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Silver Birch – 8 Species Review

Silver Birch – 8 Species Review

Silver Birch look the part on a cold and frosty morning. The white or silvery trunk looks good singly or when grouped together.
boxing morning 102

Key Features of the Silver Birch

  • Latin name Betula pendula other common names Curly birch, Paper Birch, Weeping Birch or Ribbon Tree
  • Height up to 100 feet 30m narrow spread.
  • Type of tree – Deciduous broad leaf
  • Leaves – Green and triangular shaped with toothed edges.
  • Flowers Male and female catkins borne on the same tree.
    Male are yellow and drooping female green and upright, later pendulous when fertilised.
  • Fruit Winged seeds borne in catkins
  • Bark Silver white with black fissures.
  • Family Betulacea

Origins and Distribution of the Silver Birch

  • European origin found throughout Europe, western and northern Asia.
  • Seeds prolifically and is found in Canada, Scandinavia, Turkey and widely spread as a specimen ornamental.

Uses and Commercial Attributes of the Silver Birch

  • Used for making barrels and furniture. The wood is too soft for use in construction
  • The fine twiggy branches are used for brooms and besoms as well as racecourse jumps.
  • Used as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens.
  • Silver birch is popular in Finland where it is the national tree used in forestry and as branches to beat yourself in the sauna.
  •   Historically the paper like bark was used in ancient times for writing Sanskrit texts and it is still used today for sacred mantras.

Gardeners Tips for the Silver Birch

  • Silver Birch grow in a cool climate and enjoy an occasional winter snowfall.
  • They are fast growing, shallow rooted that may require water during dry periods.
  • They grow best and show most colour in full sun planted in deep, well-drained soil..
  • Trees are short lived and rot from damage so dislike pruning.
  • They are often planted amongst leafy rhododendrons and conifers where the white bark is particularly striking.
  • The deciduous foliage turns yellow in autumn.

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Beech Tree – Root and Branch Review

Beech Tree – Root and Branch Review

barrow 096

I used to think Beech trees grew on the beach but now I know a little better but not much. This is one of the UK’s most useful trees and deserves to be grown where ever space permits.

Key Features of the Beech

  • Latin name Fagus sylvatica other common names include ‘Lady of the Woods’ or European Beech
  • Height up to 45m 150 feet trunk can be 10 feet in diametre
  • Type of tree Deciduous, broadleaved, dictoyledon tree
  • Leaves – Light green turning deeper in summer are ovate shaped with wavy edges. Decorative in autumn with copper and russet foliage.
  • Flowers Male are in yellow pendulous clusters whilst female flowers are inconspicuous in leaf axils on the same tree.
  • Fruit Beech nuts are 3 sided brown nuts contained in pairs or singly inside prickly green/brown husks
  • Bark is silver gray thin and smooth
  • Family Fagus

Origins and Distribution of the Beech

  • Grows widely throughout Europe and likes chalky and limestone areas.
  • Native to England it may have been introduced by stone age man for the food property of the nuts.

Beech Trees

Uses and Commercial Attributes of the Beech

  • Beech nuts or ‘mast’ are still used to feed pigs and parkland deer.
  • Wood from the beech is tough and used for flooring and furniture.
  • Wooden implements like bowls, spoons and tool handles are traditionally made from beech
  • Beech woodlands often act as home for mushrooms.
  • Beech hedges are popular as the young plants are easy to train and retain their leaves through winter
  • Beech fruit are edible and have a nutty flavour but should not be consumed in great quantity as they can be toxic.
  • Beeches can live for 300 years and are used as wind breaks and field markers as well as part of mixed hedges particularly when young.
  • Wood from the beech is used as a fuel.

Gardeners Tips for the Beech

  • Leaves remain on the tree until the spring making beech popular as a hedge.
  • Wood is easy to turn and work for carpentry particularly if soaked first to make it pliable.
  • Limited topiary is possible with a beech tree.
  • Older trees have buttresses to improve stability.
  • Read Copper Beech Hedges

Root and beech beach

Other types of Beech and Species

  • Copper Beech or Purple Beech Fagus sylvatica Purpurea atropunicea has purple leaves some turning deep green by mid-summer.
  • Weeping Beech or Fagus sylvatica Pendula has branches that hang down as the name suggests
  • Fagus sylvatica ‘Rivers Purple’ also known as ‘Riversii Major’ has been awarded an Award of Garden Merit
  • A narrow cultivar of beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’ develops into a striking cone shape.

Beech Comments from Elsewhere

  • ‘A coppard is an ancient tree that was coppiced hundreds of years ago and then later pollarded. This prolongs their life and this beech tree could be anything up to 1,000 years old and was first cut by Anglo-Saxon woodmen’ Jacks Hill Epping

Beech Trees by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden CC BY 2.0
Lake Wood, Uckfield – Beech Nuts by Dominic CC BY 2.0 below

Part of a Slideshow / Set forming a virtual tour around the lake at Lake Wood, on the outskirts of Uckfield, East Sussex, England, UK. [Map]

The artificially expanded lake and woodland is adjacent to, and to the north of, West Park Local Nature Reserve. The two areas are separated by Rocks Road (the B2012 Uckfield / Piltdown road). Both areas formed part of the Rocks Estate, owned for 200 years – and landscaped in the style of Capability Brown – by the Streatfield family. A tunnel beneath the dividing road (now bricked off) enabled carriage access to the lake from Rock House.

The area has numerous Ardlingly Sandstone outcrops. Where these obstruct the path around the lake, a tunnel – and also steps leading down to an underground boat house cave – were excavated.

Lake Wood is managed and protected by The Woodland Trust

Lake Wood, Uckfield - Beech Nuts

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

Ash – Root and Branch Review

Ash – Root and Branch Review

frêne fraxinus
Common Ash trees row widely in the UK and other Ashes grow in Asia and America. Our Ash has dark almost black buds and some species have interesting flowers but it is as a tree the provided wood to make bows that the Ash is best known in Britain.

Key Features of the Ash

  • Latin name – Fraxinus excelsior – other names; Common Ash or European Ash
  • Height – up to 150 feet
  • Type of tree – Deciduous
  • Leaves – Green pinate with 7-15 ovate-oblong leaflets
  • Flowers – small purplish in short clusters
  • Fruit – winged keys in clusters of glossy green turning brown
  • Bark – grey-brown fissured when mature
  • Family – Oleaceae

Origins and Distribution of the Ash

  • Grows widely across Europe and there are many North American species.
  • Tolerant of wind swept and coastal areas.

Common Ash Tree

Uses and Attributes of the Ash

  • Ash can make a noble shade tree quite quickly.
  • Use to make bows, hurling sticks, baseball bats and historically car and plane frames.
  • Strong, flexible and easy to turn the wood also burns well and is used in some smoking.

Gardeners Tips for the Ash

  • Select a smaller growing variety like the Manna Ash.
  • Dislikes sandy or acid soil.
  • Weeping Ash make a statement tree.

Ash Tree

Other types of Ash and key species

  • Members of the Sorbus family, Mountain Ashes or Rowans are unrelated.
  • Fraxinus is an extensive genus of hardy Ash trees including White Ash or Autumn Purple Ash, Black Ash, Blue Ash, Singleleaf Ash and Fragrant Ash.
  • The Ornus group of Ashes are attractive flowering trees also called Manna Ash.

Ash comments from elsewhere

  • In Norse mythology the first man was made from Ash.
  • Yggdrasil the ‘Tree of the World’ is thought to be an Ash

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

frêne fraxinus by Luberon (sb) CC BY-NC 2.0
Common Ash Tree by denovich CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Ash Tree by Gemma Grace CC BY-NC 2.0

Sycamore – Root and Branch Review

Sycamore – Root and Branch Review

Sycamore Gap - Hadrian's Wall

The Sycamore is a picturesque tree the largest member of the European maples. It is one of the most common trees in the northern temperate zones enjoying exposed situations in most types of soil.

Key Features of the Sycamore

  • Latin name – Acer pseudoplantanus – other common names; False plane-tree, Scottish maple, or mock-plane.
  • Height – 120-140 feet
  • Type of tree – Deciduous
  • Leaves – Grey palmate leaves with 5 toothed lobes
  • Flowers – Borne in pendulous clusters, green insignificant
  • Fruit – Winged keys in pairs.
  • Bark – Grey-pink
  • Family – Aceracea

The Drumlanrig Sycamore

Origins and Distribution of the Sycamore

  • Western Europe and Northern temperate zones.
  • Colonises open ground with some success.

Uses and Attributes of the Sycamore

  • Strong creamy white timber is not durable outdoors.
  • Sycamore is used for flooring, furniture making and joinery.

Sycamore in Bud

Gardeners Tips for the Sycamore

  • The seeds are held in pairs with wings that allow the seed to spin and ‘helicopter’ down some distance from the aprent tree.
  • Leaves can attract a fungus that leaves the leaves with unsightly black or red spots .
  • The mature trees have a large canopy and are not suitable for small gardens.

Other types of Sycamore and key species

  • Sycamores are not to be confused with Plane trees the ‘American Sycamore’ Platanus occidentalis, Platanus racemosa or Platanus wrightii the Arizona sycamore nor with Ficus sycomorus a fig.
  • Atropurpureum has purple undersides to the leaf and ‘Brilliantissimum’ is a cultivar notable for the bright salmon-pink colour of the young foliage.

Sycamore Gap

Sycamore comments from elsewhere

  • Sycamore was the favoured wood for making ‘love spoons’ in Wales. These wedding gifts are linked with rings and were traditionally made from a single peice of wood.
  • The Drumlanrig Sycamore is reputed to be the UK’s tallest sycamore.It dates back to the 18th Century and is one of the largest girth and spread in Britain. It is one of Scotland’s top 100 Heritage Trees.

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

The Drumlanrig Sycamore by I like CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Sycamore Gap – Hadrian’s Wall by El Villano CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sycamore in Bud by Durlston Country Park CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sycamore Gap by Jonathan_W CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ‘Sycamore Gap is where they filmed on of the opening scenes in “Robin Hood Price of Thieves”

Yew – Root and Branch Review

Yew – Root and Branch Review

Irish Yew


The slow growing Yew is one of the longest lived trees capable of living for thousands of years. Britains oldest Yew in Fortingall is believed to be over 3000+ years old.

Key Features of the Yew

  • Latin name – Taxus baccata other common names English Yew, European Yew or Common Yew
  • Height – up to 80 feet
  • Type of tree – Evergreen Conifer
  • Leaves – Flat sharp-pointed needles growing in a spiral around upright shoots
  • Flowers – Male spherical catkins beneath shoots, female tiny buds near shoot ends generally on separate trees
  • Fruit – Single seeds encased in a red berry
  • Bark – Grey-brown with scaly patches revealing purple-red bark underneath
  • Family – Taxacea


Origins and Distribution of the

  • Yews have survived for many thousands of years and have adapted to climate changes
  • Native to the UK, western, central and southern Europe and as far south as northwest Africa.

Uses and Attributes of the

  • All parts of the Yew are poisonous and should be treated with care. There are new compounds (taxol) being developed from the tree to fight cancer.
  • The wood is hard, elastic and resistant to water. It was used to make long bows.
  • The Yew is associated with folklore and is often found in churchyards.

Yew - Taxus baccata

Gardeners Tips for the Yew

  • The yew can be clipped or pruned into topiary and makes a good hedge or wind break. As it is slow growing it is easy to keep it within bounds.
  • Old trees can have a girth of 20-30 feet.
  • Will grow on dry chalky soils and in the shade.
  • Taxus boccata ‘Erecta’ is a columnar form worth growing in your garden.

Other types of Yew

  • Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ or the Irish Yew is one of over 100 cultivars and the several cultivars with yellow leaves are collectively known as “Golden Yew”.
  • Taxus brevifolia or the Pacific Yew is native to northwest America.

Yew comments from elsewhere

  • ‘The Yew is considered to be the most potent tree for protection against evil, a means of connecting to your ancestors, a bringer of dreams and otherworld journeys and a symbol of the old magic. In hot weather it gives off a resinous vapour which shamans inhaled to gain visions. Yew wood was regarded as especially magical to the Celts, due to its connection with the dead and the ancestors which were deeply respected. Archaeologists have recently found well-preserved Yew wood carvings at ancient sites of springs and wells which were probably votive offerings. ‘read the full story on White Dragon

Irish Yew

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

Yews, Stow on the Wold by 1967geezer CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ‘A pair of yew trees flanking St Edward’s church door.’
Yew – Taxus baccata by lifeinthewild CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Norway Spruce Root and Branch Review

Norway Spruce Root and Branch Review

Norway Spruce

Key Features of the Norway Spruce

  • Latin name Picea Abies other common names Christmas Tree
  • Height up to 150 feet 50m
  • Type of tree – Conifer
  • Leaves Short dark green needles
  • Flowers red male and dark red female on upright clusters
  • Fruit Cones are slender cylindrical and light brown. They hang down in a pendulous manner and have long jagged scales.
  • Bark Coppery pink when young turning purple/grey and cracking as it matures.
  • Family Picea

Origins and Distribution of the Norway Spruce

  • Widely grown through out Europe.
  • In USA the Norway Spruce is planted in the northeastern and Rocky Mountain states, as well as in southeastern Canada.

Uses and Commercial Attributes of the Norway Spruce

  • Norway Spruce is an important timber tree valued for long, strong and straight timber.
  • Norway Spruce is also grown for paper pulp and general carpentry.
  • Known for retaining it’s needles the Norway Spruce has long been a favourite Christmas tree first brought to the UK by Prince Albert in Victorian times.
  • Spruce are popular as ornamental trees admired for their evergreen, symmetrical, narrow-conic growth habit.
  • The scent of pine is redolent and natural oil can be made from the sap of this Spruce.
  • Norway spruce is used in the making of violins due to its lightness, flexibility, strength and tonal qualities

Norway Spruce Cones

Gardeners Tips for the Norway Spruce

  • Trees grow quickly but a rooted Christmas tree can be planted out after Christmas and brought back the following year. Keep it well watered indoors if you plan to plant your tree.
  • Some of the best shaped Christmas Norwegian Spruce are the top few feet of a larger tree sawn down for the purpose.

Norway Spruce plantation

Other types of Norway Spruce and key species

  • Siberian Spruce having cones about half the length of Norway spruce with smoothly rounded scales, and hairy shoots.
  • Trees hybridise successfully
  • Norway spruce is one of the most important species on the European Continent. More than 100 forms and varieties have been named.
  • * Picea glauca, White Spruce, Picea mariana, Black Spruce, Picea rubens, Red Spruce are all part of the Picea family.

Norway Spruce comments from elsewhere

From the National Christmas Tree Federation ‘For Christmas trees, overall color of Norway spruce is fair to excellent, but needle retention is considered poor unless the trees are cut fresh and kept properly watered. Growth during the first 10 years after field planting is relatively slow and 8 to 11 years are required to grow a 6-7 foot tree.’

Above in the public domain because its copyright has expired

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

“Norway Spruce by friendsofmountauburn, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Norway Spruce Cones by wolfnowl CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“Norway Spruce plantation by The Heartwood CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Common Larch – Root and Branch Review

Common Larch – Root and Branch Review

Larch trees are common in forestry plantations and high ground in the UK. Larch are fast growing and loose there leaves in winter. The wood from Common Larch trees is still used for a range of purposes.

Key Features of the Common Larch

  • Latin name – Larix decidua other common names European Larch
  • Height – up to 120 feet
  • Type of tree – Deciduous Conifer
  • Leaves – flat soft needles growing in whorls on side shoots and stems
  • Flowers – male yellow, female pink catkins
  • Fruit – oval brown cones with straight scales and visible bracts
  • Bark – Grey, smooth when young fissuring with age
  • Family – Pinaceae

Origins and Distribution of the Common Larch

  • Indigenous to hilly regions of Europe.
  • Now widely planted in north America.

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Hawthorn – Root and Branch Review

Hawthorn – Root and Branch Review

Hawthorn blossum DSCF0995

The Hawthorn flowers in May hence one of its common names. Gnarled old trunks give testimony to the Hawthorn’s ability to survive in exposed windy conditions. The thorns help make the tree a good hedging subject.

Key Features of the Hawthorn

  • Latin name – Crataegus Monogyna other common names May, Quickthorn, Whitethorn or Thornapple
  • Height – 33 feet-
  • Type of tree – deciduous
  • Leaves – deeply lobed glossy green leaves
  • Flowers – Dense clusters of creamy white borne on shoots
  • Fruit – Oval red pome (Berry)half inch wide
  • Bark – Brown with shallow ridges
  • Family – Rosaceae,

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Linden Tree Common Lime -Root and Branch

Linden Tree Common Lime -Root and Branch

linden tree blossoms
The Lime is a tall growing well shaped tree which is often grown along avenues and public places in the UK. The flowers have an exquisite fragrance.

Key Features of the Common Lime

  • Latin name – Tilia Europaea, other common names Linden tree or Basswood
  • Height – Can grow over 150 feet tall one of the UK’s tallest trees
  • Type of tree – deciduous – dictoyledons
  • Leaves – Thin, green and heart shaped with a tapering tip and fine teeth. Lighter green underneath
  • Flowers – Highly scented pale yellow-green with green bracts at the base. Flower in clusters
  • Fruit – Woody round drupe covered with grey-brown hairs dispersed on the wind by wings.
  • Bark – Grey with shallow fissures when mature
  • Family -Tiliaceae

Origins and Distribution of the Common Lime

  • The tree is widely cultivated throughout Europe.
  • Linden trees are now popular in North America.

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Hornbeam – Root and Branch Review

Hornbeam – Root and Branch Review

Beneath the hornbeam on a summer afternoon

The name Hornbeam derives from ‘hard tree’ a reference to the property of the extremely tough wood.

Key Features of the Hornbeam

  • Latin name Carpinus Betulus other common names Ironwood, American hornbeam, blue-beech, or musclewood
  • Height up to 80 feet spread useful for hedges
  • Type of tree – Deciduous – dictoyledons
  • Leaves – Dark green, oval, double toothed with ridges.
  • Flowers Male and female catkins on the same tree
  • Fruit Ribbed nut held in a three leaved bract
  • Bark Silver grey and smooth
  • Family Corylaceae related to Birch and Hazels

Origins and Distribution of the Hornbeam

  • Found in Europe and China.
  • Other species are also found in America.

Uses and Commercial Attributes of Hornbeam

  • Traditionally the hard white wood was used for Ox yokes, tools, butchers blocks and mill cogs.
  • Can be coppiced for charcoal production.
  • Chess peices and piano actions can be made from Hornbeam

Gardeners Tips for the Hornbeam

  • Makes a good stout hedge and retains leaves through autumn.
  • Hornbeam tolerate quite deep shade.
  • Make good bonsai subjects

Hornbeam with mushrooms

Other types of Hornbeam and Species

  • The Oriental Hornbeam Carpinus orientalis occurs in southeast Europe and southwest Asia
  • The Japanese Hornbeam Carpinus japonica is similar to Carpinus orientalis
  • The North American species, American Hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana is similar to Carpinus betulus in leaf size and shape.

Hornbeam comments from elsewhere

Hornbeams were once coppiced and pollarded (cut back to promote new growth) on a regular basis in its native woodlands of south and south-east Britain. Epping Forest in Essex, where this practice took place, is now protected and is home to thousands of hornbeams that live alongside oak, beech, birch and holly trees.

One of the reasons Carpinus betulus can live in such close proximity to these large trees is that it is extremely tolerant to shade. However, it prefers a warm climate and does not live above 600 metres, restricting its natural habitat to the more southerly parts of Britain. Kew Gardens

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

Beneath the hornbeam on a summer afternoon by pcgn7 CC BY-NC 2.0
“Hornbeam with mushrooms by OpenEye CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Hornbeam leaf the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2