When you are able to get up close and personal with a tree, taking in its scent, feeling its leaves or needles or examining its bark, it can be pretty easy to identify the tree's species, or at least narrow it down. After all, if you're holding a pine cone in your hand, there's probably a pretty good chance you're dealing with a pine tree, right? But what if you were to step back—way back, where your only clues as to the tree's identity came from the clues you could gather from a distance? Think you could still name that tree?
Of course, even with only a distant view, you can always start you tree ID quest by determining whether you're looking at a deciduous or evergreen species. Deciduous trees are typically going to have broad leaves and a wide cloud-like crown of branches. Evergreens, on the other hand, are your typical Christmas trees, with their characteristic triangle shape and short needles in place of leaves.
Once you've distinguished between these two groups, the real detective work begins. By examining things like the tree's bark, its shape and size, and features like flowers or fruit, you can probably make a pretty good guess as to a tree's ID, even from far away. Ready to test your skills? Take our quiz to see how many of these trees you can name using only a distant image!
Towering an average of 164 to 279 feet tall, the Giant Sequoia is the tallest tree species on Earth. It can be found throughout the Sierra Nevada region of California, and its trunk can be 20 feet in diameter or more. All that mass makes this tree easy to identify, even from far away.
Beech trees grow to a mature height between 60 and 80 feet and are found all over the eastern United States. While it might be tough to spot their saw-edged alternating leaves from a distance, their bark is very distinctive. It's surprisingly smooth and gray, with few bumps or ridges.
The Maple tree has very distinctive leaves—they look just like the one on the Canadian flag. This tree can be as tall as 150 feet and its leaves have a mix of large and small "teeth" along the edges.
Mulberries grow to between 40 and 50 feet and are located all over the eastern U.S. Their bark is thin with a yellowish hue, and their leaves are distinctly fuzzy. The berries from this tree are delicious raw, cooked or dried.
Cedars are evergreens that produce cones like pine trees. They are triangular when young, but tend to develop a flatter crown over time. These trees can be up to 130 feet tall and have scaly needles which are deep green.
Native to China, but now found all over the world, the Weeping Willow is a tree with a short trunk and branches that sag down to the ground. It can be as tall as 40 feet with a 35 foot wide crown, and has light green or grayish-green leaves.
There's a reason it's called a Cottonwood—the seeds on this tree are white and billowy like balls of cotton. Also known as a Poplar, the Cottonwood can grow up to 100 feet tall and has a wide-spread crown made up of thick, beefy branches.
There are 12 species of Hickory tree native to the U.S., and the bigger ones are 70 to 90 feet tall with a canopy as wide as 70 feet. The tree has small yellowish-green flowers and gray bark that peels off in easy strips.
The classic pine tree has needles, not leaves, and these needles grow in clusters of between two and five needles each. Most pines are 50 to 100 feet tall with thick, scaly bark and branches that grow away from the trunk is a spiraling pattern.
There are more than 600 species of Red Oak. Members of the Red Oak family tend to be larger than White Oaks and have pointed, lobed leaves. Trunks can be up to 4 feet in diameter, and the bark is medium or dark gray.
Birch trees have simple leaves with very small teeth along the edges. The bark is smooth and can vary between gray and bright white. This papery bark makes a perfect fire starter, and will ignite even when it's wet.
The slow-growing Bald Cypress can vary from 30 to 120 feet tall. Its bark is reddish-gray and very stringy and textured. Leaves look like needles, are less than an inch long and turn from green to gold or copper in the fall.
Dogwoods have a short trunk and a wide canopy. Their leaves are small and oval with a pointed tip, and the most distinctive feature is their four-part flowers, which can range from white to pink and bloom brilliantly in spring.
The Sycamore tree has very large leaves like a maple tree, but can be distinguished from the maple by its mottled bark, which includes shades of green, white, brown or gray. The tree grows all over the U.S. and can exceed 100 feet in height.
Every part of the Buckeye tree is toxic if ingested. You can spot this tree thanks to its rounded shape, showy yellow-green flowers and wide canopy, which can be half the size of the tree's height or more.
Ash trees are very tall and straight with branches that grow in opposite pairs. The seeds of the tree are concealed in thin, papery pods. The number of Ash trees has been on the decline thanks to an invasive species of beetles.
The forked trunk of the Elm tree gives it a shape like a vase filled with flowers. Found all over the northern hemisphere, this species has oval leaves with pointed ends,and is very vulnerable to a condition known as Dutch Elm Disease.
The Red Alder is so named because scars or damage to its bark have a rusty reddish appearance. Mature Red Alders top out around 100 feet, and the bark is gray, mottled and smooth when undamaged.
Most Apple trees are less than 20 feet tall—the better to collect their yummy fruit! This tree has scaly gray bark, a broad canopy and five-petal flowers that range from white to deep pink.
Cherry trees have clusters of white or pink blossoms that bloom in the spring, and easy-to-peel brownish-gray bark. When the bark is damaged, it develops lenticels—small cuts or lines that rise out of the surface and are darker than the surrounding bark.
Magnolia trees are generally 15 to 20 feet tall and have long and wide shiny green leaves. Their spring blossoms are white—and enormous—but what's really unique is their pine cone sized fuzzy green seed pods, which release bright red seeds over time.
From a distance, the Hemlock has a bulging cone shape. Found all over the northeast and mid-Atlantic, it can grow 100 feet tall or more and has a very straight trunk with minimal forking. The leaves are shiny and green and surprisingly short.
Used as a decorative plant in subtropical regions, the Dragon Tree has a single main trunk that slowly sprouts one shorter branch at a time. The leaves are narrow and spiky, and the roots grow up and wrap around the trunk over time.
The Green Giant, or Arborvitae, is a fast-growing evergreen that can quickly soar to 50 or 60 feet in height. Perfect for adding privacy or a windbreak, it's very popular among landscapers. This tree has scaly leaves arranged in pairs and a stringy brown bark.
Redwoods only grow along the coast in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. Despite their trunks measuring as much as 24 feet around, and a maximum height of 250 feet or more, their cones are tiny—just an inch long or so.
Native to the U.S., Yew trees vary between 15 and 50 feet tall. These slow growers have scaly, thin bark and dull green leaves. Prone to rot, you may be surprised to see that their trunks are often hollow when viewed from up close.
Spruce trees have needles like a Pine tree, but the needles grow directly from the branches rather than in clusters. The bark is rough and scaly, and these trees are known for having a very classic triangle shape—like a Christmas tree.
The Japanese Maple is a gorgeous tree distinguished by its very attractive coloring. It has a dome-like canopy, and doesn't usually get taller than 20 or 30 feet. The leaves are long and wide, and come in many attractive hues.
The Fir tree is a traditional evergreen with bark that starts out smooth and gray, but grows bumpier over time. Its needles are short and course, and its cones grow in small groups, pointing up like the flames on a candle.
Hawthorn trees grow all over North America. Most range from 15 to 50 feet tall and have a relatively wide canopy measuring 35 feet wide or more. The bark of the tree is smooth and gray, but can develop scars or fissures as the tree ages.
The Redbud is native to eastern North America. It grows 20 to 30 feet tall and can have a canopy diameter within that same size range. You can ID this tree by its twisted trunk and spread-out branches, as well as by the maroon patches on its bark.
See a tree that looks like it has tennis balls hanging on it? That's a Black Walnut, whose fruit can look like fuzzy green balls as they grow. This tree is very tall with a wide, rounded canopy and low hanging branches.
White Oaks differ from Red Oaks in that they are slightly smaller and have rounded tips on their leaves. The trunk can be 3 to 5 feet in diameter, while the tree reaches up to 150 feet into the sky. The bark is thick and scaly and the leaves look like those found on the Canadian flag.
The Juniper is an evergreen with a weeping, bonsai-like appearance. It's usually less than 30 feet tall and has scaly green needles. The bark of the Juniper is red-brown and peels off with ease.
Sweetgum grows all over eastern North America. It can reach 60 to 70 feet in height and its canopy can spread 50 feet wide. The five-lobed leaves turn red, purple or yellow in the fall and the tree has a pyramid shape that grows rounder over time.
Almond trees grow between 13 and 33 feet in height. Their leaves are 3 to 5 inches long and their almond drupes are green and fleshly. This tree has distinctive 5-petal flowers in shades of white and pink, which are 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
Crabapple trees grow in temperate zones across the northern hemisphere. While some species produce edible apples, the majority produce brilliant flowers in shades of pink and red. They tend to be smaller than apple trees, and their fruit are also smaller than regular apples.
Holly is an ornamental evergreen that grows up to 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Its leaves are leathery with sharp tips, and its fruit is bright red and berry-like.
The Pawpaw might look like a tropical tree, but it actually grows in temperate zones all over the world. This tree produces fruit that look like a cross between a banana and a mango, and has large oval leaves that alternate along the branches.
Found in temperate areas of North America, the Chestnut has a very straight trunk and long, narrow, shiny green leaves. It's crown is round and broad, and its fruit are protected by a rough brown spiky shell.