Florida’s hospitable climate, which features ample sunshine and plenty of rainfall, allows a large variety of trees to grow within the state. These trees grow in various habitats throughout Florida. Among them are some species with distinctive foliage and a number of characteristics that will help you to identify them.
American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) grows in Florida from the central portions northward. The tree has very tough wood and it is a member of the birch family. Hornbeam leaves are up to 4 inches long and 2 inches wide, with an ovate shape and a wedge-shaped base. The tips of the leaves come to a distinct point and the upper surface is green-blue, while underneath the colors are a yellow-green mix. Hornbeam is a small tree, rarely over 25 feet tall. It has what the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences site describes as a bushy crown, with blue-gray to gray-brown shaded thin bark.
The laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia) does not possess the lobed foliage of a typical oak. The leaves are from 3 to 4 inches long and up to 1 inch wide, with an elongated elliptical shape. Their surface is smooth, their texture is leathery and the color is a glossy green. Laurel oak is identifiable by other features, such as the ½-inch in length acorns with a red-brown cap that covers about one-fourth of the nut. The tree, which grows in most of Florida, has thick dark gray or brown bark that on older specimens has noticeable ridges and furrows. Laurel oak can grow to be as tall as 100 feet and normally possesses a straight trunk.
The mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) is a tree that grows in the damp bottomlands and rich uplands of the Florida Panhandle. The tree has a compound leaf, with from five to seven separate leaflets growing on a main axis, the rachis, which may be as long as 8 to 12 inches. The leaflets themselves can grow to lengths around 8 inches and they are very aromatic when crushed. The leaflets are yellow-green, notes the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees: Eastern Region.” The nuts that the mockernut hickory produces are up to 2 inches long and have thick rounded shells. A diamond-like pattern of shallow ridges runs throughout the gray bark. The tree can grow in the range of 50 to 60 feet tall and it will develop tiny green flowers in springtime even before the leaves emerge.
The star-shaped leaves of the sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) make this a popular landscaping species in Florida and other parts of the Deep South. The leaves can have five to seven lobes that extend out from a centralized point like the fingers on your hand. The leaves are a dark shade of green on their upper surface and paler beneath. Sweetgum leaves can be 6 inches long and 6 inches wide. The tree itself grows very tall, with many exceeding 100 feet in height. Sweetgum bark is gray and has many deep furrows.