Nearly 40 species of trees are found in the Penquis Virtual Nature Center. Including important shrubs, the list climbs well past the 40 mark. These, icluding some of surrounding areas and ornamental plantings, included for compelteness, are listed below. They are separated into conifers, or softwoods, almost all of which are evergreen, and hardwoods, or broad-leaved trees, almost all of which in this area are deciduous. Distinguishing features are listed, but remember that some of these are quite obscure and it would take many years of study to make all the distinctions accurately. The same would be true were you to use visual cues. In fact, not all experts agree on the classification of plants. Use the list to help you enjoy nature and to understand some of the questions that botanists, foresters, envriomentalists, hikers, and others ask.

Use this list in conjunction with the tree key to help you find your way through list of trees and shrubs, hopefully to identify particular species or groups. Also check our Fig tree root guide page if you also have problems with its roots.

CAUTION ON POISON IVY, SUMAC. Be careful about messing around too much with vines. This applies to everybody, not just the visually impaired. Some vines can cause skin rashes that in some people are quite painful and even dangerous.




pines tree
  1. Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). Needles in bundles of five, short finger-length. Bark smooth on young trees, becoming ridged and plated with age. Cone six inches or so long and narrow, resinous.
  2. Red pine (Pinus resinosa) Needles three to five inches and in twos. Break cleanly when bent. Cone small. Bark in flat, thin plates.
  3. Jack pine (Pinus banksiana) Needles one to two inches and in twos. Stiff. Cones small and bent in toward twig. Often held many years to be released by fire because the tree needs bare soil to germinate. Bark thin and flaky.
  4. Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) — introduced. Needles in twos, two to three inches. Cones small and with prickle on scales. Bark thin and scaly.
  5. Conifer index


Spruces tree

All our spruces have short, stiff rounded to four-sided needles. All have small cones.

  1. White spruce (Picea glauca). Fairly blunt, finger-tip-length needles, often more divergent from twig than other native species. Cat box smell when crushed. Cones to two inches and thin.
  2. Black spruce (Picea mariana) Shorter needles. Very small cones may be persistent for years. Wet feet is indication of this species.
  3. Red spruce (Picea rubens) Shorter needles. Cones medium for our spruces. Dry feet and no cat box smell may indicate this species.
  4. Norway spruce (Picea abies) — introduced. Drooping branches and cones to seven inches long. Found only where planted.
  5. Blue spruce (Picea pungens) — introduced. Cones large than our spruces, but smaller than Norway. Needles longer than white spruce, stiff and very sharp. Scientific name ‘pungens’ means sharp. Stand out from twig, just waiting for an unwary grab. Remember pungens means that it will ‘punge’ a hole in your hand. Found only where planted.
  6. Conifer index


fir tree
  1. Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) The Christmas tree. Bark smooth with resin pockets. Will stick to your hand. Needles flexible and flat perhaps an inch long, generally in two rows on opposite sides of branch. Cones upright, unlike most other conifers, and found only high in tree. They are rarely found as they disintigrate to release their seed on maturity. Similar Fraser fir (Abies Fraserii) is sometimes planted and sold as Christmas tree. It is similar and native to the Appalachians.
  2. Conifer index


Hemlock tree
  1. Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) Needles flexible, flat, shorter than fingertip length. Bark plated and scaly. Cones small, generally smaller than the end of your little finger, and can be borne in great abundance during good seed years.
  2. Conifer index

Cedar, Juniper, Yew

Cedar, Juniper, Yew tree
  1. Northern whitecedar (Thuja occidentalis) Swamp tree with vertically shredding bark and tiny cones. Leaves lay flat to twig.
  2. Common juniper (Juniperus communis) Small shrub in our area.
  3. Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) Needles like fir, but shrub and fruit is soft poisonous flesh around prominent seed.
  4. Conifer index

Tamarack or larch

Tamarack or larch tree
  1. Tamarack, eastern larch (Larix laricina)
  2. Conifer index



Willows tree
  1. Pussy willow (Salix discolor) is the most common willow found on the center. It’s leaves are roughly the size and shape of a man’s finger (but flat) with slightly toothed margins. It is mainly shrubby. The flower clusters, or catkins, are soft and fuzzy and appear early in the spring, generally during mud season. Found in wet areas.
  2. Bebb willow (Salix bebbiana) is also shrubby, but has leaves that are wider than those of pussy willow and are toothed only above the center, usually. Found in wet areas.
  3. Hardwood index


Poplars tree

The species that occur here (bigtooth and quaking aspen) have smooth bark that breaks into plates on the lower trunks of older trees. The tops break easily and they are short lived. They are early succession trees that are found where logging or fire has occured. They are in the willow family.

  1. Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) has small, rounded, leaves with small marginal teeth. The leaf stems are flat, and the leaves tremble in any breeze, leading to its name. If you are around aspens, listen for the leaves in any wind and see if you can made a useful identification key from the sound.
  2. Bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) has palm-sized leaves (several times as big as quaking aspen leaves) with large teeth on the margins. Leaf stems are flattened as in quaking aspen. These trees leaf out later than quaking aspen.
  3. Hardwood index


Alder tree
  1. Smooth, or hazel alder (Alnus rugosa) is a shrub or small tree of wet areas. The alternate leaves are oval with pointed tips and finely toothed margins. They may be the size of a woman’s palm. The most distinctive feature is the tiny (smaller than the tip of your little finger) seed cones that persist through the winter. Alders are in the birch family.
  2. Hardwood index


Birches tree
  1. Gray birch (Betula populifolia) is a small, poorly formed tree with smooth white, non-peeling bark. It has alternate wide-based, toothed leaves the size of a child’s palm, that taper to a long point. The tree grows in disturbed areas and is short-lived.
  2. White paper, or canoe birch (Betula papyrifera) is also an early successional tree, but of better form and longer life. The bark is white, smooth, and peeling. Alternate leaves are oval and toothed and child’s palm-sized. The bark was used for canoes and as parchment. It burns quickly and was also used to start fires in bad weather.
  3. Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) resembles white birch, but the bark is dark yellow. The alternate leaves are bigger (woman’s palm-size) and uneven at the base. The twigs have a wintergreen smell when tapped. This species is the one most often used for syrup in our area (not that any are much used). It is a later successional species than are our other birches, often forming with beech and sugar maple a long-lasting forest.
  4. Hardwood index

Ironwood or hop-hornbeam

Ironwood or hop-hornbeam tree
  1. Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) is a small, uncommon tree with shreddy bark and birch-like alternate leaves. Its wood is heavy, hard, and dense. The best key is the bark which shreds in long, vertical strips.
  2. Hardwood index

Hazelnut tree

Hazelnut tree
  1. American and beaked hazel (Corylus americana, Corylus rostrata) are similar shrubs. Both have alternate oval leaves the size of a young child’s palm and toothed and pointed. The best way to tell them is by the fruits. Beaked hazel nuts have a covering that is drawn out into a long papery tube and ripen in August or September. American hazel lacks the tube and ripens about a month earlier. Both are edible if you can beat the insects and squirrels to them.
  2. Hardwood index

Beech tree

Beech tree
  1. American beech (Fagus americana) is a large, smooth-barked tree with oval papery leaves the length of a hand. The bark is hard to distinguish from red maple when the latter is young, so remember that maple leaves and twigs grow opposite each other, beech leaves are alternate. The nuts are valued by wildlife and humans alike, though the critters usually get there before I do.
  2. Hardwood index


Oak tree
  1. Red oak (Quercus rubra) is a large tree with vertically-ridged bark. The alternate leaves are deeply cut and up to hand-sized. There is a bristle at the tips of the large teeth or lobes. Buds are clustered toward the ends of twigs. Acorns the size of a child’s thumb mature in two years and are bitter unless treated. Squirrels don’t seem to mind, though.
  2. Hardwood index


Serviceberry tree
  1. Shadbush or serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) has alternate leaves variable in size, 1-4 inches, toothed. White flowers appear before or with leaves. One of the earliest blooming plants in the forest. Bark thin, smooth, with shallow vertical fissures.
  2. Hardwood index

Cherry tree

Cherry tree
  1. Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) is a small tree with smooth, reddish bark and orangish, horizontal bands. The leaves are alternate, lance-shaped, finger-length with tiny rounded teeth on the margin and often tiny warty projections on stem right at base of leaf. These projections can generally be felt and can be used to distinguish the cherries from most other groups. Pin cherry follows fire or logging and is short-lived. The fruit is sour, but eaten by wildlife.
  2. Hardwood index

Mountain-ash, Rowan

Mountain-ash, Rowan tree
  1. American mountain-ash (Sorbus americana) is not really an ash, but its alternate, compound leaves are somewhat like the opposite, compound leaves of the ashes. In compound leaves, there is no bud at the base of the leaflet, but only at the base of the leaf stem where it joins the twig. In this species, the entire leaf is about hand-length while the toothed leaflets are thumb-sized and thumb-shaped in outline. The bark is thin, usually smooth, and light gray. The fruit is fingertip sized, showy orange-red, and borne in clusters.
  2. Hardwood index


Rose tree
  1. Roses (Rosa) are mostly spiny shrubs with alternate, compound leaves and small leaflets. The flowers are generally, but not always, showy and fragrant. The hips, or seed pods left behind are fingertip to thumbtip sized and sometimes showy themselves. They have been used to make various beverages and rose hip jelly.
  2. Hardwood index

Raspberries and blackberries

Raspberries and blackberries tree
  1. Raspberries (Rubus) are a large group of related shrubby plants. Most are prickly, but not all. Many have showy white, fragrant flowers. Most have pleasant-tasting fruit, but not all. Most have compound leaves, but some have simple, vaguely maple-shaped and sized leafs. Leaves are opposite. In our area, if you grab a shrub cane and immediately hell, ‘ouch’!, it’s probably a raspberry or a rose.
  2. Hardwood index


  1. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a small tree with alternate, compound leaves with loothed margins. The thick twigs are velvety-hairy enough that you can probably feel them. Fruit appears in a showy cluster of red. In dry sunny locations.
  2. Hardwood index

Holly, winterberry

Holly, winterberry tree
  1. Winterberry (Ilex laevigata) is a large shrub with alternate oval leaves up to 2 inches long. Fruits small, red, grow on short stocks from main stem.
  2. Hardwood index


Maples tree
  1. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) produces most of our maple syrup. The opposite leaves are palm-sized, opposite, deeply cleft into generally 5 lobes, and with a few large teeth. Twigs are slim and winter buds are small. Bark is finely ridged becoming heavily plated and ridged on larger trees. Maples above 10 inches in diameter can be tapped without damage to the tree. Check with your local extension office. Maple keys (seeds with wings) are the length of a child’s thumb. The wood is valuable. Can form extensive long-term forests with yellow birch and beech.
  2. Red maple (Acer rubrum) is also called swamp maple, though it is found in some dryer areas as well. Bark is smooth on young trees, becoming flaky and ridged on older stems. Opposite leaves are palm-sized, usually three-lobed (sometimes five), and with numous smallish teeth. Twigs are stouter than in sugar maple and winter buds are larger. One of the earliest-blooming trees, the winged seeds are fingertip sized and red. This species has less valuable wood and can be tapped for syrup, but the sap has a much lower sugar content than does sugar maple. Red maple is an early invader of distrubed sites.
  3. Striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) is also called moosewood. The opposite leaves are three-lobed, larger than hand-sized, and toothed on the margins. It is a small understory tree with dark bark vertically striped in white.
  4. Hardwood index

Basswood or linden

Basswood or linden tree
  1. American basswood (Tilia americana) is also called linden, though that name is more often applied to Euporean species. Leaves are alternate, toothed, hand-sized and unequally heart-shaped at the base. The fruit is distinctive with a leaf-like sail attached to a stemmed nut. Bark is smooth on young trees becoming thicker and furrowed into scaly ridges on older trunks.
  2. Hardwood index

Rhododendron and laurel

Rhododendron and laurel tree

This group is among the few broad-leaved evergreens in our area. All have narrow alternate leaves with untoothed margins. Rhododendron leaves are leathery and up to hand-length. Laurel leaves are smaller and less leathery.

  1. Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) is also know as great laurel, or rosebay. It can reach the height of 40 feet, but that is rare. It’s leaves are leathery and it’s stems thick. Flowers are a showy rose to white. Found in low woods and along streams in our area.
  2. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a shrub with very stiff, squarish twigs. Rarely a small tree. Some leaves are opposite or in threes and are one to five inches long and narrow. Flowers pink to white and showy. Found in sandy or rocky soil in woods.
  3. Two other laurels might be found in our area in wetlands. Kalmia polifolia is called swamp laurel, Kalmia angustifolia is called sheep-laurel, lamb-kill, calf-kill, kill-kid, sheep-poison, and a few others. Guess you better not eat it – or anything else you don’t recognize for certain as harmless.
  4. Hardwood index

Blueberries and cranberries

Blueberries and cranberries tree
  1. Blueberries (Vaccinium) are shrubs or small trees with alternate, sometimes leathery leaves and small white, pink, or red flowers. The fruits are a many-seeded berry, some of which are popular food items with humans as well as with wildlife. Look for shrubs with generally lance-shaped to oval leaves and down-pointing tubular flowers.
  2. Cranberries (Viburnum) are actually members of the honeysuckle group. Most have vaguely maple-shaped leaves and clusters of red fruit.
  3. Hardwood index


Ash tree

Ashes have opposite, compound leafs. That means no buds at the stem base of the leaflets, only at the base of the stem of the whole leaf. Two are important here.

  1. White ash (Fraxinus americana) is a medium to large trees found in moist sites. Leaflets have stems. Flowers appear before or with leaves. Bark thick, gray, fishered into ridged surrounding diamond-shaped open areas. Takes some practice to feel the shapes.
  2. Black ash (Fraxinus nigra) is also called brown ash. It is a medium-sized tree and grows in wet areas. The bark is more scaly than ridged. Leaflets grow directly from the central stem without any stems of their own. This plant is used in making the highest quality native baskets. They can be very expensive, but are very good, very decorative baskets. Just feeling the texture of them will give you a hint as to how good they are.
  3. Hardwood index

Dogwoods and Viburnums, except cranberries

Dogwoods and Viburnums, except cranberries tree

These are opposite-leaved shrubs, rarely growing more than head high. The dogwoods have untoothed leaves with the veins running parallel to the outside of the leaf. Feel carefully. Viburnums have mainly toothed leaf margins and branching veins like most other shrubs and trees. Many viburnums, including cranberries, have vaguely maple-like leaves. Others may be heart-shaped or long. If you find a shrub or small tree with opposite leaves (or an arrangement so obscure that you can’t really tell), it is probably a viburnum or dogwood. Both groups produce small fruits in clusters.

  1. Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium) has heart-shaped leaves and irregular branches. It’s white flowers come while the woods are still pretty bare. It is the predominent viburnum in our area. Check for the leaf shapes and the opposite arrangement.
  2. Alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternafolia) is the exception. The leaves are actually alternate or not quite opposite, but are clustered so close to the end of the twig it is hard to tell. It can be a small tree and is found in the understory of forests.
  3. Hardwood index


Elderberries tree

Some elderberries are good to eat and some aren’t. All have thin, papery compound leaves growing opposite on the twig and clusters of flowers followed by fruit. There are two shrubby types in our area.

  1. American elder (Sambucus canadensis) grows in moist soil, has purple fruits with medicinal properties, and leaves have a heavy scent when crushed. Opposite, papery leaves with scent are the major key here.
  2. Red elder (Sambucus racemosa) is definately one of the ones that is NOT good to eat. One name in Maine is poison-elder. It resembles the other but has red fruit and grows in rocky places. It is not reported as having the heavy scent.
  3. Hardwood index

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