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How to Identify an Evergreen Shrub Leaf

By Sarah Terry ; Updated September 21, 2017
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There are three basic kinds of evergreen shrub leaves: awl-shaped, needle-like and scale-like. After you identify the correct leaf-shape category of your evergreen shrub, you can further narrow down the evergreen shrub species. Common species of evergreen shrubs include junipers, Siberian cypress, yews, hemlock, firs, Douglas fir, spruce, pine, arborvitae and false cypress. When identifying evergreen shrub leaves, you can compare the leaves with pictures in a tree and shrub field guidebook for your region.

Determine the Correct Leaf-Shape Category

Step 1

Identify awl-shaped evergreen leaves by their long, thin formation. Needle- and scale-shaped leaves are wider than awl-shaped leaves and spread outward from the center stems.

Step 2

Look for evergreen shrub leaves with a series of needles that grow evenly from the center leaf stem. These are needle evergreen leaves.

Step 3

Identify the scale-like evergreen shrub leaves by its scales that grow outward from the center leaf stem in non-uniform lengths. Scale-like evergreen leaves have a rough triangular shape.

Identify the Evergreen Shrub Species

Step 1

Feel the foliage to identify the correct species of evergreen shrub with awl-like leaves. If the foliage is sharp to the touch, it’s a juniper. If the foliage is soft and flexible, the shrub is a Siberian cypress.

Step 2

Study the needles’ length, coloring and growth habit to identify needle-leaf evergreen shrub species. If the needles are flat, ¾- to 1-inch long and completely green, the shrub is a yew. If the needle has two white bands down the length of its underside, is at most ½-inch long and is connected to the branch by a small stem, it’s a hemlock (if no stem, it’s a fir). Identify spruces by their square needles and pines by needles that grow in bundles of two, three or five.

Step 3

Look at the size and specific shape of scale-like leaves to pinpoint the evergreen shrub species. Arborvitae shrubs have tiny and flat fan-shaped leaves that measure only 1/16 to 1/8 inch in size. False cypress species have less flattened and larger scale-like leaves.


Things You Will Need

  • Tree/shrub field guidebook


  • Douglas firs and concolor firs have needles that look similar to the hemlock, with two white bands, but Douglas fir needles are 1 ½ inches long and concolor firs are up to 3 inches long.
  • Hinoki false cypress shrubs look like arborvitae shrubs, but they have tiny, white X-shaped marks on each leaf. Nootka or weeping false cypress shrubs have leaves that are shorter, are less pointy and don’t grow as close together as other false cypresses.


  • Don’t confuse the threadleaf false cypress with a juniper. The green and yellow-green leaves of the threadleaf false cypress are pointy like junipers but are not sharp to the touch.

About the Author


Sarah Terry brings over 10 years of experience writing novels, business-to-business newsletters and a plethora of how-to articles. Terry has written articles and publications for a wide range of markets and subject matters, including Medicine & Health, Eli Financial, Dartnell Publications and Eli Journals.