Article - The River Blog

Can you identify native tree species?

Author: Jeanette Dyson
Categories: Nature

Know how to identify native tree species

At River Holme Connections we’re working with the White Rose Forest. Their aim is to plant more trees in Yorkshire, so we’re doing our bit here in the River Holme catchment.

As you’ll see from our Right Tree; Right Place blog, we’re careful to make sure the trees we plant are the right mix of native trees. We also make sure any planting we do improves the ecosystem by avoiding valuable existing environments such as species rich grasslands, peatland and ground nesting bird areas.

But do you know your natives from your non-natives? We’ve put together a handy guide to help you identify native tree species we plant in our catchment.

If you want to know more, the Woodland Trust has a great guide to identifying trees. There’s an app you can download too!

Sessile oak

This mighty deciduous broadleaf tree can grown up to 40m tall. It has an upright trunk and straighter branches than the English oak. The leaves are dark green and softly lobed. Following pollination, sessile oak produce stalkless acorns.

Native tree species

Downy birch

This hardy tree can reach 30m in height, forming a light canopy with drooping branches. Downy birch has a bark that’s brown with horizontal grooves. Leaves are triangular with a rounded base and serrated edges.

Identify tree species

Silver birch

Like downy birch, silver birch can reach 30m in height and has drooping branches. The bark, however, is white and sheds layers like tissue paper. Leaves are triangular shaped with a flattish base and toothed edge.

Tree species silver birch


Mature trees can reach heights of 15m and have dense, thorny branches. The bark is brown-grey, with knots and fissures. Leaves are around 6cm in length and comprise toothed lobes. White 5-petalled flowers grow in cluster and when pollinated, develop into deep red fruits called ‘haws’.

Native trees hawthorn


With its lambs’ tails catkins and late summer nuts, hazel is a valuable tree for wildlife. When left to grow, hazel trees can reach 12m in height and live for up to 80 years. If coppiced (trimmed) they can live several hundred years. It has smooth, grey-brown bark, which peels with age. Leaves are oval, hairy, pointed at the tip and feel soft to touch.

Native trees hazel


This Christmas favourite! Mature holly trees grow to 15m in height and can live for 300 years. The bark is smooth and thin with small brown ‘warts’. Holly is best known for its waxy, dark green leaves, which are sharply spiked in younger plants, and its scarlet winter berries.

Holly native tree


Spiny with dense branches, blackthorns grow to a height of 6-7m and live for up to 100 years. They have smooth dark brown bark and twigs that develop into thorns. Leaves are long thin ovals pointed at the tip and serrated. Their rich dark fruits are popular for making sloe gin.

identify tree species blackthorn


With its roots firmly in the mysteries of medieval times, rowan trees can live for up to 200 years and grow to be 15m tall. The bark is a smooth, silvery grey colour and leaves are pinnate (feather-like) with 5-8 pairs of thin, oval toothed leaves on a stem, plus a terminal leaf at the end. It produces vast bunches of scarlet berries in the autumn that birds love.

Native tree species rowan


Perfect for wet, boggy areas, alder trees love water. The wood of this tough tree doesn’t rot when waterlogged, instead it turns stronger and harder. Alder trees are conical in shape, can grow to 28m and live for 60 years. The bark is dark and twigs have a light brown spotted stem. Look out for the female catkins that look a bit like small brown cones. Leaves are racquet-shaped and leathery with serrated edges. The leaf tip is often indented.

Identify tree species - alder

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