While many types of flowering trees are ornamental species, some are fruit trees that grow both in the wild and in cultivation. Other flowering trees grow naturally throughout the woodlands and forests of North America. The identification of these flowering trees comes from considering such aspects of their appearance as height, leaves, habitat and the flowers themselves.
Assess the height of a flowering tree you encounter. Some, such as the yellow poplar, can grow to be very tall, from 100 to 150 feet. Others will be much smaller, like the flowering dogwood, which is often only 15 to 20 feet tall. Take the overall shape of the tree into account as well. Decide if the tree has a spreading rounded crown, a more conical shape, or if it has an irregular silhouette.
Look at the leaves to try to determine the species of flowering tree. Northern catalpa, for instance, has such distinctive leaves that the foliage alone will enable you to recognize this species. The catalpa has large leaves shaped like an elephant's ear. Other flowering trees will not have leaves that make this process so easy. Measure the length and width of the leaves and consider their colors. Categorize the foliage by shape and by how the leaves grow on the twigs.
Search for trees that flower before their foliage develops. In the spring, species such as the redbud and the American plum will have flowers well before they have leaves. This fact will help you to make quick identifications of such species.
Inspect the flowers of trees carefully. Count the number of petals the flowers have. Check the colors on the outer part of the flowers and on the inside as well. Measure the flower's width and count how many exist in any clusters you find on the branches. Using all of this data, try to ascertain the identity of the tree. For example, the flowers of the American crabapple are pinkish-white, according to the "Trees of North America" guide, and are about an inch and a half wide. These flowers grow in groups of between three and six blossoms.
Check a flowering tree for any other features that might give you a clue as to the tree's species. Many hawthorn and plum trees possess sharp spines on their branches. The flowers of honeylocust change into long brown seedpods. The bark of a pawpaw tree is rough-grained and warty. Always check for something that stands out as being different from most trees.
Look at the habitat of a flowering tree and consider where you live in the United States. For instance, the southern magnolia is native to the Deep South and this tree will not grow naturally in cold climate states such as Minnesota and Montana. The persimmon, a flowering tree of the eastern states, will not grow in wet soil, so you would not expect to find one in a swamp.