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Iowa urban tree identification guide

  • 4/25/2024 1:35:00 PM
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These are the trees in our neighborhoods, the trees that you see each day! Know what to look for to better ID the trees around you.

Here’s how to tell them apart.

How to identify a bur oak and other Iowa trees | Iowa DNR Bur Oak - Quercus macrocarpa
  • Long-lived tree that may survive 100-300 years
  • Stout twigs with alternate branches
  • Deeply lobed leaves, alternately arranged on stems, fine hairs give whitish appearance to leaf undersides
  • Roundish to oblong acorn with fringed cap
  • Golden yellow-brown fall color
  • Easily confused with swamp white oak
How to identify a river birch and other Iowa trees | Iowa DNR River Birch - Betula nigra
  • Shiny, pinkish-brown or silvery-gray bark separates into papery scales that become shaggy
  • Reddish-brown, slender and hairy twigs
  • Diamond-shaped whitish leaves, usually hairy beneath and shiny dark green above
  • Cylindrical shaped fruit, brownish color with many hairy scales and two-winged nutlets
  • Golden with a hint of red fall color

Hackberry tree

Hackberry - Celtis occidentalis
  • Light brown to gray, warty bark
  • Branches tend to drop in mature trees giving a cylindrical shape
  • Slender, light brown twigs, mostly hairy and slightly zigzag
  • Shiny green sharp-pointed leaves with hairy veins below and rough texture sometimes
  • Leaves often have small, rounded galls caused by tiny jumping insects
  • Orange-red to dark-purple fruit 
  • Pale yellow fall color
Shagbark hickory tree Shagbark Hickory - Carya ovata
  • Slow growing, attaining heights up to 100 feet
  • Distinctive rough, light gray bark that peels off in long strips
  • Stout, brown twigs ending in large brown hairy buds that often open with a brilliant pink to red flower-like appearance in the spring
  • Finely saw-toothed and hairy compound leaves, yellow-green above and paler beneath
  • Sweet edible nuts
  • Golden yellow fall color
Kentucky Coffeetree

Kentucky Coffee Tree - Gymnocladus dioicus

  • Short-trunked tree with stout branches 
  • Large, twice compound dull green leaves
  • Stout, brown twigs
  • 4-7 inch red-brown pods with shiny dark-brown bean-like seeds
  • Yellow fall color
Silver maple tree Silver Maple - Acer saccharinum
  • Extremely fast growing tree
  • Deeply lobed leaves, pale-green above and silvery-white below
  • Winged nutlets form a wide-spread pair with a long stalk
  • Yellow-green to pale yellow fall color
Sycamore tree Sycamore - Platanus occidentalis
  • Fast-growing tree capable of exceeding 150 feet, one of the tallest North American trees
  • Greenish slender twigs, zigzag shaped
  • Broad, short-pointed leaves with wavy edges
  • Smooth, white, gray and olive mottled bark peels off in large thin flakes
  • Hairy brown ball of seeds
  • Tan to brown fall color

Northern red oak tree

Northern Red Oak - Quercus borealis
  • Straight tree trunk with large spreading branches
  • Slender, reddish-brown twigs
  • Smooth, dull green leaves, lighter underside with tufts of hairs
  • Single or pairs of acorns with shallow, reddish-brown cup
  • Golden yellow-brown fall color
Honey locust tree Honey Locust - Gleditsia triacanthos
  • Hardy, fast-growing tree
  • Shiny brown, stout zigzag twigs
  • Shiny, dark-green leaves above with dull yellow-green beneath
  • Large dark brown pods with heavy seed crops every other year
  • Yellow fall color
Black walnut tree Black Walnut - Juglans nigra
  • Large tree with an open, rounded crown of dark green, aromatic leaves
  • Stout twigs with distinctive buff colored chambered pith 
  • Long-pointed leaves covered with soft hairs beneath
  • Nearly spherical nuts with yellowish-green husk and short hairs when ripe
  • Yellow fall color
American linden basswood tree American Linden Basswood - Tilia americana
  • Commonly grows to over 100 feet above ground with a long trunk
  • Reddish or green slender twigs, slightly zigzag and hairless
  • Large heart-shaped leaves, smooth on both sides with long, slender leaf stalks
  • Gray nut-like fruit, elliptical or rounded covered with fine hairs, mature in late summer and autumn
  • Golden yellow fall color
Eastern white pine tree Eastern White Pine - Pinus strobus
  • Grows fast and can live beyond 300 years of age, most live 100-150 years
  • Stately tree with strong, gracefully arching limbs
  • Slender, orange-brown twigs, smooth or slightly hairy, becoming gray
  • Soft and flexible blue-green needles in bundles of five
  • Golden yellow brown fall color
Sugar maple tree Sugar Maple - Acer saccharum
  • Slender twigs with opposite branches
  • Dull dark green leaves above, somewhat paler beneath
  • Round seeds with  wings that point forward are often called “helicopters,”seeds mature in late summer and fall
  • Rich yellow, orange, bright red fall color


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