Can You ID These Trees by Their Leaves?

By: Emily Hough
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Can you tell a beech from a birch, or an oak from a walnut tree, just by looking at their leaves? If you think you can gather enough clues from leaves to tell one tree from another, you might have what it takes to ace this quiz!

You probably don't spend too much time thinking about trees on a daily basis. Sure, they might attract your attention in the fall as the leaves start to change color, and you may find yourself spending hours raking up fallen leaves as autumn turns to winter, but beyond that -- trees are pretty much just a part of the background for most people. 

Yet while trees don't necessarily grab our attention, you might be surprised if you stop to notice just how different the leaves on various species are from one another. You'd probably be even more astounded to know that far from just hanging out on branches and changing color, leaves actually have an incredibly important role to play in both the life of the tree and the environment itself.

If you look closely at a tree leaf, you'll notice a series of veins, just like the ones that carry blood through your body. These veins transport water from the soil up throughout the leaves.This water combines with sunlight and carbon dioxide collected by the leaf through a process known as photosynthesis. The end product of this process is sugars, which feed the tree, and oxygen, which is released into the atmosphere for people and animals to breathe.

Who knew a simple tree could perform such a feat? Pay homage to these mighty oaks, elms and other trees by acing our quiz!


The Red Maple is appropriately named since some part of the tree is red year-round. Its buds in winter are red, the flowers bloom red in the spring, leafstalks in summer, and it displays a bright foliage in fall.

A scrub is a community of small plants that rely on fires to grow. Natural and controlled fires burn down other plants, allowing room for the scrubs.

The White Pine is the state tree for Michigan and Maine. This tree was a major resource for colonists in building homes and other structures.

The fruit is food for squirrels and birds starting in early summer, even though the fruit does not ripen until late summer. The large seeds easily germinate and, once established, can withstand even poor soil conditions.

White Cedar is a favorite in building things. Though it is a soft wood, it holds paint and glue very well, and does not warp easily. This makes it great for fences and poles. However, because it is soft, it does not hold nails well.

During the first decade of its life, the Red Oak will grow approximately two feet per year. It is considered a poster tree -- clean, colorful, and the perfect round tree shape. It is also resistant to pollution and highly adaptable.

Swamp White Oak is grown in swamps or near large bodies of water. Out of all the types of white oaks, it has the brightest white on the underside of its leaves, though its wood is basically the same as the ordinary white oak.

The Sitka Spruce is said to be the best wood for making guitars. The wood of the Sitka Spruce was popular among sailors, who used it for ship construction, cargo boxes, and planks.

This tree stands as the state tree for more states than any other tree -- New York, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Vermont. The sugar maple is where we get most of the sweet syrup for our morning breakfast.

The American Elm was very popular in the 19th century. So much so that it was often the only tree planted along the streets. Unfortunately, a disease specific to this tree ran rampant and killed a lot of them. People now plant a variety of trees so that complete elimination doesn't occur, and it helps prevent the spread of species diseases.

The Silver Maple produces the largest seeds of all the maples. Some find the sap of this tree of higher quality, but production is too slow to make it marketable.

Hill's Oak wood is strong and used in constructing. It produces acorns that take two years to mature enough to grow into a new tree.

There are two theories about the origins of the Serviceberry's name. One is that it got its name because funerals were often held during the time of its bloom. Another is that it is a derivative of the name "sarvisberry" because of its close resemblance to that tree. The "smooth" part of the name refers to its hairless leaves.

The White Spruce is a popular Christmas tree, perhaps because its needles and branches are strong and stiff and it retains more needles longer than other trees, so there is less mess to clean up.

Freeman's Maple is a hybrid of two trees that are native to the Chicago region. Characteristics of both breeds show up in this tree -- the sturdy branches of the red maple and the quick growth rate of the silver maple.

Willows are able to reproduce, not only from seeds, but also from leaves and branches. They are used in making baskets and nets.

The Black Maple differs only slightly from the Sugar Maple. The Black Maple has a darker bark (gray and sometimes black) and its leaves are wider and droopier than that of the Sugar Maple.

The ironwood also goes by the name American Hop-Hornbeam. This tree is often used for windbreaks to provide shelter from the wind, especially on farms.

The honey locust is used in landscaping. Because its leave are small, it does not block the sunlight from other foliage. The recognizable bean pod serves as food to both domestic animals and wildlife.

The tulip tree has a long-standing history in a variety of cultures. It was a popular ornamental tree in the 1600s because it was aesthetically pleasing. Native Americans used the tree to build canoes because it could be used in one big piece. In the later 1800s, the tulip tree was used to treat conditions such as rheumatism and dyspepsia.

In order to produce only one gallon of maple syrup, it take 40-50 gallons of maple tree sap. One must be patient, since it takes 30 years before the sap of a maple is ready to be harvested.

This is a choice tree for all four seasons, changing beautifully from one season to the next. It serves as a small tree or a shrub with a mature height of 15-25 feet.

The hackberry tree is a soft wood that is sometimes used to make inexpensive furniture. It is most often used as a shade tree, or planted near rivers to help cut down on erosion. The berries are edible for both wildlife and people.

Elms can live up to 300 years. Flowers on the elm appear before the leaves do.

The Sycamore is a symbol of hope and protection in the U.S., probably because it served as a protective cover for George Washington's troops. This tree produces both male and female flowers and each tree will drop more than 10,000 seeds per season.

The Okanagan people would sometimes predict the weather with this tree. When the leaves "trembled" and there was no wind, it was a sign that a storm was approaching.

Historically, people would peel the bark of a paper birch and use it to write notes, as if it were piece of paper. It is also known as the white birch.

The Hazel Alder is a shrub that grows with multiple trunks. It acts as a choice habitat for insects.

The thorny branches of the American plum tree make it an ideal nesting place for birds, and a great use for a barrier. The fruit is a popular choice for jams and pies.

The Grey Dogwood produces berries early on in the season, making it a popular food source for white-tail deer, squirrels, and birds. It also makes for protection, as it produces a dense thicket for wildlife to call home.

Redwoods are known as the oldest living trees which existed over 240 million years ago. The Pacific Coast is the only place to find them on Earth now -- they are about 20 million years old. The oldest living Redwood is approximately 2,200 years old. Though they grow to 300 feet, their roots only go down about six to 12 feet. They are able to remain sturdy by growing in groves and intertwining their roots with the other trees around them, holding each other up.

The common name and the scientific name of the Ash-Leaved Maple has been a point of controversy among scientists since the 1700s. It was previously referred to as the Box-Elder

This tree has been used to treat skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, and ringworm -- among others. When eaten, the walnuts from the tree are said to remedy a number of other ailments, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and asthma.

Bees love the basswood tree from which they pull nectar from its flowers. The wood from this tree does not contain an odor and its weight is slight. This makes it a wood of choice for packing goods, especially food.

Not only is the Ohio Buckeye the state tree, it is also the state symbol. Ohioans shouldn't eat the nuts from this tree though -- since they are toxic.

The Sabino is the national tree of Mexico. The giant Big Tree of Tule is a combination of three trunks merged together to form a trunk circumference of 112 feet.

The Canadian Hemlock is not poisonous and its needles are sometimes used to make a tea that is rich in vitamin C. Its bark was once used for tanning leather.

The Pawpaw leaves are the only food Zebra Swallowtail caterpillars will eat. The Pawpaw also produces delicious fruit.

In its native region in the central US, it was used to repair wagons for travelers crossing the plains. An old Bur Oak located in Sioux City, Iowa is called the Council Oak -- so named because Lewis and Clark held meetings with the Native Americans under that tree.

Pioneers used the seeds of the Kentucky coffeetree as a replacement for coffee when it was unavailable. The large, yet spacious space in the structure of its branches and foliage make it easy to garden underneath.

The Oregon Aldertree grows rapidly and will take over bare areas from deforestation or fires. Alders crave the sun and, since they are not resistant to shade, must be the dominate canopy in an area in order to receive the most sunlight.

Blue Beeches can grow to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide, giving them a muscular look that earns them the alternate name of Musclewood. The Blue Beech is an ironwood tree that is also a member of the birch family.

The Maul Oak is native to California, but grows in a variety of habitats. Its acorns take two years to mature and were 50% of the Native American's (of California) food source.

Tamarack's wood is heavy and durable; it has been used in ship building as connection pieces. It is also said that Native Americans chewed on Tamarak resin to relieve problems with indigestion.

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