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? Is it a good color book such as the Audubon Field Guide to North American trees, which they have for the Eastern Region, and the Western Region? Is there a good 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 its leaf and bark features, not its name, so that I can avoid spending hours flipping through pages.

4 Answers 4


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! Commented Jun 22, 2012 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.


I know this question was answered a while ago, but I just thought this might be more relevant to the UK. I use The DK Handbook by Allen Coombes. It's easy to use for beginners, with a step by step guide, walking you through the identification step by step. It's also detailed enough for professionals. I work as an arborist and myself and many others I've worked with always keep this book in the van as first call in identifying a tree.


The iNaturalist app is also a good source for identifying plants. Taking a picture, it will help provide some suggestions as to what you are seeing. As an added bonus, you can use it to identify other plants and animals as well.


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