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This book is designed to enable the identification of the most common trees that are likely to be encountered in the rural areas of Southeast Asia, including the following countries: Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China (southern part), Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. The guide is not intended to be comprehensive - users will certainly encounter trees that are not included in this guide, including some of the thousands of wild tree species of the region, semi-wild species and species of very limited distribution. Rather, the tree species selected for this field guide are those trees that are most widely cultivated on and around farms, in plantations and along roads and canals within the tropical or subtropical areas of at least one of the countries of Southeast Asia. Species that are found only in very dry areas, deserts or at altitudes above 2,000 metres, have not been included.

Each tree species is illustrated using colour plates, showing the tree habit, structure of leaves, flowers, fruit and bark and other characteristic features. Opposite to this plate species synonyms, local names, major uses, ecology and distribution, including a distribution map for some species, are described. The key characteristics for identification are highlighted for quick reference. For the benefit of readers with further interest in breeding, propagation, management or use, key references are provided.

The species included in the guide are first grouped according to their overall taxonomic relationship. Within these groupings species are presented in alphabetical order. An index of scientific as well as common and local names can be found at the end of the guide. To ease the process of identification, a key has been included. The key avoids the traditional extensive use of flower characteristics, since flowers are often not readily available. Users, however, should recognize that such a simple key may not yield successful results in all cases. Users may have to resort to the individual species description in order to properly identify species.

It is important to realize that many trees show great variability compared to standard characteristics as a result of genetic variation and differences in local growing conditions.

If consultation with experts is needed to identify species, plant material may be collected and preserved using simple pressing and drying techniques. Such sampling would normally be restricted to leaves and flowers. These materials can be preserved by placing them between newspaper sheets or other paper and pressing them with some books or other heavy flat objects for several hours. If a more lasting result is needed, additional heat and air circulation must be provided and the drying period extended to 24 hours.

Always be sure
not to damage trees fatally when collecting samples.


Although technical language has been kept to a minimum in this field guide, some terms that have been used to describe species may be unfamiliar to some users. These terms are defined through illustrations in this section.


Arrangement of leaves:

Leaf structures:

SimplePalmately compound
Even pinnately compoundOdd-pinnately compound
Bipinnately compound

Leaf shapes:

Leaf margins:

Leave tips:

Leave bases:

Leaf venation:


Flowers are the reproductive organs of plants and their characteristics are often important for plant identification in traditional flora. Flower characteristics define a plant's placement in the taxonomic system. Unfortunately, many trees only flower once a year or even more rarely, hence the flowers are often not available when needed for identification. In this field guide emphasis has therefore been given to features of leaves, bark and other vegetative characters. However, when flowers are available they can provide valuable clues to the identification of a tree.

Flower structure:

Flower arrangement (or inflorescence):


Common types of fruit:

Different fruit shapes:


Although the appearance of a tree's bark can often vary within the same species between young and old trees, between trunk and branches, and sometimes between individuals growing under different conditions, most tree species still have some prevailing characteristic features of the bark that can help identification. The true appearance of the bark can often be obscured by lichens, mosses or other vegetation, particularly on old trees. The colour, smell or even taste of the inner bark may be a characteristic feature as well, but restraint should be shown in cutting the bark to check these, since such open wounds may make the tree susceptible to diseases.

The growth pattern of trunk and branches is often characteristic for a species as well. Some species develop a straight bole but other species may be crooked or twisted. The latter may be particularly pronounced under harsh growing conditions. Some trees branch near the base, whereas others have the first branches high up the trunk. Moreover the same tree may have different branching patterns depending on the density of competing vegetation, with branches generally starting lower in more open habitats. Similarly the crown of most trees will be more narrow in dense vegetation, whereas other trees of the same species growing in open conditions may develop a much wider crown. In some trees, the branches appear in characteristic whorls on the trunk. On others, branches have a horizontal orientation, curve upwards, hang down, or show other characteristic features which are important in helping to identify them.

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