A guide to identifying British trees
Trees are a source of beauty and tranquility. They're also part of our natural heritage. So why not get to know them better? This guide will help you identify many of the varieties you can see at the places we care for, including some that are thousands of years old.
If there's one tree many people will recognise, it's the oak, thanks to its distinctive leaves and acorns. That's why they've been the logo of the National Trust since 1936.
Oak leaves and acorns
The acorns and indented leaves of the common oak are arguably the most recognisable of any tree in the British countryside. However, there are actually two species of oak native to the UK. While their bark and leaves look similar, pedunculate or ‘English’ oak typically thrives in the lowlands, while sessile oak is more often found in the uplands of the north and west.
The size and shape of ash trees varies depending on their age and where they're growing but their distinctive leaves and seeds can help you to identify them. Sadly, the disease ash dieback is currently affecting many ash trees.
Ash leaves and seeds
Ash ‘leaves’ are made up of an uneven number of smaller leaf-like parts, known as ‘leaflets’ – usually seven or nine but sometimes more. Their seeds, also called ‘keys’, often hang in clusters well into the summer.
Yew trees are one of only three conifers native to the British isles and can live for thousands of years.
Yew are evergreen trees with short, soft needles. Female yew often have red berries in the autumn. Yew are found in woods and churchyards but rarely in fields as their foliage can be poisonous to some grazing animals.
Beech and hornbeam
Beech trees and hornbeam can be mistaken for one another but there are some important differences when it comes to identifying them.
Beech bark is generally smooth and grey and the leaves shiny green and oval, turning orange and red in the autumn. Very little grows under beech trees because they cast such a dense shadow. Beech seeds and nuts are contained in a husk and together they’re known as beechmast.
There are two native species of lime – but despite the name, they're not related to citrus trees.
Small- and large-leaved lime trees
Our two native species are small-leaved lime and large-leaved lime, but they’re both quite unusual and we more often come across a nursery hybrid of the two, known as common lime. They all have grey bark and heart-shaped leaves.
Alder are usually found near water or in wet ground. They produce catkins and berries that can help you identify them.
Spotting an alder
Alder have rough, grey bark and may have clumps of young shoots at the base. Their leaves are almost circular with tiny serrations around the edges.
Familiar to many of us, there are three helpful ways to spot a sweet chestnut, depending on its age and the time of year.
Leaves and chestnut pods
The most distinctive features of sweet chestnut include their elongated larger leaves and the edible fruits (that you may have enjoyed during the festive season) inside soft spiny husks.
Sycamore and field maple
They have distinctive and similarly shaped leaves and seeds but there are some key ways to tell sycamore and field maple apart.
Given enough space, sycamore can become magnificent trees with foliage that has a cloud-like appearance from a distance. When trees are young, their bark is grey and smooth. It tends to become scaly and slightly pinkish with age.
Ancient trees are links to our past, they're species-rich habitats that support countless other organisms. Discover what makes a tree ancient and how to recognise them.
Forest bathing is a way of relaxing and slowing down the mind by immersing yourself in nature. It can help reduce blood pressure, lower stress levels and improve concentration.
Trees are one of the best natural defences against climate change, which is why we’re aiming to plant and establish 20 million trees by 2030. This National Tree Week (25 November–3 December), donate to Plant a Tree and make a difference.
Find out about ambitious plans to plant trees for future generations that will absorb carbon and enable nature to thrive.
Fungi play a vital role in the natural world and decomposition process, helping break down organic woodland material. Learn all you need to know about these important organisms.
Discover the stories behind some famous British wild flowers and how wildflower meadows support important species from butterflies to bees.
Celebrate the Lake District’s trees with us – ancient trees, veteran trees, trees on nature trails for families to enjoy. Here are some of our favourites.
Ash dieback is a fungal disease affecting the country’s native ash trees. As many as four out of five ash trees may be affected and, where the dying trees could cause a threat to human safety, we need to remove them.