University of Minnesota Extension
www.extension.umn.edu
612-624-1222
Menu Menu

Extension > Environment > Trees and woodlands > A beginner's guide to Minnesota trees

A beginner's guide to Minnesota trees

David Rathke, Extension Specialist

This webpage summarizes content found in "A Beginner's Guide to Minnesota Trees" by Extension Specialist David Rathke.

It's easy to learn to identify many of Minnesota's trees. All you need are some trees to examine and a desire to learn. This guide will introduce you to 35 trees commonly found in Minnesota.

Trees can be divided into two groups, coniferous and deciduous. To identify a tree, first decide in which of these two categories it belongs.

Coniferous

Coniferous trees bear their seeds in woody (rarely fleshy) cones and have very narrow or overlapping (like scales on a fish) leaves. All of our coniferous trees except eastern larch (or tamarack) are evergreen, meaning they maintain their leaves throughout the year.

To identify coniferous trees, you need to understand the following distinctions:

If the leaves overlap like scales on a fish If some of the leaves have sharp points and the cones are fleshy and berrylike, the tree is an eastern redcedar.
If all of the leaves have dull tips and the cones are woody, the tree is a northern white-cedar.

If the leaves are needlelike

If the leaves are held together in bundles of 2-5 If the leaves are 2 1/2" - 5" long and held together in bundles of 5, the tree is an eastern white pine.
If the leaves are 4" - 6" long and held together in bundles of 2, the tree is a red (Norway) pine.
If the leaves are 3/4" - 1 1/2" long and held together in bundles of 2 the tree is a jack pine.
If the leaves occur in singles or clusters of 12 or more If the leaves are 3-sided and occur slightly toward the end of the branch or in clusters of 12 or more, farther back on the branch, the tree is an eastern larch (tamarack).
If the leaves are flat, occur in singles, and have a pleasant smell when crushed, the tree is a balsam fir.
If the leaves are 4-sided and occur in singles If the leaves are 1/3"-3/4" long and have a stinky odor when crushed, and the twigs are hairless, the tree is a white spruce.
If the leaves are 1/4"-1/2" long and have a mild odor when crushed, and the twigs have scattered red hairs, the tree is a black spruce.

Deciduous

Deciduous trees do not bear their seeds in cones. They have broad leaves that drop in autumn.

To identify deciduous trees, you need to understand the following distinctions:

If the branches are opposite If the leaves are compound If there are 3-5 (occasionally 7) leaflets on the leaf and the twigs have a stinky smell when broken, the tree is boxelder.
If there are 7-14 (occasionally 5) leaflets on the leaf and the twigs have a mild odor when broken If there are 7-13 leaflets on the leaf and the side leaflets are flush with the leafstalk, the tree is a black ash.
If there are 5-9 (usually 7) leaflets on the leaf, and the side leaflets are on a short stalk, the tree is a green ash.
If the leaves are simple If the leaves are pale green below and have 5 lobes with smooth or wavy-pointed edges, the tree is a sugar maple.
If the leaves are silvery white below and have 5 (occasionally 3) deeply cut lobes with jagged edges, the tree is a silver maple.
If the leaves are whitish green below and have 3 (occasionally 5) shallowly cut lobes with sharply toothed edges, the tree is a red maple.
If the branches are alternate If the leaves are compounded If the leaves are doubly compound near the branch tip and singly compound farther back on the branch, and the leaflet edges have very small teeth (nearly smooth), the tree is a honeylocust.
If the leaves are singly compound and the leaflet edges have sharp teeth If there are 14-23 leaflets on the leaf and the buds are cream colored, the tree is a black walnut.
If there are 7-11 leaflets on the leaf and the buds are bright yellow, the tree is a bitternut hickory.
If the leaves are simple If the leaves are lobed If the leaf lobes have pointed tips If the lobes are cut nearly to the middle of the leaf, the tree is a northern pin oak.
If the lobes are cut only halfway to the middle of the leaf, the tree is a northern red oak.
If the lobes have rounded tips If the lobes are cut to nearly equal depths of the leaf, the tree is a white oak.
If the lobes are cut to distinctly different depths on the leaf, the tree is a bur oak.
If the leaves are smooth or toothed but never lobed If the leaves have doubly toothed edges (both long and short teeth) If the leaf base is distinctly uneven If the leaves are very rough above and below and the twigs are slimy when chewed, the tree is a slippery elm.
If the leaves are smooth or slightly rough above and smooth below and the twigs are dry when chewed, the tree is an American elm.
If the leaf base is nearly even on both sides If the tree has papery bark that often peels in horizontal strips If the leaves or twigs have a wintergreen smell or taste when broken, and the trunk bark is bronze colored, the tree is a yellow birch.
if the leaves or twigs do not have a wintergreen smell or taste and the trunk bark is white, the tree is a paper birch.
If the tree has shreddy bark that often peels in vertical strips, tree is an ironwood.
If the leaves have singly toothed or smooth edges If the leaf base is distinctly uneven If the leaves are 2 1/2"-7" long and nearly as wide, the tree is an American basswood.
If the leaves are 2"-5" long and about half as wide, the tree is a hackberry.
If the leaf base is nearly even on both sides If the leafstalk is flattened near the leaf base If the leaves are triangle shaped (nearly flat at the base) with large teeth on the edges, the tree is an eastern cottonwood.
If the leaves are round or egg-shaped with large teeth on the edges, the tree is a bigtooth aspen.
If the leaves are round or egg-shaped with small teeth on the edges, the tree is a quaking aspen.
If the leafstalk is round If the leaves are more than 4 times as long as wide, the tree is a willow.
If the leaves are less than 4 times as long as wide If the leaves have small pointed teeth on the edges and are pale green below with white or brown hairs on the veins, and the twigs have a bitter almond smell when broken, the tree is a black cherry.
If the leaves have small, rounded teeth on the edges and are silvery green below with rusty blotches, and the buds are sticky, the tree is a balsam poplar.
  • © 2014 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy