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Taking Photos of Trees for Expert Identification and Urban Forest Inventories

Filed Under:
Publication Number: P3678
View as PDF: P3678.pdf

Extension personnel often receive questions regarding identification of a particular tree. Digital photography, email, and text messaging make submitting specimens for identification very quick and easy.

Digital Photography

  1. Take close-up, clear photos of the specimen with a digital camera. Please consider the following:
  • Select a specimen that shows as many distinguishing characteristics of a species as possible. These would include leaves, twigs, flowers, fruit, bark, form, and position in the landscape.
  • If there is dramatic variation in leaf shape on a single plant, include photographs of all leaf shapes (Figure 1).
    A hand holds a tree limb to better display the leaves on the branch.
    Figure 1. Leaf
  • Unique characteristics are particularly important to include, such as thorns, twigs and branching patterns, or fruits and nuts (Figure 2).
    Maturing fruit on the limb of tree. Capturing blooming flowers or fruit on a branch can further help experts identify a tree properly.
    Figure 2. Maturing fruit
  • Include a photograph that shows the characteristics of the bark (Figure 3).
    Tree bark varies among trees and should be captured at close range to help experts identify the tree for proper classification.
    Figure 3. Tree bark
    • Make note of the type of site on which the tree is growing (wet, dry, flooded, etc.)
  • Finally, send a photograph of the tree in the landscape to show its form (Figure 4).
    The full height of a tree is pictured in a forested area. To help experts identify a tree properly, ensure that a photo of the tree is taken within in its landscape and next to other trees for comparison.
    Figure 4. Landscape and form
    • If necessary, crop photos to reduce their size or use a medium-quality setting.
  1. When sending your photographs to Extension personnel, include your contact information and any description you would like to provide about the plant, such as its size, history, or habitat. If you like, you may use the Tree Identification Request Form on the back. Send photographs via email to your urban forest inventory facilitator/coordinator/team leader, or regional Extension Forestry Specialist.

Tree Identification Request Form

Specimen Description

Specimen includes: leaves/twigs/fruit/stem/other

Plant origin: naturally occurring/planted/unknown

Plant size (approx.): height/diameter (at breast height)

Form: single stem/multi-stem

Specialist’s Response

Common name:

Scientific name:

Normal range:


Primary uses:



Publication 3678 (POD-09-22)

Revised by Brady Self, Associate Extension Professor, Forestry, from an earlier version by Jason S. Gordon, former Associate Extension Professor.

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