Many species of wood have unique physical, mechanical, or chemical properties. Efficient utilization dictates that species should be matched to end-use requirements through an understanding of their properties. This requires identification of the species in wood form, independent of bark, foliage, and other characteristics of the tree.  General wood identification can often be made quickly on the basis of readily visible characteristics such as color, odor, density, presence of pitch, or grain pattern. Where more positive identification is required, a laboratory investigation must be made of the microscopic anatomy of the wood.

Identifying characteristics are described in publications such as the Textbook of Wood Technology by Panshin and de Zeeuw and Identifying Wood: Accurate Results With Simple Tools by R.B. Hoadley.