Facts about trees
Our amazing native trees have grown here since the last ice age. As well as looking beautiful, they help purify the air and provide food and shelter for all sorts of creatures. And, of course, they’re a big feature of our national folklore too.
The oak is our national tree and is a symbol of strength. It’s often associated with royalty too – in ancient times, kings wore crowns of oak leaves. Oaks can live for more than 1,000 years.
The oak supports more wildlife than any other native tree. The cracks and crevices in its trunk make perfect nesting places for birds and bats; squirrels, mice and jays gobble up the acorns it produces; and it’s home to loads of the insects that birds like to feed on.
This evergreen tree can live up to 600 years and is often found in churchyards. No one really knows why, but one theory is that they were planted on the graves of plague victims to protect the dead.
Yews are sometimes seen as bad omens, which isn’t surprising as most of the tree is poisonous. The only part that isn’t is the flesh of its red berries and these are eaten by birds, squirrels and dormice. Tiny birds, such as the firecrest and goldcrest, also like to nest in its thick foliage.
The ash is another long-lived tree and can survive for up to 400 years. As its wood decays, it provides a home for birds such as owls and woodpeckers, and for burrowing insects. Bullfinches find its winged seeds particularly tasty too.
In the past, its wood was burned to ward off evil.
This tree is easy to identify from the silvery-white, paper-thin bark that peels from its trunk. The bark contains a lot of oil so makes a great natural firelighter.
Birch twigs were traditionally used to make besoms, or brooms, to sweep away the spirits of the old year. It’s a very special tree too as its long roots absorb nutrients buried deep in the soil, and these are then recycled into the upper soil to help other plants grow.
If the oak is the king of the woods, then the majestic beech is the queen. Beech woods are an important habitat for many butterfly species and their caterpillars like to chomp on the leaves. Mice, voles, squirrels and birds feast on the nuts, or masts, and in France they’re sometimes ground up and used instead of coffee.
You can easily spot a hazel in spring because of its fluffy yellow-green catkins. And, of course, it produces delicious nuts in autumn – although you need to be quick if you want some as they’re soon gobbled up by birds and small animals such as dormice.
The hazel is believed to be a magical tree – its twigs were used for wands and the nuts were sometimes carried as charms.
The hawthorn’s clusters of white flowers that appear in spring mean it’s often called the May-tree. The flowers are eaten by dormice and are a great source of nectar for bees and butterflies. This dense and thorny tree is a perfect nesting spot for many types of bird too, and they like to munch on its haws, or fruit, in the autumn.
In the past, it was considered unlucky to bring hawthorn blossom into the house as the smell reminded people of the plague!
This glossy-leaved evergreen makes a great nesting site for birds, who also love to snack on its crop of red berries in winter. The mistle thrush is notorious for greedily guarding the tasty fruit to keep other birds away.
It’s long been traditional to bring holly into our houses in winter – it’s supposed to ward off witches and goblins!
Do you have a favourite tree? Tell us about it using #NatureDetectives.