If you can’t tell your ash from your hickory, this is the place to start.
Begin with the basics – bark, leaves, branch structure, flowers, and fruit. Leaves are the most reliable way to identify a tree, since they’re found on or beneath the tree all year round, as opposed to the flowers and fruit that that often only appear for a few weeks each year.
You should also study the tree for thorns or spines, ridges, buds, and even the odor! Many trees and shrubs are fragrant, or their twigs have a distinct flavor. Aromatic sumac leaves, for instance, have a strong, astringent fragrance when crushed.
As a general rule, trees are considered woody plants 13 feet tall or taller and typically have only one trunk. Shrubs are woody plants less than 13 feet tall that usually have multiple stems, and those stems are generally less than three inches in diameter at 4.5 feet from the ground. A vine is a plant whose stems require support – it either climbs up a tree or other structure or sprawls over the ground.