How to identify a tree by its seeds

Updated November 21, 2016

Being able to identify your tree seeds is beneficial when planning a landscape. The old tree in your backyard might require a specific amount of sunlight or water, yet you may be unsure of its genus. By looking at the seeds the tree leaves behind in the fall, you can be sure to give the proper care to that tree.

Examine the overall size of the seed to start. For example, the width of the California buckeye nut is nearly four times the size of a dime. Its height is yet another two times the amount of a dime, making the buckeye a very large seed. The fruit and seeds of the flowering dogwood are very small and shaped like ovals; at the outer tip sits the remaining flower that has all but dried up and closed.

Look at the textural details of the seed. The American Beech tree seed grows in a circular form with coarse hairs that protrude upward. Smaller variations of those hairs are also evident on maple tree seeds where the seed itself sits beneath the casing (maple tree seed casings have distinctive wings). The Douglas fir seed has tiny speckles of brown and white at the site of the seed, then opens to a fan-like casing with fine grains in golden hues.

Recognise the colour variations of the seed. The grand fir tree produces seeds that are light brown, slightly golden in tone. The white oak tree, however, makes bright green acorns with an almost white lid-like top. The big leaf maple tree seed contains a rich red hue within a subtle, underlying deep brown.

See the shape in which the seed has formed. The maple tree expells seed casings that are paper thin and long. The seed itself is at one end of the seed casing in a round knob, with a feather-like cover that extends into a slight curve. The buckeye, however, is a round nut that is thick and large. The China fir tree also has a distinctive shape because its seeds are grown inside pine cones that are triangular shaped with descending diamond-shaped shields that grow into points.

Things You'll Need

  • Images of tree seeds (see references)
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