How To Identify Maple Leaves And Tree Types?

Maple tree leaf identification
Members of the Acer genus, Maple trees are attractive deciduous shade trees. These flowering trees have leafy foliage. Belonging to the Sapindaceae family, you can find over 100 different Maple species with an equal number of sub-species.


There is immense variety in maple’s growth habit, color, shape, and size. Also, with the innumerable variations, it can feel challenging to pinpoint attributes for seamless maple tree types leaf identification.


Consequently, the overall maple tree leaf identification can be pretty challenging. Maples are closely related to the horse chestnut trees, but people can identify maple leaves and differentiate between the two.


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This guide will discuss ways and methods for identifying maple trees by their leaves. Let us address maple tree identification by leaf shape, lobes, margin serration, and indentations.


How Do You Identify Different Types Of Maple Leaves?

Now, let us learn the maple tree leaf identification by its different features:


1. Type of leaf: Compound vs. Simple leaves

Though most Maple species have a simple leaf structure, when you dig deeper and learn to identify maple trees by their leaves, you will note two main exceptions – the paperbark and the box elder Maple both have compounded leaves.


What does it mean by compound leaves? It is when the plant has three or over leaflets per leaf stock.


2. Leaf shape

You can identify maple leaves by their leaf shape. When you try to understand maple tree identification by leaf shape, you will know that different maples have slightly different shapes.


For instance Red maples & sugar maples have oval shaped leaves, while Japanese maples have hand shaped leaves. On the other hand Silver maples are palmate lobed with 5 deep-seated lobes.


3. Lobes

When identifying different maple leaves in the North American continent, you will see that most of them are single-bladed leaves with multiple lobes. You will also note that the lobed Maple leaves have a palmate shape.


It means they seem like a hand with their fingers spread apart, wherein the lobes look like fingers. The Chalk Maple, Sugar Maple, and Red Maple foliage have three or five lobes, and the silver Maples always have five lobes.


Lobe’s knowledge can make maple tree leaf identification seamless. Usually, you will find anywhere between three to nine lobes in Maple trees.


Very deeply-lobed leaves

Identifying different maple leaves becomes effortless if you look at their number of lobes. maple tree identification by leaf shape shows that most maples have 3 lobes, while some of them like Red & Sugar maple have five lobes and Japanese maples seven.


Large, five-lobed leaf

You can also identify maple leaves of some varieties like Norway Maple and Sugar Maple with their distinct characteristics. They are five-lobed leaves. The former has a milky sap from the leaf’s end.


So, when identifying maple trees by their leaves, you find this, you know it is the Norway Maple.


But, if the leaves have rounded spaces and large teeth between the lobes, it is Sugar Maple. If you are unsure between Norway Maple and Sugar Maple, break the leaf from the twig. If it does not produce a milky sap, you can know it is the Sugar Maple.


In most cases, you can look at the shape and identify maple trees by their leaves. However, if you come across a hard-to-identify leaf, you can look for other attributes like margin serration, and indentations for maple tree leaf identification.


4. Margin serration

Knowledge of the margin serration is also vital in to recognize maple leaves. So, for maple tree types leaf identification, you must know which specie has what kind of margin serration. Typically, you will see the following margin serrations:

  • Entirely smooth with no teeth or lobes
  • Serrated with blunt protruding and pointing teeth
  • Double serrate, meaning teeth have smaller teeth on them.
  • Serrulate with tiny and sharp teeth.
  • Dentate wherein teeth point outwards.
  • Crenate with round, scallop-like teeth.
  • Undulate, waving up and down margins.
  • Revolute or ones turned under


If you know which variety has what margin serrations, maple tree leaf identification becomes seamless.


5. Indentations

Depth of indentations can also help identify maple leaves. For instance, silver Maples have deeper indentations than sugar Maples. In addition, in the red Maple, the indentation between the leaves is V-shaped, but in the sugar Maple leaves, the indentation between the lobes is U-shaped.


But, red Maples’ in-between lobe indentation is not deep, and they have serrated leaves, as opposed to the sugar Maples.

6. Other Features

  • Roughly toothed

    Looking at the saw-like, rough edge is another way to distinguish between maple leaves. You will most likely find it in the Red Maples, which have smaller leaves than other species. An important thing to know in maple tree identification by leaf shape is looking for serration. If the edge of the margin is serrated, you know it is the Red Maple.


  • Fuzzy

    Another feature to look out for is the soft white coating on the leaf’s underside. If it exists, you know it is a Silver Maple.


    Now, let us look at some individual species and dig deeper into identifying maple trees by their leaves.


Red Maple Leaf Identification

You can use the following attributes for red maple tree leaf identification:

  • Simple leaves, every leaf has one blade.
  • 2-6 inches wide
  • Margins are small but with sharp teeth
  • Coarsely toothed margins
  • Not very deep, but V-shaped indentations
  • Sharp sinuses
  • Three primary lobes, but at times, two secondary smaller lobes, right at the leaf’s base.
  • Mature leaves are dull green on the top with smooth at the touch
  • Leaf loses hair on maturity, and the color underneath changes to silvery white
  • Narrowly, pointed lobe tips.
  • Opposed and lobed leaves


Silver Maple Tree Leaf Identification

Here are some attributes that can help you to identify maple trees by their leaves.

  • Simple leaves
  • 5-7 inches wide
  • Palmately lobed
  • Toothed margins
  • Green on the upper surface and silvery on the underside.
  • Deeply lobed and clefted
  • Five separate lobes, the terminal lobe’s side diverges towards the tip
  • Leaf margin has fine teeth
  • Leaves arranged opposite each other in pairs


Norway Maple Leaf Identification

Here are some attributes that can help identify maple leaves of the Norway variety.

  • Simple, green, and opposite leaves
  • Broader than they are high
  • 4-7 inches wide
  • Five lobes
  • Leaves out earlier in the spring by forming a rounded crown
  • Leaves turn pale yellow in the pall


Japanese Maple Leaf Identification

Japanese Maples have 100s of sub-types, but a few maples types are separated by color and leaf design. Here are some attributes that can help with Japanese maple tree leaf identification:

  • Red leaf types turn red in the fall, but green varieties get orange or yellow.
  • Can be cut-leaf or whole-leaf variety – Cut-leaf varieties have a feather-like look with no flat surface, but whole-leaf yield leaves have solid surfaces and an irregular border around the edges.
  • Japanese Maples from the Amoenum group like Osakazuki have leaf lobes divided at a moderate angle and split 2/3 of the way to the base.
  • Japanese Maples from the Linearilobum group like Villa Taranto have elongated lobes dividing at the base.
  • Japanese Maples from the Palmate group like Fireglow has leaf lobes divided at a deep angle and split 3/4 of the way to the base.
  • Japanese Maples from the dissectum group like Baby Lace have leaf lobes divided into sub-lobes.
  • Japanese Maples from the Matsumurae group, like Burgundy Lace, have leaf lobes divided at a steep angle and split 3/4 of the way to the base.

The remaining Japanese Maples fall under other categories, such as the Green Cascade.


Black Maple Tree Leaf Identification

Here are some attributes that can help you identify maple leaves of Black Maples:

  • Simple leaves
  • 4 inches or more in length
  • Three-lobed, but sometimes five
  • Has two leaflike or winglike growth at the petiole’s base
  • Undersurfaces appear to be downy and drooping
  • Wider leaves and lobes and longer leaf stalks
  • Deep green leaves on the surface and lighter green on the bottom
  • Most leaves turn yellow-brown in fall, but some can also be orange
  • Thicker leaf and petiole
  • Fuzzy undersides


Sugar Maple Leaf Identification

Sugar Maple tree types leaf identification guide:

  • The dark green color on the outside and a lighter green on the underside
  • Three to five inches wide
  • Mostly five-lobed, but sometimes it can be three
  • Leaf margin has no fine teeth
  • Shallow, U-shaped notches
  • Smooth, U-shaped margins between points

Related: How long does a maple tree live?|Laceleaf Japanese Maple Types


Frequently Asked Questions

Ques 1. What leaves look like Maple?

Ans. Sycamore, sweetgum, and yellow-poplar have Maple-like leaves.


Ques 2. What type of Maple tree have small leaves?

Ans. Red Maples usually have smaller leaves as compared to other varieties. The smallest leaves belong to the lion’s head maple.


Ques 3. How can you tell a Maple from a sycamore?

Ans. Both Maple trees and sycamores look similar to each other. Usually, in-between the lobes, the Maple tree leaves have deep indentations, and the sycamore trees have shallow indentations.


In addition, Maple trees have an opposite leaf arrangement, but Sycamore tree leaves grow alternatively.


Ques 4. How can you tell the difference between a sugar Maple and a silver Maple?

Ans. Often people confuse Sugar Maple with the Silver Maple. It is because both these maples have paler undersides and identical lobed leaves. But, there are differences between the two:

  • You can identify maple leaves of Sugar Maples as they have double-winged, horseshoe-shaped fruits that mature during the fall. It is not something you see in Silver Maples.
  • In Silver Maples, the twigs will produce a fetid or foul smell when the bark is scraped or bruised. It is absent in Sugar Maples.
  • Silver maples have irregularly serrated margins with deeply-cut leaves. Sugar Maples have shallower lobes and pointy leaves at the lobe tips. In-between indentations, the leaf margins are smooth and form a U-shaped curve.
  • Silver maples have silver leaves on the underside, but sugar maples have the same color on both the top and bottom. They may be light green, but not silver.
  • In Sugar Maples, the fall color is variable but includes hues of oranges and red with yellow. These trees will retain the leaves till they change color. But, in the silver maples, the ball color goes from yellow to brown, and the leaves drop, even while still green.
  • Sugar Maples have a single trunk growth habit, but Silver Maples have a multi-trunk growth habit in the wild.


Ques 5. How to identify a Maple tree for tapping?

Ans. Here are some things to remember before identifying a Maple tree for tapping.

Age – You should give it the right care maple needs and make sure the tree is mature before you remove the sap, or you will harm it.

Temperature – Maple Trees usually yield Maple syrup between February and April when the temperature during the day is over zero degrees, followed by colder nights. So, this is when the sap starts to flow.

Tools – Some tools can also help you tap a maple tree. You need:

  • Bucket lids
  • A sap bucket
  • A hamper
  • An ample spile with a hook
  • Drill


Ques 6. How do you identify a tree with a phone?

Ans. You can download these apps like Leafsnap, PlantSnap (free for Android), Plantifier on your phone. These are free mobile apps that employ visual recognition software and aid in identifying the tree species from the leaf pictures you upload on the phone.