Leaf Description – 4 Steps For Beginners

leaf description

Can you describe the leaves on this tree?

Leaf description is important in being able to identify common trees and plants.  Here are the four main steps to keep in mind when describing leaves.

I know that we have talked about a lot of different terms to describe leaves.  It can be confusing when you think about all the different terms, such as ovate, pinnately compound, or toothed.  This post will clear up exactly what you need to include when describing a particular leaf to identify a tree or plant.  There are four main things you need to describe for leaf identification that we’ve talked about and here they are.

leaf identification

Photo via Flickr.

Why Is It Important To Be Able To Describe Leaves?

Being able to describe leaves is a crucial skill in learning how to identify trees and plants.  If you can look at a leaf and be able to describe it then you will be able to (hopefully) identify the tree or plant itself.

Knowing the trees and plants that you see around you will help you have a better understanding of a place.  It will help you connect to the area more and allow you to explain to others exactly what you were looking at.

For example, you could say, “I was in a forest of Quaking Aspen trees and Ponderosa Pines.”  Without that knowledge, you could only say something vague such as, “I was in a forest of big evergreen trees and some other beautiful trees.”  The first description gives others a better idea of what the forest was really like.

leaf structure

This is a bipinnately compound leaf. Photo via Flickr.

First Step In Leaf Description – Leaf Structure

The first thing to note when looking at a leaf is the general structure of the leaf.  Is it simple or compound?  If it is compound, is it pinnately, bipinnately, or palmately compound?

leaf description

A heart shaped leaf. Photo via Flickr.

Second Step In Leaf Description – Leaf Shape

The next step is to observe the shape of the leaf.  Look at the blade of the leaf itself and see what shape it is.  Is it round, elliptical, lobed, or something else?

leaf description

An alternate leaf arrangement. Photo via Flickr.

Third Step in Leaf Description – Leaf Arrangement

Now, look at how the stalk of the leaves are connected to the stem of the tree or plant itself.  Are they arranged in an opposite, alternate, or whorled pattern?

leaf description

Toothed edges on these leaves. Photo via Flickr.

Fourth Step in Leaf Description – Leaf Edge

The final step is to look at the edge of the blade of the leaf.  Is it smooth or sharp?  Is it wavy?