How to Identify Trees – Getting Outdoors and Making New Rooted Friends

How to Identify Trees – Getting Outdoors and Making New Rooted Friends

By Michele the Trainer

“I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.”

–Joyce Kilmer

forest trees. nature green wood sunlight backgrounds.

There are over 100,000 species of trees in the world and humans haven’t even found all of them. Trees are responsible for cleaning the air, providing us oxygen, with homes to live in, and keeping the soil from washing away.

For many of us, trees can become a mundane part of our existence. Trees become just things that line the streets we hurry down or, worse, inconvenient leaf-droppers that need to be picked-up after. We need to remind ourselves and each other, the majesty and importance of trees.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

― John Muir

One of the most relaxing and interesting things you can do is to learn to identify trees. Each species of tree has a distinctive leaf design, its own shape, and its own bark texture. Even within a species, like oak, there is a great deal of variety.

There are a few ways to learn to identify trees:

  • The old fashioned way – with a book. This is a super-simple way to learn. Best of all, you can probably pick up and old book at your local Salvation Army or thrift store for a couple of cents. Different books are set up in different ways, but most allow you to use some basic information to narrow down the trees species. From that index, there is usually a photo or drawing of the leaves and bark in question. If necessary, you can take your book and your leaf with you to a local nursery and see if they can help you validate your leaf identification.


  • The new-fangled way – Snapleaf or other apps. Snapleaf uses image recognition software to identify a leaf by a photograph. Presently, it is only available on iPhone, but it is a very cool idea. Android users have some apps available, but most are really glorified identification books.

  • The Martha Stewart way – preserving and displaying. Awesome for autumn leaves. Leaves are gorgeous and can be preserved in glycerin. This isn’t technically identification, but the leaves will stay fresh look for months or years. The leaves will be much easier to identify with a cup of hot chocolate at home. Here is Martha’s explanation: This is a great way to involve someone who is immobile or can’t move well through the woods. A little bit of nature in the house can go a long way to lifting spirits and encouraging healing and growth.

There reasons to learn tree identification can range from simple curiosity to preparing for the zombie apocalypse (so we will know which trees are good for shelter and which ones produce food). Whatever your reason is, tree identification is a great reason to leave your house and experience the health and psychological benefits of being outside.

Take the time to learn about the giants in your community. You will be rewarded with a new appreciation of the world around you.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
― John Muir

Looking for inspiration? See the BEAUTIFUL movie Mile Mile and a Half!  More great quotes from John Muir in the movie! I interviewed the director of the movie Mile Mile and a Half, Jason Fitzpatrick from the Muir Project, on the Michele the Trainer Show episode 10:


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Michele the Trainer

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