I took a morning walk today to the college campus, with the idea of trying to identify as many trees as I could. The sugar maples were plentiful and easy to identify, but I was pretty much lost after that. I realized I need a refresher course in how to approach tree identification.
1. The first step is to determine whether the leaves are needlelike, scalelike, or broadleaf. I am going to deal only with broadleaf.
2. With a broadleaf, you need to examine the positioning of the leaves on the twig to see if they are alternate or opposite. My approach this morning of bringing back a single leaf to study at my leisure doesn't work, because you need to see the leaf in relation to its neighbors.
3. The next step is to determine whether the leaves are simple or compound. There are technical ways to work through this, but just use your common sense and you'll get by here.
4. The other characteristics to work through are whether the leaves are lobed or not, and whether they are toothed or smooth.
Once these characteristics are determined, look in the guidebook under the appropriate subcategory.