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Michigan Tree Leaf Identification

leaves image by Vladimirs Koskins from

About half of the land in Michigan is forest with more than 100 different kinds of trees native to the state, according to Michigan State University. Leaf identification is among the best methods to tell the various tree species apart. Leaves of trees in Michigan come in multiple shapes and sizes, with many possessing distinguishing traits.

Conifer Needles

Michigan has a large number of conifer species, identified by their needles. Identification of the pines begins with counting the number of needles in each bundle emerging from the branch. The red pine and jack pine have two per bundle. Michigan’s spruces, the white and black spruce, feature sharp needle growing from a base resembling a peg. White spruce needles are so similar to those of black spruce, you have to measure them to determine the species; white spruce needles are slightly longer. The balsam fir is a fir species with flat needles. You can tell the needles from those of eastern hemlock by their approximately half-inch longer size.

Similar Types

Michigan has some types of trees, including oaks, maples and ashes, that come in multiple species, making paying close attention to small details about the leaves vital to identifying them. For example, the sugar maple leaf will be from 3 to 5 inches in diameter and feature five distinct lobes, while the black maple leaf, about the same size, usually only has three lobes. The red maple leaf is slightly wider, up to 6 inches, and usually has just three lobes. The indentation between the lobes on Michigan maple leaves also helps in identification. The silver maple has deep indentations between the lobes, with these spaces almost reaching the center of the leaf.

Compound Leaves

Michigan has several species with compound leaves, a form of leaf composed of a non-woody stem called the rachis and a number of leaflets. The main aspect of identifying Michigan compound leaves involves counting the number of leaflets on each rachis and looking at facets such as their length. For instance, two members of the walnut family grow in Michigan. You can tell butternut leaves apart from black walnut by their length (15 to 30 inches opposed to12 to 24 inches) and the number of leaflets (11 to 17 leaflets for butternut and 15 to 23 leaflets for walnut).

Other Considerations

The leaves of the poplars and aspens will rustle in light breezes because of their shapes and flattened stems. Certain tree species have leaves that usually turn specific colors in autumn. The leaves of paper birches turn yellow in autumn, according to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees. The margins (edges) of Michigan leaves often have serrated teeth that help you recognize them, such as those on an American elm or American beech.

Michigan State Tree

In 1955, Michigan designated the eastern white pine as its state tree. The needles of this species are identifiable by their length, texture and arrangement on the branches. White pine needles will be from 3 to 5 inches long, flexible, bluish green and growing in bundles of five from the tree’s boughs.

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