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I'd like to start identifying trees in my area as a project with my kids while we are hiking.

What is best for tree identification, a good color book such as the Audobon Field Guide to North American trees, or a tree identification app for smartphones, or some third option I'm not aware of?

I know tree identification is often complex as leaves can be similar, and usually require a combination of factors (bark, leaves, etc). I'd like a resource where I look up a tree based on it's leaf and bark features, not it's name, so that I can avoid spending hours flipping through pages.

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

I think the Audubon Field Guides smartphone apps are fantastic. At least, they are a great improvement over the printed guides -- more species, more photos, lengthier descriptions, and smaller than the book.

The apps help make identification relatively easy because you can search for trees in your region and leaf shape, for example, and get a smaller set of results to comb through.

Another feature of the apps that I really like is that you can mark a "sighting." After you've identified something, save it as a "sighting" and it'll be saved with any notes you want to enter as well as GPS coordinates that you can refer to.

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Thank you, this sounds great. Going to try and download it now! – Russell Steen Jun 22 '12 at 0:05

Agreed. The Audubon guides are the best that I know of because you can search in the flower section, the bark section, or the leaf section for your target tree. Not familiar with the apps, but I'm sure they do the same thing if not more.

My personal favorite for tree walks with kids? The Sibley Guide to Trees. Here's why:

  • Really good color drawings instead of photos (photos are sometimes ineffective in identifying trees)
  • Excellent "non-scientific" details or colorful adjectives that Audubon omits
  • "Extra" info, such as tricks for distinguishing from lookalike species, human uses, or unique history/stories about the species.

One thing I would suggest is that you take into account the purpose of your endeavor. Is this about "bonding" over a love for trees, or is it about identifying species as efficiently as possible? If so, maybe using your smart phone while hiking would detract from the experience.

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