Tree Trail

See below for more information about the trees on the Tree Trail. We acknowledge much of this information comes from the Woodland Trust and highly recommend a visit to this interesting and informative website

Ash   Fraxinus excelsior

Ash trees can reach 35m, the bark is pale brown to grey and has fissures as the tree ages. Look out in winter for smooth twigs with black velvety buds.

Leaves are arranged in 3 – 6 opposite pairs of oval leaflets with a single leaflet as a terminal. The leaves fall when they are still green. The purplish flowers appear before the leaves in spiked cluster at the tips of twigs. 

Fruits: the female flowers have to be pollinated by wind blown pollen and develop into bunches of single seeds or ‘keys’ in autumn. These are not in pairs like wings and fall from the trees in winter. Bullfinches like these seeds and woodpeckers, owls and nuthatches use the tree for nesting. The leaves provide important food for moth caterpillars and any dead wood is enjoyed by the lesser stag beetle.

In Norse mythology the ash was the Tree of Life and burnt to ward off evil spirits. Druids regard the tree as sacred and make wands using its straight grain. 

The tough wood absorbs shocks, it is used for handles for tools and spades, furniture and it was used to make the frames in classic cars such as the Morgan sports car and for railway carriages. Ash trees can live to 400 years and can be coppiced for charcoal.

Now however it is suffering from Ash Dieback Disease. It has been predicted this could kill 95% of our ash trees and cost £15 billion in clearing up dead and dying trees and in loss of air purification. It will have a devastating impact on our landscape and the biodiversity of woodlands and hedges.

Black Poplar  Populus nigra hybrid

Mature trees grow to 30m and can live for 200 years. The bark is dark brown/black, and is gnarled with numerous lumpy burrs, which distinguishes it from the Lombardy Poplar. This tree is increasingly rare and is  immortalised in Constable’s painting The Hay Wain.

Look out for: the leaves are shiny, green and heart-shaped, with long tips and a mild scent of balsam. Young leaves open in early spring and are covered in fine, tiny hairs. It likes flood plains of rivers and has the ability to remove heavy metal from the soil.

It can be identified in spring by the catkins with red male and yellow-green female catkins on different trees, pollinated by the wind. Red catkins appear in late March/early April and female catkins shortly after. The catkins provide early nectar for bees and other insects and the seeds are eaten by birds. Various types of moth caterpillar use this tree as food. 

Black poplar has light springy wood, resistant to shock, so once used for cart wheels and is naturally fire resistant. It was pollarded or coppiced for many uses like thatching spars, clothes pegs and woven baskets.

Hawthorn  Crataegnus monogyna

Mature trees can reach a height of 15m with a single stem but hawthorns are often grown as hedges. Manor Farm Road along Riverside Park has a mixed hedge of hawthorn and blackthorn. (Prunus spinosa)

The bark is brown-grey, knotted and fissured and the twigs covered in long thorns. The leaves are small and deeply lobed (divided) almost to the centre rib and are often some of the first to come out in spring. Called May blossom, hawthorn has an explosion of pretty white or sometimes pink highly scented flowers with five petals.

The deep-red fruits are known as haws and can be used to make jellies, wines and ketchups. In wartime they were collected to make a syrup full of vitamin C and antioxidants, but raw can give a mild upset tummy. The young leaves, flowers and flower buds are all edible and can be added to salads.

Value to wildlife immeasureable! Common hawthorn can support more than 300 insects including many moth caterpillars. Its flowers are eaten by dormice and provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The haws are eaten by migrating birds as well as small mammals AND the dense thorny foliage makes a fantastic nesting shelter for many species of bird.

Hawthorn is a pagan symbol of fertility and its leaves and flowers are used for May Day garlands and in Green Man wreaths though it is said to be unlucky to bring the blossom inside. People say “Ne’er cast a clout ere May is out”

Holm Oak, (Holly oak)  Quercus ilex.

Holm oak is an evergreen tree that can grow to 20m and develop a huge, rounded crown. It was introduced to Britain in the late 1500s, and has very hard, strong wood used for joinery and making charcoal. The bark is black and finely cracked, and twigs are slender and covered with light brown felt-like hairs.

Look out for the dark green evergreen leaves which are glossy above and downy below, without lobes. (Lobes are separate parts of the leaf divided from the middle like fingers in comparison to maple leaves.) Young leaves can be spiny like holly leaves and it produces acorns in autumn.

Its yellow catkins provide a source of pollen for bees and other insects, and its dense, evergreen canopy offers year-round shelter for birds but it is less useful to our wildlife than English Oaks.

It is less susceptible to pests and pathogens than the native oak and can be invasive because it produces huge amounts of seed.

Lombardy Poplar Populus nigra Italica 

‘Italica’ is a large, vigorous, narrowly columnar deciduous tree to 30m tall. They are quite short lived an average of 15 years and can grow up to 1m a year. The tree’s wood is quite brittle and branches can be shed in rough weather.

Populus are deciduous trees, mostly very fast-growing and large, with male and female catkins on separate trees, opening before the leaves. Male catkins are the more ornamental, female ones produce  copious cottony, wind-blown seeds. The bark is rough and deeply furrowed and unopened buds are sticky. Local flocks of starlings seem to like these trees as a regrouping place.

The Lombardy Poplar (Populus fastigiata) is no more a native of Italy than of England. Its home is in the Taurus and the Himalayas, whence it has spread into Persia. Since then it has become specially abundant along the rivers of Lombardy, which is why in England it bears the name of that area. It was only introduced here in 1758.

Its wood is very light and of little value so used for packing cases. The bark was sometimes used for tanning.

London Plane  Platunus x hispanica

This is a non-native deciduous tree brought from Spain in the 17th century. It can grow to 35m and live for several hundred years.

Look out for: the bark, patterned like camouflage, is olive green to grey with large areas which peel away to reveal a creamy area below. The thick leaves have five triangular lobes similar to a sycamore but the edges are not serrated. Leaves turn rich orange-yellow before falling in autumn. 

It produces separate spherical female and male flowers in April/May like bobbles on long stems. Those with individual tiny red flowers are female and male ones are greenish and shed yellow pollen. Later these develop into round spiky clusters of seedballs covered in stiff hairs. 

This is a very common tree in London because it copes well with pollution and compacted soil, but very little wildlife is associated with this tree.

The wood is often used for veneers as it is an attractive golden colour flecked with brown.

Maple (Field Maple)   Acer campestre

This is the UK’s only native maple which can grow to 20 metres maximum, but are usually smaller. Field Maple trees grow an estimated 40-60cm each year and is very resistant to air pollution.

It’s a compact, rounded tree with attractive 5-lobed leaves that turn a rich golden yellow in autumn and makes a great hedging plant. 

The flowers are hermaphrodite meaning each flower has male and female reproductive parts. The flowers are small, yellow-green, cup-shaped and hang in clusters.

Field maples are fantastic for wildlife. The flowers develop into large winged fruits, each stem having a pair of pink tinged wings which are dispersed by wind and eaten by small mammals. Many species of moth feed on its leaves but aphids are also attracted by it, bringing with them useful predators, ladybirds, hoverfly and birds. Birds and bees collect nectar and pollen from the flowers

Druids valued the field maple for the colour-changing ability when it transforms from silver to gold, a kind of natural alchemy that they called “sunshine fire”.

Silver birch  Betula endula

Silver birch is a striking, medium-sized deciduous tree. When mature they can reach 30m in height, forming a light canopy with elegant, drooping branches. The white bark sheds layers like tissue paper and becomes black and rugged at the base. As the trees mature, the bark develops dark, diamond-shaped fissures.

The leaves are light green, small and triangular-shaped with a toothed edge, which fade to yellow in autumn.

Silver birch has both male and female flowers (catkins) on the same tree, from April to May. Male catkins are long and yellow-brown in colour, and hang in groups of two to four at the tips of shoots, like lambs’ tails. Female catkins are smaller, short, bright green and erect. After successful pollination (by wind), female catkins thicken and change colour to a dark crimson. Masses of tiny seeds are borne in autumn and dispersed by the wind.

Because birch trees have light open canopies, wild flowers and mosses can grow below them. Silver birch provides food and habitat for more than 300 insect species – the leaves attracting aphids which provide food for ladybirds and other species further up the food chain. The leaves are also a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths. Birch trees are particularly associated with specific fungi, including fly agaric, birch milk cap, birch knight, chanterelle and others.

Woodpeckers and other hole-nesting birds often nest in the trunk, while the seeds are eaten by siskins, greenfinches and redpolls.

In early Celtic mythology, the birch symbolised renewal and purification, love and fertility.  Gardeners still use the birch besom, or broom, in their gardens.

Birch wood is tough and heavy, making it suitable for furniture production, handles and toys. It was once used to make hardwearing bobbins and spools  for the Lancashire cotton industry. The bark can be used for tanning leather but has little commercial value in Britain now.

Rowan; (Mountain Ash)  Sorbus Aucuparia

Mature trees can grow to 15m in height and can live for up to 200 years. The bark is smooth and silvery grey, and leaf buds are purple and hairy.

Look out for its 5–8 pairs of serrated leaflets which are distinctive. (Serrated means that the leaves have edges like a saw)

It can be identified in winter by the young twigs which start hairy and become smooth later. Buds are hairy all over. 

In spring rowans have dense clusters of creamy-white flowers providing pollen and nectar for bees. The bunches of scarlet berries in early autumn provide a rich source of food for birds especially the blackbird, mistle thrush, redstart, redwing, song thrush, fieldfare and waxwing. The berries can be made into a tart jam and contain much Vitamin C.

The rowan was once used as a protection against witches because red was the best colour to fight evil, so it was often planted near houses It was also used to make divining rods.

Sycamore   Acer pseudoplatanus

These broadleaf deciduous trees can grow to 35m and live for 400 years. Mature trees are very tolerant of wind and pollution. The bark is dark pink-grey, and smooth when young, but cracked  with age. Twigs are pink-brown and hairless and young leaf stalks are quite red.

Look out for: leaf veins which are hairy on the underside.

The flowers are small, green-yellow and hang down in spikes called ‘racemes’. After pollination by wind and insects, female flowers develop into distinctive winged fruits known as samaras. LIke field maples these fruits are in pairs, not stretched out like a pair of glider wings but V shaped. Some areas call these ‘helicopters.

It is not a native tree but is thought to have been introduced either by the Romans or the Tudors.

Sycamore is attractive to aphids and therefore a variety of their predators, such as ladybirds, hoverflies and birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths and the flowers provide a good source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects. The seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals.

The timber is hard, pale and fine grained and so good for carving and making furniture and kitchenware handles as it does not stain or taint food. No wonder it was used in Wales for making ‘love spoons’.