You’re walking through the woodland, brushing up against shrubbery, climbing up trees, listening to the wind through the leaves and feeling the crunch under your feet.
It is the great British woodland trails that brings such a sense of calm and redirection. But which trees are you weaving in-between? Which sapling did you pass that’ll be changed on your next adventure? And which big trunk are you using to hang your campsite hammock on (if you’re into the wilderness camping thing)?
Here in the UK, we are a small and mighty island. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the space for plenty of trees to grow their branches. In fact, there are nearly 80 species of native and non-native trees firmly planting their roots in British soil.
With that, we thought it be best to finally answer one of the most common questions we get from wanderers, explorers and hikers of the UK: What are the common types of trees in the UK?
So, this guide to the botany of native British trees (and some extras on the side) is brought to you looking at everything from the breeds of the bark sweeping their majestic stumps to the categories of each tall-standing structure of nature and more.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this tree types article:
- An Evolution of Trees
- The Difference Between Native and Non-Native Types of Trees
- Categories of Tree Types with Deciduous Trees and Coniferous Trees
- How to Identify Certain Types of Trees Through the Woods
- 36 of the Native Types of Trees in the Great British Countryside
One of the best things to do is to be able to branch-out in your own hobbies and adventures. To be able to incorporate more fun and exploration into every step of free time.
It can be a way to appreciate the lungs of the Earth, using carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and expelling oxygen for all us creatures on the floor to breathe in.
So, whether you’re breaking in your hiking boots, a newbie on two wheels, a seasoned treasure hunter and more, have a think about using this guide to the types of trees in the British woodland and beyond as an observer’s notebook. You can tick some off the list or design new trails across the peaks in search for a specific bark.
Now, let’s get to it:
An Evolution of Trees
As a brief introduction, trees have been around longer than we have. In fact, they lived to see the dinosaurs, watched the world ice over and thrived into the concrete jungles of today. They’re pretty indestructible when you think about how far they’ve really come.
They are photosynthesizing perennial plants featuring tall trunks of sturdy bark and branching to hold the weight of a thousand leaves.
Trees, much like any other living species on Earth have evolved from something quite different. They didn’t start growing quite so tall or branching out to create such encompassing umbrellas of crowns. (P.S. a crown of a tree is the part with long winding branches and sweet green leaves and is also known as the canopy).
Actually, they all began life quite small, akin to shrubbery as Gymnosperm trees. This means their seeds are directly exposed to the air without the need for flowers or pollination. The opposite to these types of trees are the Angiosperm trees which grew alongside mammals and begun using mammals such as bees to pollinate the seed through flowers.
However, competition for rain and sunlight meant that trees with the ability to grow taller were the trees who could thrive and pollinate. As time progressed, we’ve had taller and taller types of trees cultivate around the globe in both the Angiosperm and Gymnosperm botany classes.
The Difference Between Native and Non-Native Types of Trees
The botany of native British trees requires a completely different care routine and growth supplement than non-native trees. To the extent of there being over 60,000 different tree types across the world and only 80 of which can germinate and cultivate in UK soil.
Despite this, there is a selection of non-native trees that have been introduced to British soil and thrived throughout the years. Some, of which, you might have believed were native to the British countryside.
For example, the Cedar tree, the Beech tree, the Apple tree, the Elm tree, the Horse Chestnut tree and even the Leyland Cyprus tree.
Native trees in the UK such as the Cherry tree and the Ash tree pose no issues to the environment or local ecosystems as they developed with these roots firmly in place. However, while the introduction of tree species from around the world have helped ecosystems thrive in some scenarios, others have proved to be invasive and damaging.
Non-native and invasive tree types (whether they’re Deciduous trees or Coniferous trees and whether they’re Angiosperm or Gymnosperm classifications) have the ability to out-compete native species of plants and change ecosystems completely.
Despite this, many have been growing deep into British soil for over 100 years without showing any signs of being invasive until now and it’s believed that 8% of all non-native trees have these invasive properties.
So, it could be worth noting down any sightings of these trees while you’re out on your wanders through the woodland and notifying the Royal Horticultural Society.
A couple of examples to keep on your watch list are the Silver Maple tree and the Sycamore tree.
Categories of Tree Types with Deciduous Trees and Coniferous Trees
There are two types of trees in the world: Deciduous trees and Coniferous trees. Not for the latter to be confused with man-eating carnivorous trees as – luckily – they don’t exist.
Essentially, for the sake of simplifying it, we can call Deciduous trees and Coniferous trees seasonal trees and evergreen trees, respectively.
This is because Deciduous trees grow with hardwood and leaves that shed and re-grow over time. This shedding occurs in the Autumn time ready for the Winter where there is not enough sunlight to justify the energy spent to keep leaves alive. So, they shed the leaves, go dormant over the Winter and wait until Spring photosynthesis to blossom and grow.
More often than not, Deciduous trees tend to have broadleaves, blooms and fruits. But they can be classed as either Angiosperm or Gymnosperm for their germination.
Good examples of Deciduous trees include the Apple tree, the Elm tree, the Maple tree, the White Ash tree and the Aspen tree.
Moving onto the Coniferous trees, they’re evergreens because their leaves never change colour or shed for the Winter. They typically feature needles and spines rather than leaves, withstand the cold and look the same all year round.
This means they’re great for all-year privacy protection for your garden. Plus, a more wholesome benefit to having non-blooming Coniferous trees; birds seek refuge within the dense needles of evergreen types of trees in the Wintertime.
Again, Coniferous trees can be either Angiosperm or Gymnosperm in terms of germination but most of the time – as their tree types rarely bloom, they are Gymnosperm.
How to Identify Certain Types of Trees Through the Woods
Trees can be identified by various means such as looking for the age in the bark, the germination methods in the canopy or even the species in the leaves.
Identifying trees is both fun for the adventurer and necessary for the researcher. For example: as we are here at The Hobby Kraze you’ll likely be an adventurer looking for ways to branch into new hobbies, passions and interests that involve nature, walking and other combination hobbies. So, being able to ‘collect’ tree sightings can be a fun and satisfying endeavour.
However, researchers and tree surgeons need to understand things such as: inventory studies, if a new species has been transplanted, a tree’s age, invasiveness, if a tree is sick, genetic studies, management studies, and atmospheric studies among many others.
If you do want to deep-dive into the botany of native British trees and identify some trunks, here’s what you can look for:
- The size of the tree should give an indication of how old a tree is. As many trees surpass the ages of 100 years, they’ll have very broad trunks, long branches and large canopies (or, crowns).
- The shape of the tree can give something away. For example, Coniferous trees have cone-like structures, meaning they have a lot of branches at the bottom of the tree and fewer at the top as it grows. Deciduous trees, however, can look like giant mushrooms.
- Looking at whether the tree has leaves or needles can be a big indicator (alongside the shape) of the types of trees you’re looking at. If a tree has needles, spines or scales, it’ll be Coniferous. But, if it has broadleaves, it’ll be Deciduous.
- Consider the condition of the bark for an indication of the tree type and the age. For example, if the bark has ridges, depressions, flakes, smoothness, fissures or a shiny tint to it.
- Sticking with the bark, the colour (whether it’s brown, red, yellow, green, black or grey) can indicate the age of the tree as well as it’s health. If you see a tree with black bark, it could be sick with a certain fungus.
- This one may take a while, but it can be worth it to identify types of trees or their category when you’re unsure. Waiting until Winter will bring about a stark difference between the Deciduous trees and Coniferous trees.
- Consider the surrounding areas of the tree. This can greatly impact whether a tree can germinate and how a tree continues to grow. For example, the Alder tree is a water-loving species and isn’t likely to be found far inland.
- Looking at the blooms, the fruits and the seeds often give a tell-tale sign of a specific tree species. For example, apples on the Apple tree, cones on the Pine tree and helicopter seeds on the Ash tree.
- The types of leaves you’re looking at on a Deciduous tree will also narrow down the tree species. There are three leaf types: simple, compound-pinnate and compound-palmate. A compound-pinnate leaf structure has one long vein with leaves sprouting in pairs like an Ash tree. A compound-palmate structure almost looks like a hand where the vein comes to a halt and a number of leaves sprout from there much like the Sycamore tree. Simple leaf trees, however, have no such pattern.
36 of the Native Types of Trees in the Great British Countryside
As we mentioned earlier, there are over 70 different species of tree growing deep into our British soil for us to appreciate in awe over while walking through the wilderness.
However, as we’ve also said, many of these are non-native species and we wanted to bring you a slice of home by bringing the botany of native British trees to this article.
Take a look at the 36 types of trees that are native to the UK (some have more than one type such as the Birch, Lime, Whitebeam and Willow!):
The Alder tree is a water-loving plant cultivating closer to rivers and lakes. It is a Deciduous tree growing leaves and catkins from Spring to Autumn and shedding for the Winter months. Their tell-tale sign is their leaf: typical and green but with a notch at the tip.
Growing only to 6m in height, the Alder Buckthorn has quite the reputation; it’s been known to be an ingredient in gunpowder as well as a natural pigment. With a simple structure, the green leaves have a slightly hairy texture and can grow small red berries through till late Summer.
These 35m-high trees are an iconic botanic for the English countryside. With a large canopy, it is a Deciduous tree with compound-pinnate leaf structures and small winged fruits that pollinate by wind and fall in early Spring. The giveaway is the classic ‘helicopter’ fall from the winged fruits.
These types of tree are most commonly seen in the North-West of Scotland and flourishes most in moist soils near lochs and rivers. It is another Deciduous tree with rich green leaves (although these are rounder). However, it’s the flowers that stand-out; they’re long, they’re fluffy and they’re pink!
Birch (Downy and Silver)
There are two types of Birch in the botany of native British trees: The Downy Birch and the Silver Birch. Characteristically, both are Deciduous trees with a soft bark exterior and hardwood interior. The Downy Birch grows furthest up North, and the Silver Birch has a pale and glimmering bark loved by gardeners.
A Spring blossoming tree, the Bird Cherry, is a stunning addition to the hilly British countryside. It is a Deciduous tree featuring a smooth trunk, drooping branches with toothed oval leaves and tiny white flower clusters packed on a main stalk. It also ripens small drupe berries in late September.
A rare edition in British botanicals, these grandeur types of trees can live for up to 200 years in Eastern England with cotton-like blooms, red catkins and balsam-scented heart-shaped green leaves. Interestingly, its timber is used to manufacture artificial limbs, toys, shelves and even bowls.
From a distance, the Blackthorn can look like a Bird Cherry with its white blossoms. However, up close, it features bigger blooms, blue-black fruits and long-tapered leaves. It is another Deciduous tree and can live for around 100 years but only reaches 6-7m at maturity.
Also known in the botanist community as the Queen of British trees, its 40m canopy falls to the ground with long compound-palmate silken leaves of varying colour from vibrant greens to glimmering golds with the spiked beech nuts. Interestingly, it is a Deciduous tree who can hold leaves through Winter.
As our first Coniferous tree in this list of the botany of native British trees, it is a slow-growing evergreen maturing at 12m. These types of trees feature small, shiny and leathery compound-pinnate leaves as well as tiny white flowers on the stem axel. Mostly seen shaven in gardens, it even has a hill named after it.
Living for 100 years at 10m tall, the Crab Apple produces fruits that look like berry-sized apples and can be made into a sweet-tasting jelly. Crab Apple tree types like to germinate and grow in large planes of well-irrigated soil to produce their simple structure leaves and white-pink blossoms.
With a thin 12-inch trunk, there are many variants of Dogwood from shrub to tree. It prefers to be under a level of shade to thrive with watered soil. This tree is characteristic for having bright red twigs growing throughout the Winter after its white blossoms have fallen as a Deciduous tree.
Known in pop culture to be the fashioning material for the Elder Wand, the Elder tree types are also said to keep dark spirits away when planted in the house; its sweet-smelling blossoms, dark sour fruits, short trunk and corky bark grows to 15m in the British woodland.
Typically growing tall in Edinburgh and Brighton, these trees are branching out as a rarity in the botanist’s world due to 60s outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease. It grows small simple-structured green leaves as a Deciduous tree as well as small, dark, hanging tassel flowers and samaras fruits.
As the main ingredient for much of the UK’s supply of modern furniture, the English Oak is a staple in the British countryside. In fact, it’s the second most common. It has a large overhanging crown filled with compound-palmate and deep-lobed leaves as well as yellow hanging catkins and the classic acorn.
Growing unmissable, red-tipped leaves in the iconic maple-leaf style, the field maple sprouts compound-palmate with small, green-budded flowers and winged fruits like the Ash tree. They commonly grow in chalk lowlands and hedgerows but are very popular in the garden as pollutant-resisting trees.
The Guelder Rose is a sign of the botany of native British trees from the ancient world; they are ornamental to many folk songs and feature tri-point leaves like the maple. However, they also cultivate bright red berries and cluster flowers that begin as a bulb and only bloom on the outer ring.
With a poisonous seed, the Hawthorn tree knows how to germinate with pollinating insects as it’s able to house over 300 species of them. The tree, itself, can grow almost anywhere but sunny areas are what will bloom the sweet-smelling flowers like anemone and bright red haws fruits.
The hazel grows the classic hazelnut we love in our spreads. And it was farmed for this reason until the 20th century. Its characteristics feature a smooth and light brown bark, a 13m tall trunk, a wide crown, toothed and compound-palmate structured leaves, the hazelnut bud and Oak tree neighbours.
The pinnacle of Winter and Christmastime, the Holly tree buds contrasting red berries against thorned dark green leaves. And, although it has broadleaves and blooms like a Deciduous tree, it is actually an evergreen Coniferous tree living for over 300 years in the hedgerows.
The Hornbeam is a natural marvel to stand underneath; with gigantic encompassing branches that grow out far and wide as well as a twisted trunk and neighbouring cousins, it dominates the woodland. As a Deciduous tree, it features simple-structured green leaves much like the Common Beech.
The Juniper is our third Coniferous plant in the types of trees native to British ground. It has stand-out blue berries looking like blueberries but are used for smoking and aren’t eaten fresh (they’re very sour and peppery). It also features sharp needles that are akin to rosemary twigs while being found on rocky land.
Lime (Common, Large-Leafed and Small-Leafed)
Three Lime types of trees are the Common Lime, the Large-Leafed Lime and the Small-Leafed Lime. They’re all Deciduous trees growing to 20m, but the large-leafed Lime features grey twigs and sticky leaves while the Small-Leafed Lime has sweet budding flowers. The Common Lime is actually a rare hybrid!
Very similar to the Hawthorn, the Midland Hawthorn grows in the central woodlands of England. While it features very similar white buds, the leaves are three-lobed and glossy while the blossoms bloom in clusters a few weeks before the Hawthorn.
The Plymouth Pear is one of the rarest trees in Britain and grows among the hedgerows. It can grow to 10m high as a Deciduous tree and features a pink-brown hardwood. However, there is one very identifiable feature; its rounded pear fruits have a foul smell only good for feeding the birds.
These tree types were awarded their name for a reason; their berries give a stark laxative effect. It can be known to be invasive as it is a hardwood tree able to thrive in most conditions the UK throws at it. The leaves are tapered and glossy, the flowers are small and green and just don’t eat the black berries.
Scotland’s temperate Caledonia Forest is home to the Rowan types of trees. They have an incredibly fast growth rate reaching a 15m tall maturity in just 15 years. They feature a compound-pinnate leaf structure with small leaves leading to bunches of vibrant red berries perfect for jams.
The Scottish Pine is an awe-filled masterpiece of the nature tree types. They reach 35m in height and have been known to live for 700 years. As Coniferous trees they don’t shed, instead growing as multi-based twisted trunks branching blue-green needles and clusters of yellow anther flowers at the stem’s tip.
Almost indistinguishable from the English Oak, the Sessile Oak features very similar components in botany such as the lobed leaves, the acorns, the long and green catkins and the house capabilities for 300 species of wildlife like the squirrel. However, these trees are the official national tree of Ireland.
Being so colourful and vibrant with pink and orange blooms, the Spindle types of trees are home to many insects and a ‘lucky’ symbolism. As a Deciduous tree, it loses green and then regains the popcorn-looking buds on its thin brown twigs in the Springtime.
Whitebeam (Common, Arran and Rock)
Like the Lime, there are three types of Whitebeam: Common Whitebeam, Arran Whitebeam and Rock Whitebeam. All grow up North while featuring long and toothed leaves as well as creamy blooms and red berries. Yet the Arran is a hybrid with whiter leaves and the Rock blooms like the Rowan tree.
Much loved by every horticultural society, the Wild Cherry tree brings us our sweet and sour cherry fruits which can often be called ‘Gean’ in Scotland. It is another of the Deciduous trees and droops long, oval and green toothed leaves growing in the simple structure for up to 60 years at a height of 30m.
Wild Service Tree
The Wild Service Tree is a – now – rare growth throughout the UK. Having cracked bark, slender twigs, maple-style leaves with unequal lobes, white Summertime blooms and olive-looking fruits. These tree types love growing in clay and lime soils in the UK but can signify areas of ancient woodland.
Willow (Bay, Crack, Goat, Grey, Osier and White)
The Willow tree has the most sub-species native to the UK; there are actually 6. Yet only the White Willow tree features the majestic and romantic drooping branches we all love. Then, Crack can grow akin to the Whitebeam, Goat has iconic white fur catkins and the Bay has Bay-looking leaves.
This 30m high tree only thrives for 20 years and – as a species of Deciduous tree – was been hit by Dutch Elm Disease like the English Elm. It grows simple-structured and asymmetrical leaves as well as red-purple flower clusters at the end of branch twigs and samaras fruits used for Gymnosperm germination.
Finally, it’s the Yew tree. This 900-year-old marvel is ironically the character of death in ancient mythology. This is because its needle leaves are poisonous to the touch. It is one of the few Coniferous trees in the botany of native British trees and grows red fruits alongside yellow March blooms.
And that concludes this guide into the types of trees, how they grow and which ones you can spy at the back of the garden.
Here at The Hobby Kraze, our team are laden with hobby ideas, experiences and top tips for making the most out of everything. So, we love bringing nuggets of information for you to look out for when you’re on your adventures.
And we think that if you liked this article, you might also be interested in these:
- The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Hiking
- Wandering Through Earth’s 18 Different Types of Waterfalls
- The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Geocaching
- Everything You Need to Know About How to Make Shelter in the Wilderness
- Earth’s Great Beaches: The Types, the Locations and the Care