Leaves & Identification of Shrubs

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Leaves & Identification of Shrubs
Leaves of shrubs have distinct characteristics that help identify the shrubs. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

When you see a shrub that catches your eye, knowing the species helps you to potentially use that shrub within your own garden. Unfortunately, plant life outside of nurseries rarely exhibits small identification signs. Instead, different parts of the shrub can be used to identify the species or at least have an approximation of what you're looking for. If nothing else, you can pluck a leaf from the shrub and take it with you to study and classify the shrub at home or in a nursery.

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Trees and shrubs both classify as either conifers or broadleaved flowering plants. Conifer shrubs have needle-like leaves, similar to what is found on pine trees. These leaves are thin and pointed. Broadleaved shapes include the basic silhouette of the leaf in addition to the tip of the leaf. These leaves have a flat blade leaf as opposed to the pointed needle leaf, like yew shrubs. Common leaf shapes include oval, round and lobed.

Edges and Bases

The edges of the leaves, known as margins, could be lobed or toothed. Lobed edges feature a more rounded look, while toothed leaves are jagged. The tips of the leaves may be rounded, linear or pointed, either long or short. The base, which marks the point that the leaf attaches to the stem, can be either round, tapered, heart-shaped or flat. For example, holly shrubs feature oval-shaped leaves with pointed lobes and flat bases.

Colour and Texture

The leaf colour helps identify a shrub, especially in fall or winter. If the shrub's leaves remain green during fall and winter, then it is likely an evergreen shrub, such as the evergreen huckleberry shrub. Inversely, leaves that change colours or fall off belong on deciduous shrubs like the flowering currant. The texture of the leaf holds importance, as well. Some shrub leaves, like the holly, have smooth, glossy surfaces. Others have fine hairs on them or have a velvety feel to the leaves, like on the thimbleberry shrub.


The way the leaves are attached to the shrub help with identification as well. The arrangement of the leaves has several different components. The leaves may grow opposite of each other or alternate positions on the stem. Huckleberry shrubs feature alternate leaf composition, while the Oregon boxwood plant has opposite leaves. Simple leaves attach to the shrub with one leaf per stem, while compound leaves have more than one leaf per stem. Compound leaves are further divided by those with three leaflets and those with more than three leaves per stem, known as pinnate. Pinnate leaves can be found on the Oregon Grape-tail shrub, for instance.

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