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What are the most common trees in the UK?

Alder is said to be a fashionable fairy's tree of choice. (Photo: Nature Photographers/WTML)
Alder is said to be a fashionable fairy's tree of choice. (Photo: Nature Photographers/WTML)

Did you know there are more than 60,000 species of tree across the world? From the mighty oak to the weeping willow, the UK is home to a small but special proportion of these. If you’ve ever wondered which trees are the most common, we’ve put together a list of some of the most numerous species in the country.

We’ve only included native species. This means they were already growing here before the UK disconnected from mainland Europe and not introduced by humans.

Read on to learn more about these trees and how you can spot them on your next woodland walk.

Alder (Alnus glutinosa)

  • Where to find it: Often in moist ground such as marshes and wet woodland.
  • How to identify: Look out for the female catkins - small brown cones that stay on the tree all year round.
  • Did you know: It's said that alder flowers are used to dye the clothes of fairies. The dark green colour keeps them hidden in the forest!
Look out for a Beech's hairy leaves. (Photo: WTML)
Look out for a Beech's hairy leaves. (Photo: WTML)

Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

  • Where to find it: Normally on drier, well-drained soils like chalk and limestone.
  • How to identify: Leaves have hairy edges and produces four-lobed seed cases that fall to the forest floor.
  • Did you know: The beech is a symbol of femininity and considered the queen of British trees.
The oak is an English icon. (Photo: WTML)
The oak is an English icon. (Photo: WTML)

English oak (Quercus robur)

  • Where to find it: Our most common tree, particularly numerous in southern and central England.
  • How to identify: Look for distinctive leaves with rounded lobes and short leaf stalks.
  • Did you know: Oaks can grow up to 40m tall, but may shorten over time to extend their lifespan.
Hawthorns burst into colour come spring. (Photo: WTML)
Hawthorns burst into colour come spring. (Photo: WTML)

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

  • Where to find it: Often in hedgerows and scrubland as well as woods.
  • How to identify: Has clustered white flowers with five petals and spiny twigs.
  • Did you know: Over 300 insect species rely on this tree for food.
Dormice, woodpeckers, jays and more feed on hazel nuts. (Photo: WTML).
Dormice, woodpeckers, jays and more feed on hazel nuts. (Photo: WTML).

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

  • Where to find it: Often found in the understorey of oak, ash and birch woodland.
  • How to identify: Hazel leaves are soft to the touch due to the presence of small downy hairs.
  • Did you know: Hazel nuts are an important food for dormice, helping them fatten up for hibernation.

What's that tree?

Find out with our Tree ID app

Holly is synonymous with Christmas. (Photo: WTML)
Holly is synonymous with Christmas. (Photo: WTML)

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

  • Where to find it: Common in parks and gardens as well as woodland.
  • How to identify: Distinctive spiked, glossy leaves you’ve all seen on your Christmas cards this year.
  • Did you know: It’s said to be unlucky to cut down holly trees.
Legend says that rowan trees can protect against dark magic. (Photo: WTML)
Legend says that rowan trees can protect against dark magic. (Photo: WTML)

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

  • Where to find it: Also known as mountain ash, rowan is most common at higher altitudes. Widespread across the UK, but most common in the north and west.
  • How to identify: Distinctive serrated leaflets that are found in 5-8 pairs, giving the leaves a feather-like appearance.
  • Did you know: Rowan trees were once widely planted as a protection from witches. They have the old Celtic name of “fid na ndruad”, meaning wizard’s tree!
The bark of the silver birch earned this species its name. (Photo: P Sterry/WTML)
The bark of the silver birch earned this species its name. (Photo: P Sterry/WTML)

Silver birch (Betula pendula)

  • Where to find it: is common on dry woodlands, downs and heaths.
  • How to identify: Key features are white bark and triangular-shaped leaves with rough twigs.
  • Did you know: Birch is a symbol for fertility and love in Scottish Highland folklore. If you herded barren cows with birch sticks, it was thought the cows would become fertile and have healthy calves.
This species has heart-shaped leaves. (Photo: WTML)
This species has heart-shaped leaves. (Photo: WTML)

Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata)

  • Where to find it: Found in woodland and grows best on moist but well-drained nutrient soils.
  • How to identify: Look for brown-red twigs that become shiny in the sunlight and heart-shaped leaves. Rusty-red hairs grow on the vein on the underside of the leaves.
  • Did you know: In some English regions, small-leaved lime is considered an indicator species of ancient woodland.
White willow is often found alongside rivers. (Photo: WTML)
White willow is often found alongside rivers. (Photo: WTML)

 White willow (Salix alba)

  • Where to find it: Can be found growing in wet ground, often close to rivers or streams.
  • How to identify: Look out for slender oval leaves that are paler than most willows.
  • Did you know: In Biblical times, willow trees were seen as trees of celebration, but are now often associated with sadness and mourning.

Into the woods

Why not take a walk and see how many of these species are growing in your local woodland? If you need a hand, our leaf swatch book is the perfect pocket-size guide to tree ID.

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