Every tree produces distinct leaves, which may be studied and used to identify the species of its parent tree. No two trees of different species will produce exactly the same leaves, but all foliage has the same identifying characteristics. Giant, heart-shaped leaves grow on several different trees, each of them unique in their own right.
The redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) is recognisable more for its profusion of pink and purple flowers, which grow so thickly it is difficult to see the tree's heart-shaped leaves. Each leaf is 3 to 5 inches long and wide, growing alternately along the stems. The flowers are only 1/2 inch long, but they grow in clusters all over the tree in early spring. The foliage doesn't appear until after the flowers have started blooming. Redbud trees, which grow only 30 feet tall, may also be classified as large shrubs. The redbud has spreading branches that contribute to its shrublike appearance.
The princess tree, or Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa), grows between 30 and 50 feet high with a spread of 20 to 30 feet. The large, heart-shaped leaves are 5 to 10 inches in length. In late summer and fall, the light purple flowers produce small, vanilla-scented fruits.
The northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), which grows as tall as 70 feet, produces white flowers that resemble orchids in summer. The leaves are 6 inches to 12 inches long and heart shaped, growing alternately on the tree's branches. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow before dropping from the tree. The canopy grows 20 to 40 feet wide.
Identifying Tree Leaves
Trees may be identified through their leaves. Identification begins through process of elimination. Notice the way the leaves grow on the stem, whether they alternate or grow directly opposite each other. Leaves of the redbud tree grow alternately along the stem; the catalpa and empress trees have opposite leaves. Identify the various characteristics of the leaf, noticing the amount of lobes it has, its colour (and if possible, its fall colour) and the pattern on the edges. Use these findings to locate the name of a specific species of tree with giant, heart shaped leaves.