS CLOSELY and CAREFULLY!  Carefully compare the descriptions with your sample and your memory of what the tree and habitat looked like. Remember that words such as "often" and "usually" do NOT mean "always".  Leaves often change appearance with tree age, leaf age, location on the tree, and site conditions.  Working these keys takes practice.  It is best to pick several leaves from a mature tree, rather than a seedling or sapling. Deciding if a small tree is just a shrub or if it is a young tree can be difficult. 

Using only leaves to identify trees is not the best approach to tree identification.  Most of our U.P. trees are without leaves for over half the year!  There are about a dozen possible tree ID characteristics, although only two or three typically need to be known for each particular tree species. The trick is learning which characteristics are most important for each species. 

If you click on underlined blue words, you will link to the glossary for a definition of that word.  If the blue words are the name of a tree species, you can click to a species description page for similar-looking species.  The number in (4) in red tells you where to go next

If you’re not sure how to use a tree identification key like this, click here (link to home page).

1.  Conifers  (2)
   2.  Needles joined in groups or clusters, or scale-like   (3)
      3.  Needles joined at base in
bundles of 2-5 
Five needles, usually 2-3 inches long  (white pine)
Two needles per
bundle  (5)

5.  Needles 3+ inches  (red pine)
            5.  Needles
<3 inches  (jack or Scotch pine)
      3.  Clusters of many needles in a group, or needles flattened and scale-like  (6)
         6Many needles clustered on short
spur branches, each needle about one inch long   (tamarack or larch)
         6Needles look more like fish scales.  Foliage has a flattened appearance   (northern white cedar)
   2.  Single needles, each attached separately to the twig  (7)
      7.  Flat needles  (8)
         8.  Hair-like stem holding needle to twig, needles about 1/2-inch long,
             two white lines on underside of needle  (hemlock)
         8.  No hair-like stem  (9)
            9.  Two white lines on underside of needles, needles 1/2 to 1 inch long  (balsam fir)
            9.  No green lines on needles, needles 1/2 to 1 inch long  (yew)
      7.  Round or square-ish needles  (10)
         10.  Needles not stiff and sharp, about 3/4-inch long  (Douglas-fir)
         10.  Needles stiff and sharp  (11)
            11.  Needles usually under 1/2-inch, newest twigs may have a tiny hairs (black spruce)
            11.  Bluish color to needles, 1/2 to 1 inch long  (blue or white spruce)
            11.  No bluish color, 1/2 to 1 inch long  (white or Norway spruce

1.  Broad-leaved trees (hardwoods)  (12)
Hardwoods with
compound leaves  (13)
       13.  Leaf is fan-shaped with seven
leaflets  (horse-chestnut)
       13.  Leaf is
compound (branched), has numerous leaflets  (14)
          14.  Four or less pairs of
leaflets  (15)
               15.  Clearly
toothed leaflet margins  (16)
                    16.  Many small sharp teeth on margins  (elderberry)
                    16Ragged margins with widely-spaced teeth, smooth sections, and indistinct lobes  (boxelder)
               15.  Indistinct/irregular teeth or nearly smooth leaflet margins  (17)
                    17.  Short leaflet stems, under 1/8-inch  (bitternut or black ash)
                    17.  Longer leaflet stems, usually over 1/8-inch  (green or white ash)
          14.  Five or more pairs of leaflets  (18)
18.  Small leaflets, about 1 inch, smooth margins  (19)
                    19.  Bluntly-pointed leaflet tips, may be
double-compound  (honeylocust)
                    19.  Rounded leaflet tips, never double-compound  (black locust)
               18.  Larger leaflets, over 1 inch, with teeth  (20)
                    20.  Sharply
serrated margins, leaflets under 3 inches or linear  (sumac or mountain ash)
                    20.  Indistinct teeth, larger leaflets usually over 3 inches long  (butternut or black walnut)

    12.  Hardwoods with simple leaves  (21)
       21.  Major
lobes & sinuses  (22)
          22.  Rounded lobe tips  (23)
               23.  Lobes roughly evenly spaced  (white oak)
               23.  Club-shaped leaf, middle sinuses deep  (bur oak)
          22.  Pointy lobe tips  (24)
               24.  Margins without teeth, maybe a few small points  (25)
                    25.  Branched veins  (26)
                         26.  Shallower sinuses (but variable), leaf usually longer than wide  (red oak)
                         26.  Very deep sinuses, leaf about as wide as long  (scrub oak)
Palmate (fan-shaped) main veins  (27)
                         27.  Deep sinuses, whitish underleaf  (silver maple)
                         27.  Canada flag shaped leaf, usually with five main lobes  (28)
                              28.  Purplish or very dark green  (Norway maple)
                              28.  Normal leaf green  (sugar maple)
               24.  Margins with many teeth  (29)
                    29.  Branched veins, several small lobes with teeth  (hawthorne)
Palmate (fan-shaped) main veins  (30)
                         30.  Deep sinuses, rough teeth  (red maple)
Double-toothed, usually with 3 main lobes  (moosewood)
                         30.  Coarsely-toothed, usually with 5 main lobes  (mountain maple)

       21.  Unlobed or not clearly lobed  (31)
          31Roundish shaped leaves, may or may not have a pointed tip  (32)
               32.  Leaves usually under 2 inches long  (apple or buckthorn)
               32Leaves over 2 inches long, flattened leaf stems  (33)
                    33.  Round leaf stems (basswood)
                    33.  Round leaf stems
34.  Small teeth  (quaking aspen)
                         34.  Coarse, larger teeth  (bigtooth aspen)
                         34Somewhat triangular shaped leaves with blunt teeth  (cottonwood)
          31.  Linear, heart-shaped, triangular, or slightly lobed shaped leaves  (35)
               35.  Long & narrow  (black or other willow)
               35.  Not long & narrow (36)
                    36.  Triangular or tear-drop shaped  (37)
                         37Triangular with blunt teeth  (cottonwood)
                         37Tear-drop shaped with smooth leaf margins (lilac)
                    36.  Other shapes (38)
                         38.  Wavy margins, large teeth  (witch hazel)
                         38.  Small lobes with coarse teeth  (hawthorne or tag alder)
                         38.  Heart-shaped, uneven
leaf bases  (basswood)
          31.  Elliptical or "regular" shaped leaves with pointed tips  (39)
               39.  Uneven
leaf bases  (40)
Double-toothed margins, leaves usually with a sandpapery feel  (elms)
                    40.  Not sandpapery  (41)
                         41.  Heart-shaped, may have linear fruit
bracts  (basswood)
                         41.  Leaves usually at least twice as long as wide  (hackberry)
               39.  Even leaf bases  (42)
                    42.  May have indistinct lobes, margins clearly toothed  (hawthorne or tag alder)
Margins with indistinct teeth or no teeth  (43)
                         43.  Tear-drop shaped with s
mooth leaf margins (lilac)
Blunt teeth, not obvious, may have rusty color, especially later in season (balm-of-Gilead)
.  Single-toothed margins  (44)
                         44Large teeth about 1/4-inch apart, sharp points  (beech)
                         44.  Margins with many small teeth  (45)
                              45.  Somewhat shaggy looking or wavy margins, leaves are thin and flimsy  (46)
                                   46.  Leaf bases rounded, somewhat uneven  (yellow birch or ironwood)
                                   46.  Leaf bases even, mostly symmetrical  (paper birch or musclewood)
                              45.  Evenly-spaced very fine teeth  (47)
                                   47.  Rusty-colored fuzz usually along mid-vein on underside of leaf  (black cherry)
                                   47.  No fuzz  (pin cherry, choke cherry, or Juneberry)

If this is too difficult, try the step-by-step key.
Click HERE to return to the Tree ID home page.
A note to teachers about this site, click here.

To view thumbnail collections of leaves,
click on the leaf pattern below that looks most like your leaf.

Coniferous Got Cones? Simple-Smooth Simple-Toothed Simple-Lobed Compound


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 cookwi@msu.edu or call 906-786-1575.