Leaf Key to the Common Trees of South Carolina

This dichotomous key can be used to identify 60 different trees common to South Carolina. Beginning with number one, select one of the two choices presented and proceed to the corresponding number in the right column. Continue following links in the right column until reaching a tree name. The key relies heavily on leaf and twig characteristics for tree identification. Links to definitions of difficult terms are provided where possible. If you click through to a definition or wish to return to an earlier choice in the key, use your browser's back button.

 

1. Trees with needlelike or scalelike leaves (conifers) 2
Trees with broad flat leaves of many shapes and patterns (broadleaves)

 

12

 

2. Leaves needlelike 3
Leaves scalelike, sometimes prickly on young trees

 

eastern redcedar

 

3. Leaves in bundles or clusters (fascicles) of 5 or fewer (pines) 4
Leaves not in bundles or clusters

 

10

 

4. Leaves in bundles of 5 eastern white pine
Leaves in bundles of 2 or 3

 

5

 

5. Leaves in bundles of 2 6
Leaves in bundles of 3 or of 2 and 3

 

7

 

6. Leaves twisted, mostly 2 inches long or shorter Virginia pine
Leaves not twisted, mostly more than 2 inches long

 

spruce pine

 

7. Leaves in bundles of 2 and 3 8
Leaves in bundles of 3

 

9

 

8. Leaves short (2-4 inches), cone small (2-3 inches) shortleaf pine
Leaves long (6-10 inches), cone large (4-6 inches)

 

slash pine

 

9. Leaves very long (10-14 inches), cone very large (8-10 inches) longleaf pine
Leaves 5-9 inches long, cones 4-6 inches

 

10

 

10. Cones 4-6 inches, narrowly conical when closed loblolly pine
Cones 2-3½ inches, globular when closed, persistent on tree for years

 

pond pine

 

11. Leaves flattened, evergreen, white on underside eastern hemlock
Leaves fern-like, deciduous, green on both sides

 

baldcypress

 

12. Leaves fan-shaped, 2 or more feet across cabbage palmetto
Leaves otherwise

 

13

 

13. Leaves opposite or whorled 14
Leaves alternate

 

18

 

14. Leaves in whorls of 3 southern catalpa
Leaves opposite in pairs

 

15

 

15. Leaves compound 16
Leaves simple

 

17

 

16. Leaflets 3-5, margins with coarsely serrated teeth or shallowly lobed boxelder
Leaflets 5-9, margins smooth (entire) or with finely serrated teeth

 

white ash

 

17. Leaves 3-5 lobed, margins doubly serrate red maple
Leaves unlobed, margins smooth

 

flowering dogwood

 

18. Leaves compound 19
Leaves simple

 

24

 

19. Twigs with thorns, spines, or prickles 20
Twigs without thorns, spines, or prickles

 

21

 

20. Twigs with long thorns, leaves twice compound honeylocust
Twigs with short spines, leaves once compound

 

black locust

 

21. Leaves with terminal leaflets larger than lateral leaflets, twigs with solid pith 22
Leaves with terminal leaflets the same size as lateral leaflets, twigs with chambered pith

 

black walnut

 

22. Leaflets 5-9, leaflets, petiole, and rachis densely hairy mockernut hickory
Leaflets 3-7, leaflets, petiole, and rachis smooth or nearly so

 

23

 

23. Bark shaggy, peeling in long strips shagbark hickory
Bark tightly furrowed, not peeling

 

pignut hickory

 

24. Leaves evergreen, thick and leathery 25
Leaves deciduous, thin and papery

 

28

 

25. Leaves with spine-toothed margins American holly
Leaves with smooth margins

 

26

 

26. Leaves large, over 6 inches long, with rusty hairs beneath southern magnolia
Leaves small, 2-5 inches long, without hairs

 

27

 

27. Leaves densely white beneath, without lobes sweetbay
Leaves greenish or slightly white beneath, occasionally with lobes

 

live oak

 

28. Leaves lobed 29
Leaves unlobed or with occasional small shallow lobes

 

42

 

29. Leaves with 3 shapes (unlobed, lobed, 3-lobed) 30
Leaves with one basic shape

 

31

 

30. Leaves with smooth (entire) margins sassafras
Leaves with serrate margins

 

red mulberry

 

31. Leaves star-shaped, with 5 to 7 lobes sweetgum
Leaves not star-shaped

 

32

 

32. Tip and base of leaves truncate, shallowly 4-lobed yellow-poplar
Leaves not truncated

 

33

 

33. Leaves with 3 or more main veins, margins with large coarse teeth American sycamore
Leaves with 1 vein, margins deeply lobed (oaks)

 

34

 

34. Leaves with smooth, rounded lobes (white oaks) 35
Leaves with bristle-tipped lobes (red oaks)

 

37

 

35. Lobes similar with sinuses halfway to midrib white oak
Lobes uneven with varying depths of sinus

 

36

 

36. Three upper lobes square, forming a cross, deep central sinus post oak
Three upper lobes pointed, shallow, central sinus

 

overcup oak

 

37. Base of leaves bell-shaped, 3-5 leaflets with terminal lobe long and narrow southern red oak
Base of leaves tapering or rounded with terminal lobe and lateral lobes of the same size

 

38

 

38. Base of leaves strongly tapering turkey oak
Base of leaves rounded or shallowly tapering

 

39

 

39. Base of leaves rounded, shallowly 3-lobed, with minute bristles at the tip of the lobes blackjack oak
Base of leaves shallowly tapering with 5 to 7 lobes

 

40

 

40. Leaves leathery, hairy beneath black oak
Leaves papery, without hairs beneath

 

41

 

41. Lobes large, sinuses shallow, narrow northern red oak
Lobes small, scarlet oak

 

42. Leaves with smooth margins (or occasionally with shallow teeth) 43
Leaves with toothed margins

 

49

 

43. Leaves heart-shaped (cordate) eastern redbud
Leaves not heart-shaped

 

44

 

44. Leaves deciduous, but stay on the tree through the winter, less than 4 inches long 45
Leaves deciduous and fall off the tree before winter, 4-10 inches long

 

46

 

45. Leaves with occasional lobes and teeth, having a long tapering base water oak
Leaves with wavy margins, occasionally with teeth, having a rounded base

 

laurel oak

 

46. Leaves 3 or more times as long as wide willow oak
Leaves less than 3 times as long as wide

 

47

 

47. Leaves 6-10 inches long, with occasional large shallow teeth water tupelo
Leaves 4-6 inches long, without teeth (entire)

 

48

 

48. Leaves widest in upper half black tupelo
Leaves widest at middle or in lower half

 

common persimmon

 

49. Leaves with small teeth above the middle, smooth margins below sourwood
Leaf margins toothed (serrated) throughout

 

50

 

50. Leaves with parallel veins, each vein ending in a tooth 51
Leaves with net veins, not ending in a tooth

 

57

 

51. Leaf margins with singly serrate teeth 52
Leaf margins with doubly serrate teeth

 

54

 

52. Leaves with rounded teeth (undulate) 53
Leaves with sharp points or bristles on the teeth

 

American beech

 

53. Leaves downy beneath, petioles yellow swamp chestnut oak
Leaves smooth beneath, petioles green

 

chestnut oak

 

54. Leaves that have bases with unequal (oblique) sides 55
Leaves with symmetrical bases

 

56

 

55. Leaves 1 to 3 inches long winged elm
Leaves longer than 3 inches

 

American elm

 

56. Leaf bases broadly wedge-shaped river birch
Leaf bases rounded or tapered

 

American hornbeam

 

57. Leaves 4 or more times as long as wide black willow
Leaves not more than twice as long as wide

 

58

 

58. Leaves heart-shaped (cordate), white beneath white basswood
Leaves not heart-shaped, green beneath

 

59

 

59. Midvein (midrib) paralleled by two prominent lateral veins from leaf base sugarberry
Midvein (midrib) distinct, often with rusty hairs beneath

 

black cherry

 

INTRODUCTION TERMINOLOGY LEAF KEY TREE LIST EXERCISES