30 Days Wild Day 16: How to identify British trees

30 Days Wild Day 16: How to identify British trees

1. Oak

The oak is top of everyone's list of Great British trees. It is the king of trees and often regarded as a national symbol. 

How to identify oak trees

TREE: The oak tree is perhaps the one that most people can identify. A fully grown oak is 20m-40m tall and has a spreading domed canopy. The bark is grey, rough and wrinkled.

LEAF: The oak leaf is approximately 4-8cm long and it has irregular curvy edges. In spring, it is a yellowy-green colour, changing to dark green. The autumn oak leaves are gold and brown.

Oak tree leaves hand drawn illustration

Hand drawing of oak tree leaves

FLOWERS: Perhaps the least known aspect of the oak tree is its spring flowers, or catkins, a feature it shares with many trees that don’t have blossom.

FRUIT: The good old acorn is the fruit of the oak tree. It's a green, long oval nut sitting in a dinky cup. While we don’t generally eat them, they provide a rich source of food for our wildlife.

Oak tree

Major Oak at Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire

2. Beech

If the oak is the king of our Great British trees, the beech tree is the queen. Stately trees that create a thick canopy over the forest, beech trees are shallow rooted and thrive on chalky or sandy soils.

How to identify beech trees

TREE: The beech is a tall and statuesque tree, capable of reaching heights of up to 50m with a 3m trunk diameter.

LEAF: Leaves do not always drop in autumn and can often remain on the tree until spring. For this reason they are often used in hedges to provide year-round cover.

Beech tree leaves hand drawn illustration

Hand drawing of a beech tree leaf

FLOWER: Male and female flowers grow on the same tree, in spring. The male catkins hang tassel-like from stalks and the female flowers grow in pairs, surrounded by a cup.

FRUIT: Beech nuts form in twos in spiky capsules. These are edible for a number of species including pigs, turkeys and deer, though not horses.

Beech tree forest

Walk through a carpet of bluebells in spring at Blackwood Forest

3. Horse chestnut

After oak, perhaps the most familiar of our trees, the horse chestnut is of course, the conker tree. A non-native tree, it was introduced into the UK from the Balkans in the 1600's. The horse chestnut can live for 300 years or more.  

How to identify horse chestnut trees

TREE: Horse chestnut trees grow to a height of around 40m and spread out in an elongated dome shape. The bark is smooth and a rose-tinted grey colour when young. This becomes darker grey and develops scaly plates as the tree matures. In late-winter the twigs have oval, red sticky buds.

LEAF: The leaves are large and have 5-7 leaves radiating from the central stem. Each leaf has a serrated edge and draws to a point at the top.

Chestnut trees leaves hand drawn illustration

Hand drawing of a horse chestnut tree leaf

FLOWER: The flowers, which appear in May, are very distinctive. Creamy white, they appear as upward conical shapes, about 35cm from base to tip.

FRUIT: Loved by schoolchildren across the generations, the shiny brown conkers are encased in a spiky green case, which usually splits as they fall to the ground. 

Chestnut tree

Horse Chestnut tree

4. Larch

Although a conifer, larch is not evergreen. It is, in fact, the only deciduous conifer in Europe. It can live for 250 years and is primarily used for timber in fencing and garden furniture. A medieval custom is the wearing or burning of larch to protect you from evil spirits. Keldy is dominated by European Larch and it is one of the predominant trees at Cropton.

How to identify larch trees

TREE: Larch trees can reach up to 30m in height when mature. On younger trees you will notice a cone shaped canopy at the top; this broadens out with age. The bark is pinky-brown or pale brown and older trees will have fissures in the bark.

LEAF: The needles are light green and soft and they grow in small tufts from knobs on the twigs. In the autumn they change colour and become golden yellow before falling.

Larch tree leaves drawn illustration

Hand drawing of a larch tree leaf

FLOWER: In spring, creamy yellow male flowers grow on the underside of shoots, while female flowers grow at the tips of the shoots and are sometimes called "larch roses" because of their pink colour.

FRUIT: Although not evergreen, the larch is a conifer. Its cones are woody with the "leaves" pointing toward the centre.

Larch trees

Larch tree forest

5. Silver birch

We love it so much we named one of our cabins after it! A native UK tree, the silver birch is medium sized and hardy. It is a pioneer species, being one of the first trees to appear on bare or burnt land. 

How to identify silver birch trees

TREE: The silver birch gets its name from its silvery-white bark which is highly distinctive and peels away like paper.

LEAF: The single leaves are light green, small and triangular-shaped. They have a toothed edge and they turn yellow in autumn.

Hand drawing of a silver birch tree leaf

FLOWER: Silver birch trees produce male and female catkins in the spring. The male catkins are yellow and hang in groups, while the female catkins are much shorter, green and erect.

FRUIT: The female catkins are pollinated and become thicker and redder in colour.

Silver birch trees

Silver Birch forest

6. Sycamore

Sycamores, although non-native, have been in the UK for many centuries. They are often found in parks and gardens where they were planted as ornamental trees. Most of our forest locations have sycamores too. They can live for 400 years and sycamore wood is used for making musical instruments.

How to identify sycamore trees

TREE: Sycamores can grow to 35m and have a wide, spreading canopy, not unlike oaks. Sycamore bark is smooth and pinky-grey when young and dark grey with curling square scales as it matures. 

LEAF: Large leaves that spread out from a single stem, with 5 distinct lobes. The edges are serrated and in autumn the green leaves turn yellow-brown.

Hand drawing of a sycamore tree leaf

FLOWER: the flowers are called "racemes" and look like soft, fat greeny-yellow catkins.

FRUIT: Helicopters! Who hasn't played with these fascinating natural wonders as a child? Adapted for wind-born pollination, they have a fruit in the centre and two wings. Impress your friends by telling them that they are called samaras.

Sycamore tree

Sycamore tree

7. Scots pine

The Scots pine is the only truly native pine tree in the UK. It is a distinctive feature of the forests of Scotland and is the only native pine tree grown commercially. Scots pine forests are instantly recognisable from a distance but closer individual trees can vary in shape.

How to identify Scots pine trees

TREE: The Scots pine is a tall, evergreen tree with a conical trunk spreading into a dome shaped crown. Short branches grow outwards from the tree trunk. It can grow up to 36 metres tall and 1.5 metres around the trunk. The bark of a young tree is grey-green, turning to reddish brown on a mature tree, with deep fissures.

LEAF: Long bluey-green evergreen needles that grow in pairs.

Hand drawing of a scots pine tree leaf

FLOWER: Male and female flowers grow on the same tree. The male flowers are yellow and grow at the base of shoots. Female flowers are purplish and grow at the tips of shoots.

FRUIT: Once pollinated, the female flowers develop into cones. They take a year to mature so you will see cones of different ages on one tree. Mature cones are brown with a raised, bump at the centre of each scale.

Scots pine tree

Scots pine tree