How to identify a tree from its bark

Use this guide to help you identify 12 mostly common British trees.

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Ash bark

Discover the beauty in bark with our spotter's guide to the most common native species, from ash to aspen. Illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole

1. (above) Ash Fraxinus excelsior

Smooth and pale grey in saplings. With age, develops shallow grooves, deep fissures and bosses.

 

 

2. Wild cherry Prunus avium

Shiny and maroon, with ‘tiger’ stripes; often also deep grooves and lenticel strips. Old bark peels off in ribbons.

 

 

3. Pedunculate oak Quercus robur

Grey-brown, but often dusted in algae. Old trees become craggy, with regular deep grooves, wider at base.

 

 

4. Aspen Populus tremula

Pale grey or off-white, with dark, diamond-shaped lenticels that fuse into channels as the tree ages.

 

 

5. Elder Sambucus nigra

Greyish-brown, crossed with deep, corky ridges. This large shrub usually has some leafy buds in winter.

 

 

6. Small-leaved lime Tilia cordata

Smooth and grey in saplings; more grooved with age. Great spotted woodpeckers drill holes to suck sap.

 

 

7. Crack willow Salix fragilis

Brown and crisscrossed with deep ridges; twigs olive-green and brittle. Older trees are often pollarded.

 

 

8. Black poplar Populus nigra

Deep fissures and large bosses when mature. Similar to cultivated poplars, but with arched, decurved branches. 

 

 

9. Beech Fagus sylvatica

Smooth and grey, with bosses and lumps as tree ages. Often carved with graffiti (not good for the tree).

 

 

10. Silver birch betula pendula

Shiny and purple-chestnut in saplings. With age, turns silver-white, with large black lenticel grooves and bosses.

 

 

11. Downy birch Betula pubescens

Whitish with grey smudges and black grooves, but usually duller than silver birch. Twigs have tiny hairs.

 

 

12. Scots pine Pinus sylvestris

Pinkish-red with shallow grooves, deeper with age; cracks into small plates or scales. Our only native pine.

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