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No. 1 Get to know a tree

Visitors in the gardens at Christmas, Tredegar House, Newport, Wales
Visitors in the gardens at Tredegar House, Newport, Wales | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Get to know a tree throughout the seasons, and search for clues in its roots, bark and branches to uncover its story. Who knows – if you ask, it may tell you. And it is no. 1 of our ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ .

Getting started

Every tree has something special about it. You could look in your garden, your local park or a forest for a tree that you’d like to get to know. Go searching solo, or invite your family or friends to join you.

Before you set off, it’s always best to check with an adult and take extra care around trees that might be damaged or very old. There’s much to discover on a tree – so get your detective hat on and pack a magnifying glass if you have one.

Be a tree detective

Some trees have hollows so big that you can climb inside, while others have tiny cracks where minibeasts hide. You’ll have to investigate every nook and gnarl of your tree to really get to know it.

Crouch down to look at the roots of your tree, or clamber to the very top if its branches. Measure how wide its trunk is with your arms. And use your hands to feel the texture of its bark – is it bumpy, rough or smooth? You could make a rubbing with paper and a crayon to reveal the lines and patterns.

Look up. Are your tree’s leaves dancing in the breeze? Are there any flowers or seeds growing there? Listen for birds or squirrels who may be hiding or making their home. You could even search your tree for scars, and try to imagine what may have caused them: a storm, an animal or something else?

Children taking a close look at the wildlife on a fallen tree trunk at a garden in spring, Tressilick, Cornwall
Children taking a close look at the wildlife on a fallen tree trunk | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Nosey business

Have you ever smelt a tree? Sometimes we smell of toothpaste, or broccoli, or the dirt that gets stuck under our fingernails. Just like us, trees have their own smells, and this can change with the weather. So, don’t forget to use your sense of smell too. Put your face really close and give your tree a good sniff. Does its trunk smell different to its branches? What about its leaves, flowers or seeds? Can you describe what you found?

Dressed for the season

Nothing changes its style for the season quite like a tree. Bright and blooming in spring, coiffed green layers in summer, splashes of gold and red in autumn and pared-back brown in winter. Even the trees that keep their leaves all year will show other changes as the seasons change – from the seeds and fruit it bears, to the creatures that visit its branches.

Choose a tree you can explore at different times of the year and talk about the changes that you discover. Maybe you could turn it into a game of eye-spy? Take your sketchpad, diary or camera to keep a memory of the changes, so you can look back at how your tree has transformed throughout the year.

‘When I climbed up and looked down, everyone else looked like mice they were so small. I liked the fact that you could hide and see the house from inside the tree.’

- Jessica, age 8

Climb carefully

We want everyone to enjoy trees as much as we do. Before you clamber up and over your tree, it's best to check if there are any signs of damage or if it may be special for its age or type. Check with an adult before you set off on your adventures and keep away from trees in stormy weather.

A mother helps a young child climb over a fallen log in the parkland, on a bright, wintry day.

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