Many nature lovers find great pleasure in identifying certain trees and plants in their spare time. It gives them a sense of confidence knowing that they can rely on Mother Nature to provide everything they need. Nature lovers do more than sit around hugging trees; the knowledge needed to properly identify trees and plants requires time and patience to develop. However, the time and effort invested in plant identification provides sufficient reward in the end.

Plant identification requires extensive examination, including the close observation of a tree or plant’s structure and texture. Each tree or plant has its own set of stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, and roots. Matching these characteristics serve as indicators as to which family a tree or plant belongs to, including whether or not they are irritating to toxic. To properly identify a tree or plant, the observer needs a few simple tools to get started. These tools include a hand lens, ruler, a sharp blade, resealable bags, and a dissecting microscope for detailed work. It also helps to have a print or electronic reference guide with photographs. The plant identification process begins with observing the tree or plant as a whole, followed by close examination of the plant parts. Gathering and recording data before looking at references saves time and frustration during the identification process.

The first step in the plant identification process involves determining if the tree or shrub is a conifer or broad-leaf flowering plant. Conifers are woody trees with needle-like foliage. Conifers are usually evergreen. They produce cone-like or fleshy, berry-like seeds. Some examples of conifers include pine, arborvitae, junipers, pine, larch, spruce, Douglas fir, fir, and yews. Conifers are members of the Gymnosperm family, which means they do not flower. Instead, they produce modified leaves called bracts. Broad-leaf flowering plants belong to the Angiosperm family. Broad-leaf plants include woody trees, shrubs, and vines that have flattened leaf blades. The flowers vary from tiny and inconspicuous to large and showy.

The second step involves determining if the tree or plant is deciduous or evergreen. Deciduous trees and plants shed leaves during the fall. Most broad-leaf flower plants are deciduous; however, some conifers fall into this classification. Semi-evergreen plants tend to retain some leaves, depending on the winter temperatures and moisture. Most North American trees and plants do not fall into this category. Evergreen trees and plants retain leaves for multiple seasons, including in harsh winter climates. The leaves or needles produced on an evergreen tree or plant stay present on the tree year-round. Most conifers are evergreen, along with some broad-leaf plants.

The third step in the plant identification process involves determining the growth habitat of the tree or plant. Growth habitat refers to the tree or plant’s genetic tendency to grow a certain shape or size. For instance, trees usually have single trunk and mature height over twelve feet. Shrubs usually have multiple branches from the ground and a mature height of less than 12 feet. Vines tend to climb, clasp, or cling to objects and other plant material. Many landscape plants are considered small trees or shrubs.

Nature lovers can benefit from mastering the skill of tree and plant identification and, for many, the pleasure gained in knowing a plant just by looking at it proves beneficial enough. Others might find that it adds more fruit for their labor. For instance, identifying certain trees and plants in the wild enables people to better understand their environment. It also gifts them with the ability to identify edible and medicinal plants that could nourish or heal injured people. It can also help them in knowing about irritating or toxic trees or plants while out walking in nature’s preserve.