Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

List of Shapes for Leaf Identification

By Debra Durkee ; Updated September 21, 2017
The distinctive oval leaves of an elm tree have serrated edges.
a composition of five autumn elm leaves. image by Solodovnikova Elena from Fotolia.com

One of the most distinctive characteristics of any plant, whether it's a tree, bush, shrub or flower, is its leaves. Leaves come in a number of different shades and sizes, but one thing that has been well-documented is the number of different shapes the leaves take. Learning some of the most common leaf shapes is a good way to start learning how to identify a number of different plants with a simple glance.


The maple leaf is an example of a lobed leaf.
maple leaf image by Richard Paul from Fotolia.com

Lobed leaves consist of three to five points coming out from a central, main section of the leaf.

One of the best examples of a plant with lobed leaves is the maple tree. The leaves range from 6 to 14 inches long and, as characteristic of lobed leaves, are often as wide as they are long.

Other plants with lobed leaves include the sweetgum tree, the tulip poplar and the grape.


Triangular leaves are often more arrowhead-shaped.
anthurium image by Unclesam from Fotolia.com

The triangular leaf is, as its name suggests, shaped as a pyramid. Oftentimes, a triangular leaf does not have a flat base on the stem side, but an angled side so that the leaf resembles an arrowhead.

Triangular leaves are frequently seen on herbs. Some examples include the duck potato and the arrow arum. The leaves of vines, such as the climbing hempweed, are also triangular.


The elm leaf is typical of an ovate style of leaf.
leaf of an elm 3 image by Alexander Oshvintsev from Fotolia.com

Elliptical or ovate leaves are, as the name suggests, oval-shaped with points that are sharp or rounded. The edges of the leaves may either be serrated or smooth, and they are one of the most common shapes of leaves that are found on trees, shrubs and flowers alike. The terms are used to describe the shapes of leaves that grow on one leaf per stem, as opposed to oval-shaped leaflets that grow with a number of leaves on a stem (see next section).

Examples of plants with ovate leaves include the elm tree, the blue beech, the dogwood, holly and clearweed.


Trumpet vines, or trumpet creepers, have unique flowers and pinnate leaves.
Trellis Trumpet Vines image by phipix from Fotolia.com

Pinnate leaves have two rows of leaflets on facing sides of a stalk. Leaflets are usually ovate in shape, and they vary in length and number based on the plant.

The elderberry, the swamp rose, the trumpet vine and the ash tree all have pinnate leaves.


Bipinnate leaves have a soft, feathery appearance because of their tiny leaves.
fern image by PixAchi from Fotolia.com

Bipinnate leaves have a single stalk from which grows more stalks, each with their own pinnate leaves.

Many ferns are bipinnate, and are also referred to as twice-cut. These twice-cut ferns often have a soft appearance, made up of countless tiny leaves. An example is the silvery tree fern, named for the unique color of the fronds.