Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

South Carolina Tree Leaf Identification

small palmetto trees and arched walkway image by Jorge Moro from

South Carolina has over 60 native species of trees, according to Clemson University, reflecting the wide range of growing conditions in the state. Trees found on the Coastal Plains are well-adapted to wet and salty conditions and sandy soils. The Piedmont foothills and the Blue Ridge Mountain areas produce many large, hardwood tree--such as oaks, maples and elms.


South Carolina has several native conifer species, identifiable by their needle-like leaves. The Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) produces 2- to 3-inch needles in a fan-like configuration. It is the principal commercial pine species in the southeastern United States, according to Clemson University. Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) has needles that grow 8 to 20 inches long, the longest of any pine in South Carolina. Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii) grows throughout the coastal plains and is a major source of material for boat building (wood, tar and pitch). Pone Pine (Pinus serotina) grows in the wetlands of the Coastal Plains. Its needle leaves are fan shaped. The Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) produces soft, bluish-green needles.

Other Needle-Leaved Evergreens

In addition to pines, several other evergreen, needle-leaved species are native to South Carolina. Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto) is the state tree and produces stiff, upright needles grouped together. Classified as a scale-leaf conifer, Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) produce short, stiff leaves on nubby branches. Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) has short needles on dense branches and grows slowly in shaded areas.

Untoothed Simple Leaf

Untoothed, simple-leaved trees are usually deciduous--with a few exceptions. The leaves are generally elongated, oval- or heart-shaped with smooth edges. South Carolina species include several oak varieties, such as Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia) and Willow Oak (Quercus phellos). Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana) have glossy, evergreen leaves. Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) grows in swampy areas, while Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) has heart-shaped leaves.

Toothed Simple Leaf

Toothed simple leaves are usually elongated oval, with textured (or toothed) edges. South Carolina trees with these characteristics include Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) American Holly (Ilex opaca), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). American Holly and Black Cherry are also recognizable by their fruit.

Lobed Simple

Lobed simple leaves are recognized by their intricately shaped leaves. Several oak species are native to South Carolina, including Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata) and Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra). Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) has star-shaped leaves, corky bark and ball-like fruits. Yellow-Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is identified by its tulip-shaped leaves. American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) has wide leaves and greenish-gray bark.

Compound Leaves

Compound leaves are characterized by stems that produce multiple leaves in clusters. In South Carolina, trees with compound leaves include Black Walnut (Juglans nigra Mockernut), Hickory (Carya tomentosa), Boxelder (Acer negundo) and Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos). Black Walnut and Hickory produce nuts as well.

Garden Guides