Have you come across a leaf and wondered what plant it came from?
If you want to learn more about plants, leaves are a great way to identify them.
However, there are thousands of different types of leaves worldwide, each with unique features and characteristics. Therefore, distinguishing trees based on their leaves might not always be easy.
However, by learning the names and characteristics of various common leaves, you can quickly identify them (and their parent trees) the next time you venture outdoors.
So, below, we have compiled a list of the top 20 common types of leaves, along with the scientific names of leaves, their feature, and other exciting things about them.
1. Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum
The sugar maple leaves come from the sugar maple tree, a deciduous plant that is native to Canada and the United States regions.
The leaves are simple and feature five lobes that spread radially from the leaf base. Sugar maple leaves have a toothed margin and are green but change to bright yellow or orange during fall.
Sugar maple leaves are useful, as they are ornamental and can be eaten raw or cooked.
On top of that, they are also considered the national symbol of Canada; when looking at leaves names with pictures, you will realize that they resemble the maple leaf used in the Canadian flag.
2. Blueleaf Birch – Betula caerulea
Blueleaf birch is another common type of leaf that grows on the birch plant, a deciduous tree that is native to the northeast regions of North America.
The tree gets its name from the green-bluish leaves, which are ovate, and feature strongly serrated margins. The leaves also feature a distinctive reddish petiole.
Blue birch leaves change color during fall, turning into a bright golden-yellow (and sometimes brownish-yellow) shade. As a result, the blue birch tree is usually planted for its ornamental features.
However, the tree’s bark is also used for food and medicinal purposes, while the wood is used for making paper and musical instruments (guitars).
3. American Beech – Fagus grandifolia
The American beech is a tree native to eastern regions of the United States but also found in several areas in Mexico and Canada.
The plant’s leaves are ovate and have finely toothed margins. They are also glossy green in color, but the leaves change into beautiful yellow, copper, and bronze shades during fall.
American beach leaves have several medicinal uses. For example, according to the University of Vermont, they treat ulcers and inflammation.
They can also help to soothe the nerves and stomach, cleanse the digestive system, and stimulate appetite.
4. Eastern Cottonwood – Populus deltoides
Eastern cottonwood is a tree native to the United States, Canadian, and Mexican regions.
One of the plant’s top identifying features is its leaves, which have a deltoid (triangular) shape and toothed margins. The leaves are bright green but turn yellow in the fall.
Eastern cottonwood leaves have several medicinal uses. The leaves were reportedly used in ancient medicine to treat aches, bruises, boils, and sores.
Other parts of the plants, such as the stem, bark, and cotton tuffs, also have medicinal uses.
5. Weeping Mulberry – Morus alba
Weeping mulberry is a fast-growing plant native to India and China but found in several places worldwide, including the United States, Mexico, Turkey, Iran, Argentina, and others.
Its leaves are glossy green in color but turn to a yellow shade in autumn. They are long (about 30 cm), deeply lobed, and feature serrated margins, a cordate (heart-shaped) base, and a rounded tip.
According to MedPage Today, weeping mulberry leaves were used for various medicinal purposes, including as a pain reliever, sedative, diuretic, sedative, and to treat inflammation.
The leaves can also be used as a food source during famine.
6. Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera
The tulip tree is a large growing deciduous tree native to the North American region.
You can identify the plant by its distinctive leaves, which have four to six lobes, with the top two lobes forming a V-shape at the center of the leaf.
Tulip tree leaves also have smooth margins, shiny surfaces and are green in color but change to a yellow shade in autumn.
Tulip tree leaves were used in ancient medicine by the Native American tribes to treat wounds, burns, inflammation, and arthritis.
Today, the leaves are mainly ornamental, although they are also used as food by caterpillars of butterflies and moths.
7. Sweet Magnolia – Magnolia virginiana
Sweet magnolia, also known as a sweetbay magnolia, is a plant native to the southeastern regions of the United States.
You can identify the plant by its shiny, dark green leaves, which are silvery on the underside. They are also long (about 6 to 12 cm) and have a smooth margin.
Sweet magnolia leaves are one of the most common types of leaves you can find around. Raw leaves flavor sauces, soups, and stews, while dried ones are used for seasoning.
Besides cooking, the leaves are ornamental and can help shelter butterflies, bees, and other insect pollinators.
8. Pignut Hickory – Carya glabra
Pignut Hickory is a plant native to large regions of the eastern United States.
The plant has alternate, compound leaves that emerge in about five to seven ovate-shaped leaflets. The leaves are long (about 8-10 inches), green, and with serrated margins.
Pignut hickory leaves are edible and are high in fiber and vitamins A, C, and K. The leaves also provide food for wildlife.
In addition, other parts of the plants have several uses; for example, nuts provide food, while the stem is used for firewood and wooden products (sporting goods, agricultural tools, wagon wheels, and more).
9. Sweet Bay – Laurus nobilis
Sweet bay is an herbal plant native to the Mediterranean region but found in several other places worldwide.
You can identify the plant by its oval-shaped evergreen leaves, which are glossy and dark green. The leave also has a distinctive sweet aroma, which is especially strong if crushed when fresh.
Sweet bay leaves are one of the most popular types of leaves, renowned worldwide for their culinary benefits, where they are used to flavor or garnish various dishes.
Fresh leaves are also used in cocktails, while dried leaves are used for seasoning. Apart from cooking, the sweet bay plant is also grown for ornamental reasons due to the pleasant aroma of its leaves.
10. Spiny Redberry – Rhamnus crocea
Spiny redberry is a shrub that is native to the California region. One of the plant’s top identifying features is its glossy and bright green leaves, which form on reddish petioles.
The leaves are small (about 1.8 cm long), ovate in shape, and feature a sharply toothed margin.
Spiny redberries are mostly ornamental due to their evergreen nature and the contrasting visual appeal they create when growing alongside the plant’s bright red berries.
Besides the leaves, the berries are edible, and the plant is sometimes cultivated for fencing – with its sharp leaves helping to deter intruders.
11. China Rose – Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
China rose, also known as Chinese hibiscus, is a tropical flowering shrub that is native to Vanuatu but is widespread in several tropics and subtropics regions of the world.
One of the plant’s identifying features is its leaves, which are glossy and bright green. The leaves are also ovate-shaped with an acute tip and serrated margin.
China’s rose plant is mostly ornamental due to its colorful bright red flowers. However, its leaves also have medicinal benefits and can be used to treat coughs, boils, and arthritis.
12. Arrowhead plant – Syngonium podophyllum
The arrowhead plant is a plant species native to the Latin American region, though it’s commonly found in several places in North America.
It is one of the easiest plants to identify by the names of leaves. That’s because the plant gets its name from its distinctive arrow-shaped leaves, which grow in shades of green (from dark to light green) and with white, lime, or pink variegation.
The arrowhead plant is mainly grown as an ornamental plant due to its visually appealing leaves. Also, the leaves have medicinal properties and were used by various Native American tribes to treat wounds, fever, and indigestion.
13. Rose plant – Rosa rubiginosa
Rose plant is another common flowering plant. This specific species (Rosa rubiginosa) is native to the Eurasia region but is widespread worldwide.
Rose plant leaves are pinnately arranged, with a central stem from where five to nine oval leaflets emerge.
These leaflets are small (about 9cm), hairy, forest green in color, and sport a serrated margin. In addition, the leaves have a strong and pleasant apple-like fragrance.
Rose plant leaves may not be as popular as rose flowers, but they have their uses. For example, the green foliage helps to enhance the visual appeal of the colorful rose petals.
Also, according to Planet Ayurveda, rose leaves have several medicinal properties and are used to treat inflammation, diarrhea, and intestinal ulcers.
14. American Sycamore – Platanus occidentalis
The American sycamore tree is a large, growing, wide-canopied, deciduous tree native to the North American region and Mexico.
One of the top identifying features of the plant is its leaves, which bear a striking resemblance to the maple leaf.
The only significant difference is that the American sycamore leaves are light green, alternately arranged, and have more shallow lobes than the maple leaf.
As for uses, the American sycamore leaves were used by Native American tribes for medicinal purposes like treating colds, coughs, and dietary, skin, and respiratory issues.
On the other hand, the tree’s stem is used to make furniture, flooring, boxes, and various other wooden products.
15. Mountain Ash – Sorbus aucuparia
Mountain ash, also known as rowan, is a deciduous tree native to several regions, including Europe and parts of Asia and Northern Africa.
It features compound leaves, which are pinnately arranged, with about four to nine leaflets growing on either side of the central vein.
Mountain ash leaves are lanceolate-shaped, have serrated edges, are dark green, and are covered in grey-silvery hairs. During the autumn season, these leaves turn into a yellow or dark red shade.
Mountain ash leaves were used in traditional medicine for treating various ailments. On top of that, they are edible and used to create several dishes and beverages.
Lastly, the leaves are popularly used as fodder for livestock and wild animals.
16. Northern Catalpa – Catalpa speciosa
Northern catalpa, also known as hardy catalpa or cigar tree, is a plant species native to the midwestern region of the United States.
It has large, heart-shaped leaves (about 30 cm long and 20 cm broad). The leaves are also medium green in color (and don’t change shades during) and have an entire margin.
Northern catalpa leaves have medicinal properties. They can be used to make tea that is used to treat snake bites and whooping cough.
The catalpa tree, on the other hand, is used for timber (fence posts, furniture, cabinetry, interior trim, etc.).
17. Black Cherry – Prunus serotin
Black cherry, also known as mountain black cherry or rum cherry, is a deciduous tree that is widespread in the North and South American regions.
You can identify the plant with its long (about five to 13cm), ovate-shaped leaves with finely toothed margins. They are also shiny and dark green but change to yellow or red in fall.
Black cherry leaves are medicinal and treat diarrhea, bronchitis, cough, and gastrointestinal disorders. The fruits are also used to treat cough and diarrhea.
Lastly, the cherry plant is a vital forestry plant, and its timber is popularly used for furniture.
18. American Smoketree – Cotinus obovatus
American Smoketree is a deciduous flowering plant native to several regions across the U.S., including Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and others.
You can identify the plant by its broad, oval-shaped leaves, which have a dark blue-green color that turns to a vibrant yellow, orange, or scarlet shade in fall.
Due to its vibrant leaf colors (and its flowers), the American tree plant is cultivated for ornamental reasons.
However, the leaves also have medicinal properties and are sued to treat wounds, sores, acne, inflammation, hemorrhoids, and other health issues.
The tree stem is also popularly used for wood, especially fencing posts.
19. American Basswood – Tilia americana
American basswood is a deciduous tree native to several regions of North America.
The plant has simple leaves with uneven leaf bases, which are arranged alternately, and feature double-toothed margins.
The tree’s leaves are also dark green when fully matured and sometimes turn to a yellow or golden shade during the fall season.
American basswood leaves have medicinal properties traditionally used to treat burns, scalds, and inflammation.
Likewise, the flowers were used to make a medicinal tea for treating headaches and indigestion. On the other hand, the plant’s stem is a valuable source of softwood.
20. Horse chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum
The horse chestnut, or European horse chestnut, is a large deciduous tree native to mountainous regions of Greece and Albania.
You can identify the plant by its complex leaves, which grow in a palmate pattern, where each leaf has five leaflets that emerge radially from a single point.
Horse chestnut leaves are dark green but become a pleasant yellow color in autumn. The plant’s leaflets are also large, deeply textured, and have ragged serrations on their margins.
As for uses, horse chestnut leaves are used in herbal medicine to treat cough, fever, pain, and inflammation.
Likewise, the tree’s nuts were used in traditional medicine to treat various issues, including fever, digestive issues, leg cramps, and other conditions.
If you want to learn more about plants, the above are some of the most common types of leaves that can help you quickly identify trees, herbs, shrubs, and other vegetation around you.
We have also included the botanical names for leaves, the unique features, uses, and other interesting facts that can come in handy when identifying plants and their leaves.
IW’s Chief Editor and a lover of green spaces.