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Identification of the Most Common Hardwoods

A Guide for North American Hardwood Tree Identification


Yellow Poplar

tulip poplar branch

Photo by Steve Nix Pin Oak Leaf

Pin Oak Leaf

University of Georgia, Forestry Images
Identify Your Common North American Hardwoods

Hardwoods or broadleaves are classed as angiosperms or plants with ovules enclosed for protection in an ovary. When fertilized, these ovules develop into seeds.

Broadleaves can be evergreen but most are deciduous and lose their leaves annually. These leaves can be either simple (single blades) or they can be compound with leaflets attached to a leaf stem. Although variable in shape all hardwood leaves have a distinct network of fine veins.

If you are confused with some of the terms used here, please use my definitions of terms used for tree identification.

Several Common Terms for this Major Tree Category

  • HARDWOOD - Trees with broad, flat leaves as opposed to coniferous or needled trees. Wood hardness varies among the hardwood species, and some are actually softer than some softwoods.
  • DECIDUOUS - perennial plants which are normally leafless for some time during the year.
  • BROADLEAF - A tree with leaves that are broad, flat and thin and generally shed annually.


The Most Common Hardwoods

Unlike the conifers or softwood firs, spruce and pines, hardwood trees have evolved into a broad array of common species. The most common species in North America are oaks, maple, hickory, birch, beech and cherry.

Forests where a majority of their trees drop leaves at the end of the typical growing season are called deciduous forests. These forests are found worldwide and are located in either temperate or tropical ecosystems.

Identify single tree species known variously as hardwoods, deciduous, or broadleaf:

ash | aspen | beech | basswood | birch | black cherry | black walnut/butternut | buckeye | American chestnut | cottonwood | dogwood | elm | hackberry | hickory | holly | locust | magnolia | maple | oak | poplar | red alder | redbud | royal paulownia | sassafras | sweetgum | sycamore | tupelo | willow | yellow-poplar


Related Video
How to Identify an Oak Tree

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