Leaf prints provide an array of valuable information used to make an identification. To identify a leaf using a leaf print, look for certain identifying characteristics. Once you have a list of these attributes, use a horticultural manual or online database to finish your search.
The Leaf Blade
The first part of the leaf print to look at when making an identification is the leaf blade. The blade of the leaf refers to the actual shape of the leaf. For instance, a maple leaf has several (usually five) separate blades, whereas a flowering pear has only one blade. Look at the leaf print and note the size of the blade and its general shape. Sometimes the leaf blade will vary in size depending on its maturity and species. Oak leaves are notorious for variation in blade shape and size, even when they are from the same tree.
The Leaf Margin
When doing print leaf identification, the second step is to analyze the leaf margin. The leaf margin is the outer edge of the blade. Some leaf margins will be smooth, while others will be choppy and saw-like. In addition, the number and placement of the lobes (if the leaf is separated at the ends) is also pertinent to making leaf margin identification. However, there are about 18 different types of leaf margins, so it's best to use a guide to make a positive identification of the leaf margin (see Resources section).
The Leaf Veins
The next indicator to make an identification from a print leaf is the leaf veins. The veins of the leaves will form a pattern that is visible on the surface of the leaf. The midrib is the main vein that runs up the middle of the leaf blade. However, pay attention to the pattern made by the veins that run off the midrib to make an identification. For example, palmate leaf veins appear to come together (maple leaves are great examples of this). Pinnate leaf veins will appear similar to the palmate leaf veins but the difference is that they form straighter lines (many varieties of oak leaves exhibit this pattern). Lastly, the leaf veins may seem very close to each other and may appear to exhibit less of a branched structure. This is known as parallel leaf vein structure and is seen in many flowering fruit trees.