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Blackwood Forest bluebells

How to identify British trees

Need a way to keep the little ones busy? Or want to liven up your daily walk? A spot of competitive tree identification is a great way to get some fresh air and expand your mind.  

At Forest Holidays, we’re all about preserving the trees of Britain’s forests and identifying trees is a big part of what we do. Each of our forest locations has a distinct tree "footprint". From the tall and orderly beech trees at Blackwood Forest to a tangle of mixed and ancient woodland at Forest of Dean

To help you identify more of our country’s beautiful trees, we’ve put together a handy tree identification guide. So you can nurture your relationship with nature wherever you are. 

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. Oak trees are among the oldest of our native trees and our guests at Sherwood Forest are always keen to visit the Major Oak which is thought to be up to 1000 years old. Find out more about oak trees.

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 leaf drawing

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

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 such as that at Blackwood Forest.

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 leaf drawing

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.

Blackwood Forest bluebells

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.  We have horse chestnut trees at both Blackwood Forest and Thorpe Forest.

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.

Horse chestnut tree leaf drawing

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. 

Horse chesnut 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 leaf drawing

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 tree

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. Silver birch is one of the main trees you can see at Keldy.

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.

Silver birch tree leaf drawing

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

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.

Sycamore tree leaf drawing

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

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. When you can, definitely visit Ardgartan Argyll or Strathyre to get the full Scots pine experience. 

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.

Scots pine tree leaf drawing

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

Identify trees in everyday life

Now that you've learnt a few things about the types of trees in the UK, deepen your connection to the natural world, and enjoy some time outdoors. Use our handy guide and get spotting some of the trees local to you. Don't forget to tag us in your discoveries @ForestHolidays on Instagram.

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