A Partial Listing of Publications on Tree and Shrub Identification

leaf structure

Compiled by Karen P. Bennett, Extension Professor and Specialist, Forest Resources

This isn’t a complete listing of publications on tree and shrub identification, but rather a compilation from my personal bookshelf. Some of the listings are out‐of‐print, and I note that when known. The annotations are my own opinion. Each reference has its own strengths and weaknesses. For the serious student, a combination of books of different styles is recommended. Books are listed in alphabetical order by the first major word in the book’s title.

Some helpful tree identification tips:

  1. Take your time. Learn the rules to know the exceptions. Have a good memory. Use your imagination.
  2. Think like a dichotomous key (even if you don’t use one).
  3. Unless you have one “fool‐proof” method, use multiple characteristics, especially when learning. Look at tree form, buds, leaves or needles, bark, fruit and seeds.
  4. Start your identification from a distance. Look at:
    • The growing site.
    • The specimen's habitat (i.e. silhouette)
    • If it is a tree or a shrub.
    • If it is a young tree or an older tree. Learn to see characteristics in a epcies at different ages. 
  5. Look at branch form and pattern.
    • Most native New Hampshire trees are alternately branched.
    • Native trees with opposite branching— MADHORSE—Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Horsechestnut (actually not a native)
    • Remember that branches come from buds, so buds have the same pattern as branches.  
  6. When in doubt, ask.

Book List:

Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region by Elbert L. Little  Color photographs, covering 364 species. Organized in several ways: by, for example, the shape of the leaf or needle, by the fruit, by the flower or cone, and by autumn coloration. Following one visible characteristic or another, the reader can narrow the range of possibilities, then turn to a text that describes a tree’s physical characteristics, habitat and range.

Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech Nicely illustrated with drawings and photos. Includes range maps and leaf‐drawings.

Distinguishing Characteristics of 56 Forest Trees by University of Vermont Extension Service A 12‐page handout including brief descriptions of leaves, twigs, fruit and bark, with simple line drawings.

Eastern Forests: National Audubon Society Nature Guides by Ann and Myron Sutton A comprehensive field guide with color photographs. Covers trees, wildflowers, birds, mammals, and insects. Not in print.

A Field Guide to Eastern Trees: Eastern United States and Canada, including the Midwest by George A. Petrides Features detailed descriptions of 455 species of trees native to eastern North America. Excellent illustrations—48 color plates, 11 black‐and‐white plates, and 26 text drawings show distinctive details needed for identification. Color photographs and 266 color range maps accompany the descriptions.

A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs: Northeastern & North Central United States & Southeastern & South Central Canada by George A. Petrides A classic identification book for the Eastern U.S. that includes shrubs as well as trees. The right size to take in the field. The drawings are simple, but clear. The organization of the book takes some time to understand. Uses a dichotomous key approach.

Forest and Thicket: Trees, Shrubs & Wildflowers of Eastern North America by John Eastman A “good read” that combines fact and folklore about trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and wildlife of Eastern North America. Not a field guide format.

Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels Helps you understand why the tree you are looking at doesn't match any description you will find in a book.

Forest Trees of Maine by George LaBonte, Douglas A. Stark, and Robley W. Nash A handy pamphlet. May be out of print.

Forest Trees of Maine: Centennial Edition 1908-2008 Color photographs, pen and ink drawings, and clear descriptions.

Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William M. Harlow A dichotomous key that also has black and white photographs. Fruit key covers 120 deciduous and evergreen species; twig key 160 deciduous species.

A Guide to Nature in Winter (Stokes Nature Guides) by Donald Stokes A “good read” that includes information about trees, shrubs, insects, winter weeds, mushrooms, animal tracks and more. Not a field guide format. Not in print.

Harlow and Harrar’s Textbook of Dendrology by James Hardin, Donald Leopold, and Fred M. White A classic textbook, somewhat academic in its approach. Black and white photographs. Gives silvical characteristics as well as identification features, with descriptions of more than 270 species and almost 200 illustrations. Includes information on tree sizes, damaging diseases and insect pests, economic uses and silvics.

Important Forest Trees of the United States by Elbert L. Little, Jr. Very thorough coverage for a pamphlet.

Important Trees of Eastern Forests by R. W. Neelands Out‐of‐print, but a handy pamphlet with colored drawings. Includes descriptions of the properties of wood.

Knowing Your Trees by G. H. Collingwood and Warren D. Brush Covers all of North America, but not thoroughly. Black and white photographs. Not a field guide format. Interesting reading. Out of print.

Knowing Your Woods: Wildlife Habitat and Tree Species by David W. Allan An eight‐page fact sheet available from UNH Cooperative Extension. Some simple line drawings of selected trees and a listing of their uses by wildlife and humans.

List of New Hampshire Native Trees by Karen P. Bennett and William F. Nichols A 4‐page listing of native trees of New Hampshire. A useful companion when identifying trees.

A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America by Donald Culross Peattie A classic of American nature writing. Not really a tree identification book, but invaluable for those interested in American and natural history.

The Nature of New Hampshire by Dan Sperduto & Ben Kimball Not a tree identification book, but key to understanding where and why New Hampshire trees grow where they do.

North American Trees by Richard J. Preston and Richard R. Braham First published in 1948. This volume, intended for the general public and beginning student, covers nearly all North American trees excluding Mexico and tropical Florida. Covers the basics of identification, classification, and keys, followed by detailed descriptions, natural history, and black and white line drawings.

The Shrub Identification Book by George W. D. Symonds Has black and white photographs. A very useful oversized book in two parts—pictorial keys and master pages. The keys are designed for visual comparison of details which look alike, narrowing the identification of a shrub to the family or genus. In the master pages, the species of the shrub is determined, with similar details placed together to highlight differences within the family group. Leaves, fruit, and twigs, usually appear in actual size.

Street Tree Fact Sheets by Henry D. Gerhold, Willet N. Wandell, Norman L. Lacasse, and Richard Schein Includes color photographs of trees and their varieties that are used commonly as shade trees. Gives cultural information. Not really a tree identification book, but can be used to identify those planted trees that aren’t found in the native tree identification books.

The Sibley Guide to Trees by David Allen Sibley Covers the entire U.S. Dispenses with dichotomous keys and groups trees by families. Color plates aide in identification.

The Tree Identification Book by George W. D. Symonds Has black and white photographs. A very useful oversized book in two parts—pictorial keys and master pages. The keys are designed for visual comparison of details which look alike, narrowing the identification of a tree to the family or genus. In the master pages, the species of the tree is determined, with similar details placed together to highlight differences within the family group. Leaves, fruit, and twigs, usually appear in actual size.

The Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich The author tells stories about trees on his Maine woodlot. The reader learns about trees including how to identify them.

Trees and Shrubs of New Hampshire by John W. Foster Later editions available from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF). A small concise field guide with clear line‐drawings.

Trees of New England: A Natural History by Charles Fergus The natural history of New England's trees with some identification aides.

Trees of North America and Europe by Roger Phillips Beautiful color photographs of mostly leaves, twigs, and flowers. A useful oversized book.

Trees of the Central Hardwood Forests of North America: An Identification and Cultivation Guide by Donald Joseph Leopold, William C. McComb, and Robert N. Miller Describes 188 different native and naturalized species, plus 84 trees that are commonly planted in the region. The authors provide information about the tree's habitat, range, physical characteristics (including bark, leaves, and flowers), and wildlife and landscape value. All descriptions include black and white photographs.

Winter Botany by William Trelease First published in 1918. Very academic descriptions. Of historical interest. Identifies over 1,000 species of vines, shrubs, and trees in winter‐most from northern U.S. by examining twigs, bark, buds, leaf scars, berries and other characteristics. 

Download the Resource for the complete fact sheet and a printable version.