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Forestry is an identification event for both divisions in the 2022-2023 season. The event consists of identifying trees on the Official Tree List and answering general questions about them. It is on a 2-year rotation with the other biology identification events: entomology, invasive species, herpetology, and ornithology. The last time it was an event was in 2013. The event was named Tree Identification from 1987 to 1990, and Tree-mendous from 1996 to 1997.

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The Event

Forestry is an event in which participants learn about a variety of North American trees. The competition is usually 3/4 identification and 1/4 knowledge-based questions about habitats, adaptions to the environment, biomes, succession, and relationships with animals or other plants. There may also be questions about trees and forestry in general. Guides to identification and studying will be included below.

Most competitions will likely be run in stations, with a specimen or photograph to identify at each station and several questions about the tree. It is required under the 2012-2013 rules that a picture of a leaf be provided for each identification. Additionally, pictures of tree shape, flowers, seeds/fruits/cones, and variations may be given. Typically 1-3 minutes are given for each station. The event may also be run as a powerpoint or a written test.

In the event of a station test, you will be provided an answer sheet. Make sure to write clearly, note the team name and number in the space provided, and erase any answers you changed. Remember to underline the genus and species of identified specimens on your answer sheet. Do not leave any blanks or incomplete questions.

For the 2023 competition, it is advised that no more than 50% of the test will consist of providing a common name/scientific name. For each specimen, students will be asked a correlated question that pertains to the tree’s structure, ecology, or economic characteristics. Structural characteristics may include leaf types, leaf shapes, leaf margins, leaf venation, leaf arrangement on the stem, twigs, bark, flowers, cones, fruits, seeds, and tree shapes. As well as, eccological characteristics that may include habitats, adaptations to the environment, biomes, succession, and relationships (e.g., symbiosis and competition) with animals or other plants. Economic characteristics may  include  beneficial  or  detrimental  aspects  of  trees  such  as  sources  of  food,  medicine,  building materials, chemicals, fuel, fiber, and trees as nuisance species.

Teams may and should bring:


  • One 2” or smaller three-ring binder
  • One commercially published field guides (Can be tabbed)
  • (2013)

    • Two 8.5" x 11" double-sided page of Notes (Tree List Included)
    • Two commercially published field guides (Can be tabbed, 3 words max per tab

    Tree Lists

    The tree list may vary from state to state, so that local trees can be tested rather than trees from another region of the country. At the national level, all trees may be asked from the national tree list.

    Previous Lists


    For more detailed information about field guides and other resources, see the Forestry Resources Page.

    A team may bring in two commercially published field guides to the test to aid them in identification and answering questions, in addition to two pages of notes. A combination of student developed notes and professional guides tend to have the best results. Participants should be familiar with their resources and be able to quickly find what they are looking for in order to take advantage of them. A good resource page in a field guide about a specific tree should contain:

    • Scientific name of specimen
    • Common name of specimen
    • Picture of specimen leaves, bark, wood, fruit, seeds, etc.
    • Page number in a specific guide
    • Habitat of specimen
    • Commercial uses of specimen
    • Pests or diseases that affect the specimen
    • Any other facts about the specimen deemed important by the team

    The most common professional guides to use are the National Audubon Society Field Guides (Eastern and Western editions) and field guides specific to an area (such as a state).

    Student notesheets should contain more general information. More general biology topics such as root systems, bark layers, photosynthesis, forest diversity, and any useful vocabulary are recommened to have on your notesheet. A tree list may be a part of the two allowed pages if the competitors feel as if they want that resource.

    Introduction to Forestry

    For a more detailed introduction, see the Introduction to Trees

    Trees aren't a formally defined taxonomic group like birds or insects. Trees are just very large plants, and can be found in families and genera which also contain smaller plants and shrubs. There is a sort of continuum between shrubs and trees – even within a species, plants can range from a mere few feet tall to hundreds of feet tall. However, for the purposes of field guides, there are some general characteristics that most trees share which allow classification to be facilitated.

    • Trees are perennial.
    • Trees have a single woody stem which branches into a crown of foliage.
    • Trees reach a height of at least 10-20 feet.

    Don't think of this definition as the ultimatum for deciding what a tree is. There are many exceptions to the above, and many people have debated over the definition of a tree throughout history.

    Tree Identification

    For ID tips and information about specific trees, see the Forestry Tree List.

    There are several methods for quick identification of a specimen. There are two things to be considered before identifying: What sort of sample (leaf, bark, wood, fruit, or seed) do you have? What is the easiest way to identify using this sample?


    If the sample is a leaf, the easiest catchall method of identification is leaf shape. Leaf shape can be broken down into a few, distinct families:


    • Needle-Like
    • Scale-Like


    • Compound Leaves
      • Pinnate
      • Palmate
    • Oak Shape
    • Maple Shape
    • Elm Shape
    • Other Shapes (Heart-shaped, circular, lance-shaped, triangular, obovate, ovate, etc.)


    Fruits are unique to the species they come from. There may be similarities between fruits, but all are easily differentiated (for example, the Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, has fruits similar to the Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, except that they are black when ripe). Most fruits come from trees with elm-shaped leaves.

    Other Samples

    Many other samples are given alongside leaves, and few are given alone. If bark, wood, or seeds are given, there is probably something significant about that particular tree (for example, the Paper Birch, Betula papyrifera, has unique bark and a buckeye is a seed unique to the Ohio Buckeye, Aesculus glabra, so they may be given for identification)

    Example Question


    Identify this specimen.

    1. What is the common name of this specimen?
    2. What time of year does this species flower?
    3. What is the main commercial use of this tree?


    Cercis canadensis

    1. (Eastern) Redbud
    2. Spring
    3. Ornamental

    See Also