Trees of Arkansas – Identification (FBCEC)


Participants will learn how important trees are and will discuss characteristics of an Ozark forest. They will be given a set of pressed tree leaves to learn how to identify leaves, and field guides and dichotomous keys will help teams identify the tree species for each specimen.

Grade Level:

4 - 12

Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:



Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR


Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484


45 minutes - 1.5 hours

Suggested Number of Participants:

Up to 24

Special Conditions:

Extension is dependent on season and weather.


  • Identify leaves using a field guide and a dichotomous key.
  • Become familiar with trees native to the area.

Key Terms*:

Dichotomous key

*See glossary for definations


  • Laminated leaf collection
  • Leaf characteristic diagrams
  • “Trees of Arkansas” by Dwight M. Moore
  • For grades 4 - 6: Collage materials including white and colored paper, scissors, glue, tape, rubber stamps,etc.


Arkansas is home to more than 200 trees. Much of the state’s forests were cut down in the late 1800s to provide lumber for the state’s railroads. The most common trees in Arkansas are hawthorns, oaks and hickories. Along the creeks and rivers are sycamore, cottonwood and sweetgum. Leaves can be very helpful in identifying a tree, but a tree can be identified any season of the year by the principal parts such as the fruit, bark and twigs.


  1. Display items or images of products and have participants identify those that are in some way a product of trees. Make sure that all the items are tree products. (See “Tree Treasures” from “We All Need Trees,” Project Learning Tree.) Have participants identify reasons trees are important (oxygen, shade, shelter for wildlife, erosion prevention, etc.).
  2. Discuss how (and why) we classify or sort items every day such as laundry, silverware and groceries. Relate this to how scientists also classify things including animals, rocks, soils, stars and trees.
  3. Provide leaf characteristic diagrams, and instruct them on leaf characteristics (simple, compound, venation, leaf margins, etc.).
  4. Give everyone the same type of leaf sample or drawing and walk through the keying out process using the dichotomous key in Dwight Moore’s “Trees of Arkansas.”
  5. Make sure everyone understands the procedure and give each pair of participants a set of laminated leaves. Tell them they will be using the leaves and “Trees of Arkansas” to identify the tree that produced the leaves. The teams should verify their answers with the teacher each time before proceeding to another set of leaves. (Optional: Provide a small prize to the team that correctly keys out the most leaves.)
  6. After this, ask them to describe the most challenging aspect of the activity and what they have learned.


  • Once participants have some skill in tree identification, they can follow the tree trail and identify each designated tree. A version suitable for younger children uses the “Which Tree Am I?” lesson on file with FBCEC supplemental activities.
  • Participants in grades 4 – 6 can classify items like seeds, pebbles, etc. and should be able to explain the system they used. Use the discussion to point out leaf traits such as simple or compound arrangement, pinnate and palmate venation and lobing. Supply copies of “Trees of Arkansas” and walk through the keying out process with two or three leaves. Challenge them to team up and collect the following: simple leaf, compound leaf (but not poison ivy), leaf with a smooth (or entire) leaf margin, leaf with a serrated leaf margin, lobed leaf, pinnately veined leaf and palmately veined leaf with parallel veins. (Can also be played as bingo.)
  • The team should also find one tree leaf and describe it. When the teams return, they will make a collage of their leaves. Label each leaf with the feature it represents and write a description of their selected tree leaf. It should include arrangement, shape, margin, venation, lobes (if present) and other information they would like to add (color, size, fragrance, etc.). Finally, instruct them to identify their tree leaf by keying it out. If they are successful, they can label it with its common name and scientific names on their collage. (Note: In late fall and early winter, leaf examples can be collected from the ground. If leaves cannot be found outdoors, let participants get examples from the classroom collection.)


  • Describe four trees native to the Arkansas Ozarks.
  • Distinguish between simple and compound leaves.


  • Hunter, Carl G. (1989). Trees, Shrubs, and Vines of Arkansas, The Society Foundation.
  • Moore, Dwight M. (1999). Trees of Arkansas, The Arkansas Forestry Commission.
  • Important Forest Trees of the Eastern United States. The Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture,1968.



Dichotomous key – tool that helps identity items in nature such as trees, wildflowers, mammals, reptiles, rocks and fish through a series of choices that leads to the correct identification