Winter trees difficult to recognize  ?

To many people recognizing trees is difficult enough during spring and summer, but in winter when branches are devoid of foliage the task becomes much more difficult.  In this article six common species will be under review in their winter garb. Clues to the trees identity may be procured from bark, winter buds, outline of the tree and any fruit that may still cling to the branches.

Trees that loose their foliage during winter are termed as being deciduous.  This means that parts of the tree {in this case the leaves} drop off when their purpose is finished, which is part of the natural process. The process is named by botanists as abscission. It is after this process has occurred that the trees become more difficult to identify. However, with the aid of images the six species to be reviewed should be more readily recognized as the article concludes. Their key identification components will become evident.

The first under review is the beech tree Fagus  sylvatica. Even in the depths of winter there are key identity features. The first is the bark of this beautiful tree which is pale grey ans smooth especially when young. Although the bark may break into small square scale like parts as it matures. The trunks of the beech may well attain substantial girths and may grow to the height of 30metres with 20metre spread.

BELOW TOP--Beech tree leaf buds in winter. Below bottom The trunk of the Beech tree.

Buds and fruit capsules

Another key feature in recognizing the beech tree is the bullet shaped buds that tenant every twig at acute angles. During the winter months the buds remain linear and only swell when responding  to the lengthening day light and the relative warmth of spring. Some times the rough surfaced husks of the fruits remain on the tree confirming the species. Even if this is not the case many empty husks are often encountered beneath the tree on the ground.

Next under review is the common or flowering ash tree Fraxinus excelsior. This tall handsome tree which is a common feature of our countryside, parks and gardens, is recognized in winter by its grey bark which becomes fissured with age. It is the buds that adorn the tree that are key to identifying this species during its winter sleep.


Photograph. Below top The fissured trunk of the ash tree Below-middle The brown ash keys remain on a winter tree  Below bottom the distinctive buds of the winter ash.

Black buds.

There is a large black velvet like bud, triangular in outline which terminates the twig, just below are two more smaller buds of the same colour one on each side of the twig. the large terminal bud holds the leaves while the two smaller ones hold the flowers that appear in April or May before the leaves.

On many trees the twigs are also adorned with the fruit capsules known as the ash keys that has the name suggests hang in bunches. They become tawny then brown in winter as opposed to the vibrant green colour of summer.


Next we come to the oak tree. They belong to the genus Quercus. The buds on the winter twigs are arranged in small clusters. They are small, hard and rough to the touch. The buds may be accompanied {for part of the winter at least} by the odd brown withering leaves.  Some trees may have the marble oak galls which are the size of marbles and of a brown colour.

Photographs  Below top. Marble oak gall.. Below Bottom. The buds and w


The elder tree Sambucus nigra is famous for its its flowers in early summer and the berries that adorn the tree in autumn. However, during its winter slumber it is the distinctive bark that identifies the species. On older trees the fungi commonly known as the " jews ear" often occurs along with moss.


Like us many trees change in appearance and character as they get older and the cherry is a prime example of this. When young the bark is of a reddish brown colour, shiny and often peels in horizontal strips. This is particularly true of the ornamental species so commonly planted in parks, gardens and along streets.

when young the cherry tree tends to be columnar however, they spread out much more when mature and the bark of the trunk becomes darker in colour and very much fissured. The winter buds sit upon the twig in small clusters of 3-6.

photographs--below top, buds of the cherry tree. below bottom the shiny trunk of the ornamental cherry


Finally we look at the hazel Corylus avellana a common tree of hedgerows and woodland where they are often coppiced. When the hazel is coppiced it sends up many straight twigs and branches from low down which can cause confusion to the trees identity. The bark is grey brown, glossy and is another bark that tends to peel in strips. it is also another species of tree that produces its flowers in the form of catkins. These are produced during the winter and are small at first, of a grey green colour but during February they become elongated and of a yellowish colour. At this stage they are often referred to as "lambs tails". They cascade down from the naked branches making the tree readily identifiable.

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Photographs on this page are by Dal