For a few years now I have had the ambition of identifying trees in winter, when they have no leaves so other means are needed. I think I am now getting somewhere. For starters, here are five major “native” trees in Thompson’s Park, Canton, Cardiff, a park I have adopted to study for the year. I also draw some similarities with trees seen previously in other parks.
1. COMMON BEECH – FAGUS SYLVATICA
Beeches are usually easy. They often have fallen leaves all around.
Sometimes leaves hang on to the branches.
Even more obvious are the empty fruit cases.
But even without these clues, the bark of the beech is distinctive, smooth and grey.
The branches also have a certain angularity to them.
I’ve said these trees are “native” to Britain, but I see from Wikipedia that recent evidence suggests beech was introduced to England about 4,000 years ago, brought by Neolithic people, who used the nuts for food.
2. HORSE CHESTNUT – AESCULUS HIPPOCASTANUM
I always think horse chestnuts were introduced by the Romans, but I am wrong, that was sweet chestnuts. In fact, according to the Forestry Commission, conker trees were introduced from the Balkans as late as the 17th century, as ornamental trees.
So when Longfellow wrote “Under a spreading chestnut-tree
the village smithy stands” in 1842, chestnut trees weren’t as long established as I imagined. Unless it WAS a sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa. Not the same, somehow.
I am now pretty good at recognising the sinewy, often twisted trunks of horse chestnut trees.
If there are no leaves around, the most identifiable feature of the horse chestnut is probably the brown “sticky buds”.
3. LIME OR LINDEN – TILIA CORDATA
In the past year I have at last worked out how to identify lime trees in winter. It all seems to be in the reddish sprouty twigs around the base and elsewhere on the trunk.
I have called this a Tilia Cordata, a small-leaved lime, but it could also be a Tilia Platyphyllos or large-leaved lime, or even a cross between the two, Tilia x europa, sometimes called the common lime. We shall see when the leaves come out. While the small-leaved lime is native to Britain I think the other limes started off as ornamental trees here.
4. OAK – QUERCUS ROBUR
I don’t have many images of this particular oak, yet I know it’s an oak. The shape of this archetypal English tree is in some way what we think of as “tree shaped”. The bark is also distinctive.
I have discovered in recent months that there are very many species of oak, but I am hoping this is a simple one, Quercus robur, the English oak or pedunculate oak, which is native to Britain.
I almost forgot to mention that tip about oaks and cherries having clustered terminal buds. I couldn’t capture those on this big featured tree, but here are the buds on the tree I am following this year, which I also believe to be an oak of some sort, but maybe not a Quercus robur…
5. ENGLISH SYCAMORE – ACER PSEUDOPLATANUS
The name “sycamore” causes much confusion. The English sycamore is a maple (Acer), while the American sycamore is a plane (Platanus). The sycamore mentioned in the Bible is probably the fig-mulberry (Ficus sycomorus), now often called “sycomore” with an “O” to clarify things (as if it does!)
To me the main diagnostic feature of the sycamore is its bark. Not quite as patchy as the plane, but nontheless pretty rugged.
There were no winged seeds or hand-shaped leaves on the ground around this tree I believe to be a sycamore. Perhaps they blow away too easily or rot down too quickly. But I think the leaf-buds look like those on the small sycamore in my garden…
The sycamore is another very common tree in the UK – but it is native to central and eastern Europe. It was probably introduced to Britain in the 15th century, although Wikipedia suggests it might have been here as early as the sixth or seventh century, either naturally or introduced, as there is an old Scots Gaelic name for it.
There, I have put my tree-spotting reputation on the line. I will be visiting the park again soon, and will know for sure if I have identified these five trees correctly!