How to identify trees on your next adventure
Can you tell an ash from an oak? What about a beech from a maple? When you’re out and about in the great British countryside, you’re bound to spot a variety of very different trees. But how can you tell them apart?
We’ve created a tree identification guide, to help you spot some of the most common trees around Britain. We’ve decided to focus on identifying trees native to Britain, giving you insights into how to identify trees by their leaves, flowers, fruits and bark.
How to identify an ash tree
Ash is the third most common type of tree in Britain – for now. Ash trees are affected by a fungus, first identified in Britain in 2012, and theirextinction is looking likely in the near future. Fully grown ash trees can reach a height of 35m, and often grow in crowds, forming canopies.Be sure to visit Gelert’s Grave in Beddgelert, Gwynedd for a great example of a British ash tree.
Here’s what you should look out for when identifying an ash tree:
• Leaves: ash leaves have between 3 and 6 pairs of leaflets, with a single leaflet at the leaf’s end. Their leaves move in the direction of sunlight, and keep their light green colour when they fall.
• Flowers: typically, ash trees have either male or female flowers – but it is possible for one tree to flower both. Ash trees feature clusters of purple tipped flowers, which appear before leaves do in spring.
• Fruits: ash tree fruits develop in the late summer and early autumn, producing ‘key’ shaped fruit. Fruit walls in winter and early spring.
How to identify a beech tree
Beech trees can reach a height of over 40m. Beech tree identification by bark can be done by looking for light grey bark that’s very smooth and thin – also look out for horizontal etchings across the bark. Britain’s native beech, the European beech, grows across the south of Britain. Want to see a prime example of a beech tree? Pay a visit to the Poem Tree in Oxfordshire.
• Leaves: beech leaves start off lime green in colour, with silky hairs. As the tree develops and the leaves grow, their colour darkens and they grow out of their hairs. Leaves are between 5 and 10cm long, with around 6 veins on each side, a pointed tip and wavy edges.
• Flowers: beech trees produce a lot of flowers following hot, dry summers. Female flowers grow in pairs, with a leaf to cup them. The male flowers are tassel-like catkins, which can be found at the end of twigs.
• Fruits: beech trees produce nets, beech nuts, which grow in enclosed casings.
How to identify birch trees
Silver birch trees form a canopy, and grow up to 30m in height. They have slender trunks with pearly white bark which darkens towards the bottom. Silver birches are known for hardiness, and have been noted as one of the first trees to appear on fire damaged or bare land.
• Leaves: silver birch tree identification can be done by looking out for delicate, light green leaves that are triangular with toothed edges.
• Flowers:look out for cylindrical catkins – yellow-brown for males and light green for females. Female catkins are smaller than male counterparts.
• Fruits: the female catkins will thicken, and turn a dark crimson colour.
How to identify maple trees
Growing across southern England, the native field maple can survive up to 350 years, and can grow up to around 20m in height.The bark is light brown and has a cork-like resemblance, which helps with maple tree identification. Maple trees have slender, brown twigs and small grey leaf buds growing on them.
• Leaves: field maple trees’ leaves are relatively small, and can be identified by their dark green colour and shiny texture. The 5 prongs and rounded teeth make maple one of the best trees to identify by their leaves – they can be recognised from being depicted on the national flag of Canada, and of course maple syrup bottles!
• Flowers: Field maple trees’ flowers are self-reproductive, with both male and female parts. Their yellow-green flowers are small and are grouped in clusters along the twigs.
• Fruits: seeds from a field maple flowers into winged fruits, that are scattered by the wind.
How to identify oak trees
The English oak is Britain’s largest native tree, and to some it symbolises the essence of England. Oaks can reach heights of 45m. Most of their growth takes place during the first 120 years of their lives, gradually slowing from this point. To extend their lives, oak trees sometimes start shortening. Their silvery bark toughens and becomes more rugged with age. Make sure you check out our favourite oak tree: The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire.
• Leaves: want to know how to identify leaves? Oak leaves grow to around 10cm in length, with deep lobes on each side. Oak leaves grow in bunches and have practically no stems.
• Flowers: look out for long, yellow catkins, which are distributed by the air.
• Fruits:oak tree fruit come in the familiar form of acorns. Before they ripen, acorns are green in colour, turning brown as they ripen. Ripe acorns will loosen and fall, providing food for birds and squirrels.
How to identify pine trees
The Scots pine is Britain’s only native pine tree. It was one of the first trees to grow in Britain following the last ice age around 10,000 years ago. Mature pines can grow up to 35m in height and live for 700 years. Scots pine’s bark is an orange-brown colour. Unsurprisingly, Scots pines can be found throughout Scotland: if you’re exploring in Perthshire, be sure to visit Gunnar’s Tree.
• Leaves: their leaves resemble green needles, and grow in pairs. Pine needles are relatively easy to recognise compared to some other native British trees.
• Flowers:Scots pine flowers are delicate clusters of yellow that are dispersed by the wind.
• Fruit: the fruits from Scots pine trees are very well known – they’re pine cones. As they develop, they turn from green to a grey brown colour and small branches spread outwards.
Tree species identification
And there you have it – our guide on how to identify trees by leaves, fruits, flowers and, in some cases, their bark. Next time you and the family take to the great outdoors, keep an eye out for some of these wonderful trees. See if you can find them all – and make a note of other types of tree you see as well!
When you’re next out identifying trees, be sure to wear comfortable and practical walking boots – protecting your feet as you wander from tree to tree.