Teacher Notes

Leaf Identification, Part A

Student Laboratory Kit

Materials Included In Kit

American Sycamore, unknown 1, 2
Eastern Cottonwood, unknown 4, 2
Eastern Hemlock, unknown 11, 2
Eastern Redbud, unknown 2, 2
Gingko, unknown 8, 2
Honey Locust, unknown 10, 2
Leaf Master Sheets
Little Leaf Linden, unknown 12, 2
Northern Red Oak, unknown 13, 2
Norway Maple, unknown 9, 2
Osage Orange, unknown 5, 2
Scotch Pine, unknown 7, 2
Siberian Elm, unknown 3, 2
Silver Maple, unknown 6, 2
Tree Finder Guide

Additional Materials Required

(for each lab group)
Collected leaf samples (optional)
Plant press (optional)

Safety Precautions

The materials given in this kit are considered relatively non-hazardous. Follow all normal class guidelines.


The leaf samples may be saved and used as many times as desired.

Teacher Tips

  • The leaf samples provided in this kit may vary from the actual material list due to availability. All materials are reusable. All efforts will be made to match the same type of sample (e.g., shape, size) as needed.

  • The reproducible Leaf Identification Key, Leaf Master Sheets and Leaf Identification Worksheet may be copied and given to students.
  • The leaf samples may be saved and used as many times as needed.
  • Two packages of each type of leaf are included.
  • Leaf Master Sheets are also included and may be given to students for classification of leaves for homework or if some of the leaf samples are lost or destroyed.
  • Have students identify the genus and species names of each leaf.

Further Extensions

  • A field trip may be set up to identify trees in your area. A tree finder guide is provided for such an activity. Additional tree finder guides may be purchased from Flinn Scientific (Catalog Number FB1278).
  • You may wish to have students collect their own leaves outside of class. Have students classify the leaves and what type of tree the leaf came from using tree finder guides.
  • Student-collected leaves may be pressed and saved using a plant press. Flinn Scientific sells a plant press (FB1115), or one may be constructed in the classroom using the following procedure:
    1. Obtain two pieces of thin plywood approximately 16" x 16" in size.
    2. Obtain a sheet of folded newspaper approximately 11½" x 14" in size.
    3. Place a leaf sample between the folded newspaper sheets.
    4. When pressing multiple leaves, place sheets of corrugated cardboard between each sheet of folded newspaper.
    5. Place a heavy item, such as a brick, on top of the plywood or wrap the plywood sheets with a belt to “press” the leaves.
    6. Leaves should be pressed for approximately one month.
    7. Drying time of the leaves will be accelerated if the press is placed in direct sunlight or next to a fan.
    8. Leaf samples may be mounted on heavy cardstock or leaf collection books after they have dried.
  • Have students write their own classification guides for their collected samples.

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Analyzing and interpreting data

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-LS1.A: Structure and Function
MS-LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
MS-PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life
HS-LS1.A: Structure and Function
HS-PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes
HS-LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

Crosscutting Concepts

Structure and function

Performance Expectations

HS-LS1-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins, which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

Sample Data

Leaf Identification


Answers to Questions

  1. What are some identifiable features that are used to classify the unknown samples?

    Shape, size, leaf margins, veiniation, etc.

  2. What is the main function of a leaf? Describe each function.

    Leaves capture the Sun’s energy and undergo photosynthesis, respiration, and transpiration. Photosynthesis is the process that uses light, carbon dioxide, and water to synthesize food and produce oxygen. Respiration is the process where carbon dioxide is taken in and oxygen is expelled by the leaf. Transpiration is the process of a plant losing its water through the leaves to the atmosphere.

  3. What types of leaves are found in your area? Describe each type of leaf in detail using the terms learned from this activity.

    Answers will vary.

Teacher Handouts


Student Pages

Leaf Identification, Part A


Leaves can be found in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Each species of tree produces its own variation of leaf. In this activity, 13 different leaves will be classified and identified.


  • Identification

  • Classification
  • Dichotomous key
  • Leaf structures
  • Photosynthesis


The leaf has often been called the most wonderful factory on Earth. Leaves capture the Sun’s energy and undergo a process known as photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the chemical process that uses light, carbon dioxide and water to synthesize food and produce oxygen. Leaf tissues are highly specialized and are composed of cells containing various pigments. The most important pigment is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the substance that traps energy from sunlight and gives plants a green pigment. Chlorophyll (and the light energy it traps) is contained in structures called chloroplasts.

Besides photosynthesis, leaves also carry out other exchanges with the atmosphere. It is through the leaf that the plant respires (taking in carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen) and transpires (loses water). The tissues of leaves contain specialized structures called stomata. Stomata are kidney-shaped structures that form microscopic openings in the leaf (see Figure 1). These openings work like valves that will open and close depending on the amount of water pressure, or turgor, in the leaves. The amount of water in the leaves determines if the stomata will open or close, permitting or preventing transpiration or water loss through the leaves. In nearly all plants, stomata are primarily located on the undersurface of the leaves and will vary in number depending on the environment surrounding the plant. The cuticle is a waxy protective barrier on the outermost surface of the leaf. It not only prevents excessive transpiration but it also allows water to run off the surface of a leaf.

Most leaves have a flattened, generally broad portion called a blade and a slender stalk known as a petiole. Petioles generally run into the base of the leaf blade and form the mid-rib or main vein of the leaf. The place where the petiole or leaf stalk attaches to a stem is known as a node (see Figure 2).
Leaves have many different shapes, sizes and margins (or edges). Some common leaf shapes and margins are shown in Figures 3a and 3b.
{10673_Background_Figure_3a_Leaf shapes}
{10673_Background_Figure_3b_Leaf margins}
Most leaves are arranged on the stem in three different ways—alternate, opposite, and whorled (see Figure 4). Alternate leaves are positioned on the stem one per node and will first form on one side of a stem and then on another. Opposite leaves are positioned two per node and grow at an angle of 180 degrees from each other. Whorled leaves are found three or more per node.
{10673_Background_Figure_4_Leaf position}
Leaves are primarily divided into simple and compound groupings (see Figure 5). Simple leaves usually have one leaflet, a stalk and a bud at the base of the stalk. Compound leaves have a stalk that branches into a number of leaflets.
{10673_Background_Figure_5_Simple vs. compound leaves}
Leaves may also be classified by their parallel or pinnate vein structures (see Figure 6).
Leaves come from either deciduous or coniferous (evergreens) trees. Deciduous trees have flat broad leaves that are lost every year to ensure a rest period where metabolic functions are greatly reduced. Deciduous trees produce flowers that develop into seeds after they are pollinated. Oaks and maples are examples of deciduous trees. Conifers keep their leaves and remain green year round. They can withstand very cold temperatures and heavy snow. Coniferous trees produce cones instead of the flowers seen on deciduous trees. Examples of conifers are pines and spruces.


Leaf Identification Key
Leaf Identification Worksheet
Leaf samples, unknown, 13


Part I—Leaf Identification

  1. Obtain a copy of the Leaf Identification Key.
  2. Obtain one of the unknown leaf samples. Use the Leaf Identification Key to classify the unknown sample.
  3. When looking at the key, there are several options at each step. For example:

    1a. Leaves are scalelike or needlelike . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
    1b. Leaves are not scalelike or needlelike . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

    Choose an option at each step (i.e., continue on to step 2 or step 3). Work your way through the key until all of the samples have been identified. Record the identities of the samples in the Leaf Identification Worksheet.

  4. Obtain another unknown leaf and repeat steps 2 and 3.
  5. Continue classifying until all of the unknown samples have been identified.
  6. Answer the questions in the Post-Lab section.

Student Worksheet PDF


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