How to Identify Trees in Ohio


Many people who live in Ohio don't realize the magnitude of the forests. One in every three acres of Ohio's land is forest, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The trees that make up these forests are wide and varied, making the land beautiful and serving economical, wildlife and agricultural purposes. Learning to identify the trees of Ohio can be confusing, but takes little more than time, practice and concentration. Tree identification relies on the use of distinct features--leaves, twigs, bark and leaf scars--to positively name a tree.


Step 1

Determine whether the tree is a deciduous tree or evergreen. Evergreen trees have needles, while deciduous trees often have flat, broad leaves. Deciding which category a tree falls under rules out a number of trees immediately.

Step 2

Examine the arrangement of the leaves or needles. Are they opposite, alternate or whorled in their arrangement? The arrangement of leaves further rules out a number of trees from the pool of prospects.

Step 3

Look at how the leaves are arranged on the twigs. Leaves that protrude from only one stalk are defined as simple leaves. Stems, or petioles, with multiple leaflets are called compound leaves. Compound leaves may be palmately compound, or growing from the end of the twig. Compound leaves may be pinnately compound if the leaflets grow up and down the length of the stem. Palmately compound trees are usually a type of buckeye or horse chestnut.

Step 4

Look at the edges of the leaves or leaflets. Are they full and smooth, or do they look like the blade of a serrated knife? Are they deeply lobed? Do they have irregularities? Knowing the type of leaf margin further serves to identify a tree.

Step 5

Take careful note of how the veins of the leaf are arranged. If you encounter a deeply lobed leaf with many leaf veins arising out of a central vein, you may very likely be dealing with a type of oak or holly.

Step 6

Make notes about the color, shape, smell and texture of the leaf. Take samples, if possible. Compare your notes, samples and observations against a tree identification book, preferably one with a dichotomous key. A dichotomous key allows you to rule out trees by asking simple questions about the tree.

Dormant Trees

Step 1

Examine the bark of the tree. Is it smooth, deeply furrowed or irregular? Does it flake off, or is it firmly stuck to the tree? Is there a distinct color pattern to the tree, or a very distinct color? Make note of these characteristics or take samples of the bark. Sycamore, for example, is noted for its gray and white camouflage-style bark. Sycamore bark lightens considerably toward the crown of the tree.

Step 2

Examine the tree's silhouette. Is it large and pyramidal, or small and spreading? Do the branches twist and contort? Sketch the shape, if possible. Different trees are shaped differently, and this shape is readily apparent even in winter without leaves on the tree.

Step 3

Look at the tree's twigs. Examine the twigs for leaf scars, or places where leaves would be if the tree weren't dormant. This can tell you about the arrangement of the leaves on the tree.

Step 4

Examine the twig's bud, or tip. Different trees have differently shaped twig buds.

Step 5

Take note of any markings on the twigs. Look at the texture of the twigs, the odor of the tree and the root structure. Compare your findings with a book or dichotomous key.

Tips and Warnings

  • If you are unsure whether or not your tree is poisonous or might cause an allergic reaction, observe the tree from afar. If you must collect samples, wear thick gloves and use plastic baggies. Wash any areas that have touched a questionable tree immediately.

Things You'll Need

  • Tree identification book
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Bags (optional)
  • Gloves (optional)


  • Ohio State University Extension/ODNR: Forests of Ohio
  • "The Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms;" Michael Hickey, Clive King; 2001
  • "Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification, Revised and Updated;" C. Frank Brockman, Rebecca Marrilees; 2001
  • "Trees, Shrubs, and Vines of Southeastern Ohio;" William Perine, Dennis Profant; 1993
  • "National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America"; Bruce Kershner, Craig Tufts, Daniel Mathews, Gil Nelson; 2008
Keywords: Ohio tree identification, Ohio forest identification, Ohio dendrology, Ohio tree information, Ohio tree ID, about Ohio trees

About this Author

Elizabeth Tumbarello is an eclectic writer from Ohio. Tumbarello has ghostwritten for a number of years, and has just started to publish her own work. She is an avid animal lover who volunteers with her local Humane Society and is currently pursuing her associate's degree in veterinary technology.