Trees can appear very drab in the winter months and we can easily pass them without giving them a second look, desperately awaiting warmer months for lush green leaves or colourful flowers. However, we can find a lot of beauty when we spend a little time looking more closely.
Key features to look for are:
- pattern of its branches
- where bud are found
- colours of buds
- texture of bark
If you are keeping a nature journal, it would be great to look out for some of the following.
Some common winter tree features are:
Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus
The twigs are pink-brown and have no hairs and buds remain green all winter.
Horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum
Smooth twigs and sticky, oval, dark red buds. Buds are arranged along the twigs in pairs and each pair is set at 90° to the previous pair. The twigs display leaf scars that are 'horse shoe' shaped.
Beech Fagus sylvatica
Leaf buds are pointed and not pressed against the twigs. On mature trees, beech bark looks like it has ridges or shallow cracks running horizontally on the long, straight tree trunk and is recognizable due to its beautiful, silvery-gray bark. Beech can hold their leaves throughout winter.
Rowan (aka mountain ash) Sorbus aucuparia
The bark is smooth, shiny and grey. Winter twigs are grey with hairy buds, more so when young.
Common (English) oak Quercus robur
In winter it can be identified by its clusters of rounded buds.
Alder Alnus glutinosa
Male catkins are yellow and come out in the spring whilst in winter, the female catkins look like cones and have purple twigs. Its bark is fissured and dark.
The catkins attract birds, including the siskin, redpoll and goldfinch.
Ash Fraxinus excelsior
They have smooth twigs with black, velvety leaf buds arranged opposite each other and flattened twigs.
Silver birch Betula pendula
Silver birch's main attraction has to be its silvery-white bark that are very striking and almost luminous on winter days.
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Spines emerge from the same point as the buds - this is how they are distinguished from blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) which have buds on the spines in winter.
Common hazel Corylus avellana
Hazel has male and female flowers on the same shrub. The male flower is long and yellow and female is smaller and red.
A great summary of trees based on their bark, buds and thorns from the tree council can be found below:
Smooth bark: beech, aspen, hornbeam, blackthorn, hazel, white poplar, grey poplar, rowan
Peeling bark: cherries, birches, planes, field maple, paperbark maple
Ridged bark: sweet chestnut, oaks, ash, elder, willow, black poplar, lime
Plated bark: horse chestnut, sycamore, alder, crab apple, hawthorn, yew
Opposite: horse chestnut, maples, ash, spindle, elder, box elder
Alternate: sweet chestnut, birch, hazels, apple, acacia, whitebeams, goat willow, poplars, beech, hornbeam, bird cherry, alder, walnut
Alternate zigzag: elms, limes, mulberries
Clustered : oak, many types of cherry, blackthorn, plum,
Fuzzy : pear, apple, rowan, field maple
Spines or Thorns
Thorns: hawthorn, blackthorn, cherry plum, purging buckthorn, broad-leaved cockspur thorn and honey locust
Spines: Berberis shrub, some false acacias
None of the photos are my own and all references are linked to the photos. Other references used are: