The storm season is well and truly here. Last week I was carried down the street by storm Henry to Stone Court in Grove Park for a day course on winter tree identification.

Before the course, when it came to tree knowledge my head was quite hollow. How do you tell trees apart when they have no leaves? Dave Warburton, London borough of Sutton’s Biodiversity officer, whose head is chock-a-block with tree facts, shared his know how.

Following a hands on activity where we were encouraged to closely observe several types of twig from a snail’s eye view, I began to spot the tiniest details that help differentiate the trees belonging to the local environment.


Observing and grouping twigs from different species of tree





We learnt the common names of trees such as the Crack Willow (Salix fragilis), with brittle, slender, olive green twigs with clasping, spiralling buds that resemble duck beaks.


Crack Willow (Salix fragilis)

We also identified twigs from the Small leaved Lime (Tilia cordata), with distinctive alternating red “boxing glove”buds.


Red buds on the Small leaved Lime (Tilia cordata)

For me, the common Wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana), will always be known as the “Yoda” tree. Can you see a resemblance?


Wayfaring “Yoda”- with a distinctive crown and mealy coating on the bark

After a hot cup of tea, we braced ourselves for a windy walk to the Ecology centre grounds to practice tree spotting outdoors. Once I  knew how to identify particular tree species I began to see them everywhere. The more I learned, the more I looked and the more I looked, the more I learned. An example that we came across often was the Cherry Tree (Prunus avium), detectable through the greyish brown bark with horizontal lenticels (bark pores for gas exchange) around the circumference and the ridges or “stack of pancakes” below the buds.


Snap of an Ornamental Cherry tree from my front garden!

One of my particular favourites was the Hazel tree (Corylus avellana) with distinctive male and female features. The male catkins hang from the tree and contain pollen to be distributed by the wind. The female flower, like a tiny red sea anemone- a real gem to discover- is thought to attract bees searching for nectar in early spring, assisting wind pollination.  The pollinated female flowers then develop into hazelnuts, providing a winter food source for native species such as Dormice and Jays. Check out the link for more information on Hazel trees.


Female flower of the Hazel (Corylus avellana)


As the outdoor session drew to a close, we headed back through Festival Walk, where we admired one of Carshalton’s claims to fame-the largest London Plane tree in the city. Check out Joe Grainger’s brilliant blog on trees and their benefits here


The recent storm had brought particularly windy weather- so much so, that a large, hollow Grey Poplar had been blown over that morning!

Once back in the shelter of Stone Court, we rounded off our day with a “Name that twig” session to solidify what we had learnt. It was gratifying to discover just how much I’d learned in one day. I had entered the the session with little to zero knowledge on tree identification and left with my eyes having been opened and feeling a lot more connected to the trees I often over look on a daily basis.

If you’re interested in gaining more insight into the trees around us, Dave has a tree ID course coming up on 24th September, where you can observe the summer/autumn trees in leaf and their fruits! A great complimentary course to the winter tree ID course.








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