A short and sweet guide to our best British trees

Posted on Jun 28 2017 - 12:49pm by Samantha Clark
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Get to know your local woods with The Woodland Trust as they talk us through the best of our British trees. Familiarise yourself with the key characteristics of the popular tree species you’ll likely have walked by many times before but not necessarily recognised.

You can help the Woodland Trust in their conservation efforts to preserve our wonderful countryside and woodland areas by visiting and donating to their sites or even taking out a membership. Why not take little ones and a picnic and make a day of it- you can even turn it into a game; note how many of the trees species you see in a day and their characteristics, note other woodland life you come across and document unfamiliar trees and plant life you can research when home.

English Oak

Oak

Quercus Robur
Pinnick Wood, National Forest, photo by Michael Clarke

The glorious English oak is an iconic staple of the Great British countryside, and that isn’t a surprise as some have been around for over 300 years. Oaks can vary in shape and size depending on their surroundings, so if you are exploring woodlands you may find they are taller and slimmer, although when in open space they tend to develop thick trunks with a larger canopy of leaves – providing shade for generations of family picnics.

The oaks smooth, lobed leaves are unmistakable, they grow in bunches and almost have no stem. You can expect the Oak tree burst into life around mid-May. Its drooping yellow flowers make it an incredible sight during summer and its acorns only add to its characteristics as a national charm.

Yew

Yew tree

The Yew Tree. Photo by Nature Photograph

The great Yew tree makes a huge statement in any kind of environment and being evergreen means it’s a delight to see throughout all the seasons. They tend to live longer than any other British native tree species; this is why they are associated with life after death and popular trees used in church graveyards.

Its leaves are pointed and its fruits are poisonous, so foraging from a yew is a big no-no! Its yellow flowers are visible in March and April. As yews age, they can develop hollow trunks some of which people can sit inside and take a break from their walk in the woods.

Holly Tree

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) with ripe berries in Berwickshire, Scotland in December. Image by Laurie Campbell

Holly is the world’s most popular tree during the festive season and its deep evergreen leaves add colour to woodlands all year round. Its famous spikes and red berries aren’t just for show, they crucial for protecting and feeding wildlife.

The holly tree can still grow well in shaded areas, making it an essential part of sustaining woodland life across Britain, particularly during the colder months. Its well-known link to Christmas derives from the tree’s association with the rebirth of the sun during the winter solstice, a sign of new beginning and fresh starts.

Small white flowers blossom in late spring and its iconic red berries are only produced by female trees. These berries are remarkably important as they play a significant part in the diets of wildlife.

Silver Birch

Silver Birch - Stuart Handley

Silver Birch. Image by Stuart Handley

Long and thin silver trunks with a pointed canopy of leaves make the silver birch is an easy spot. They are usually the first trees to emerge from the soil in newly planted woods and will continue to grow at a fast rate. This hasty growth gives the birch a short but sweet lifespan and gives the silver birch the honour of being called a pioneering tree.

The silver birch’s flowers are called catkins and will grow both female and male flowers on the same tree. The long, drooping caterpillar-like flowers can be seen all-year round and one tree can distribute thousands of seeds a year, so expect to see many of these spectacular species on your woodland walk!

Wild Cherry Tree

Cherry - Paul Hetherington

Cherry Tree. Image by Paul Hetherington

This extravagant tree certainly brings some colour to our British woodlands, it can be found in the understory as it can tolerate low light levels well. Sour cherries give this tree species its recognisable features, and bunches of white flowers make it one of Britain’s most attractive native woodland species.

Wild cherry is beneficial to the wildlife too; as insects and birds are attracted to the fruit and bright colours a wild cherry tree brings its environment.

Discover more about our amazing trees with the Woodland Trust’s adventure guide: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/

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