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What is the tree identification tool and how do I use it?

Submitted by Peter Orchard on Sun, 10/11/2019 - 16:07


I have always found trees a difficult group! They are all the same aren't they? They have trunks and branches and leaves in summer. The common trees are perhaps not difficult and we may all know an oak when we see it but can you tell a silver birch from a downy birch? It is not easy. With that in mind I have put together an identification aid to trees that I can use when I am out in the field and I hope you may find it useful too.  The idea is simple, trees have various different features and I have tried (or, at least, I am in the process of trying) to photograph these features for the trees and shrubs one is most likely to see in Dorset. Choose a feature from the drop down list and photographs of that feature on a variety of trees will be displayed; put your phone alongside the feature and compare - simple! You can tap/click the species photograph to see more information about a species in the Nature of Dorset database which may also help.

I should emphasise that this tool is not intended to provide you with a positive identification on its own and is best used with a good field guide or other identification resource. 


The tree identification aid presents you with a choice of ten features that are found on most trees:

  1. bark
  2. cross section
  3. flower
  4. leaf
  5. (leaf) bud
  6. summer profile
  7. winter profile
  8. seed/nut
  9. fruit/berry
  10. twig

You can select one of these features for the tree you are looking at and then compare the options displayed with the specimen you are looking at. I would strongly suggest that you use more than one feature and look for a species that occurs for each feature you choose. Using these options it should be possible to narrow down the possibilities at any time of the year.

This aid is based on MY observations and photographs in DORSET (England!) and as a result:

  • It will not be a comprehensive list, only those 40 or so species that are most likely to be seen in Dorset
  • The data is Dorset based and may not be true for other counties in the United Kingdom but it may still be a useful tool for people living in other parts of the country
  • There are not photographs for every feature of every species as a single enthusiastic person cannot find and photograph every species of tree at every stage of the yearly cycle!


Just to reiterate:

  • This is a guide to possible candidates for identification and NOT a definitive guide to tree identification
  • All the information is Dorset based and may not apply to other parts of the British Isles
  • The data in this guide is open to interpretation in different ways by different people so use with care
  • Tool is available for use free of charge and intended to help budding nature lovers and not established enthusiasts