Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre

May Identification Guide

Tree ID by Leaf

In spring and summer it becomes easier to identify trees by looking at their leaves, although in autumn when the trees put on a fantastic display of colour they can still be identified by shape. This guide takes you through some of the easier to identify species you can see. Download our ID guide to trees in leaf; don't forget to send us in any sightings either via Living Record, or download a sightings form that you can print out and take with you.

Oak leave in autumn, Barry Craske/ WWT

Pedunculate Oak -Quercus robur Also known as English oak, or sometimes the common oak, this is our largest and most common native deciduous tree that grows up to 40m in height and has been known to live over 1000 years! It is a dominant tree of deciduous woods in Britain and grows in coppiced woodlands and ancient woodlands. The leaves make it easy to identify the oak – They are long and oblong shaped, pinnate-lobed and deeply lobed and have little to no stalk; they also often have fine soft hairs and the underside is usually paler than the upper surface.

Ash tree, Soltenviva
Ash - Fraxinus excelsior The ash tree is widespread throughout Wiltshire’s woodlands and is often the dominant tree. It is a large tree that can grow up to 40m tall and has widely spaced branches and a tall domed crown, which develops when it grows in damp soil in rich minerals. It’s leaves are opposite and toothed, and have 9-13 stalked leaflets, with long tips. The leaves are often among the last to open in spring.


Holly leaves, Adam Surgenor/ WWT
Holly - Ilex aquifolium With its bright red berries (found only on female plants), and shiny evergreen leaves, the native holly tree is very easy to recognise. The leaves are alternate and evergreen, with sharp spines. They are glossy and waxy on top, matt and paler underneath. There are many cultivated varieties with different shapes and leaf colours and variously coloured berries. As the holly is very shade-tolerant it is able to live as an understory species in woodlands where other trees cannot survive; it is especially associated with beech and oak woodlands. 
Beech leaves, Rob Large/ WWT

Beech - Fagus sylvatica Mature beech trees create a thick canopy overhead, which is a many branched dome, casting dense shade which prevents the growth of plants beneath it. Beech trees begin to produce leaves in March or April. Leaves are alternate, shiny green on both surfaces, with a wavy margin and six to seven pairs of parallel veins. Young leaves appear with yellow, long-stalked male flowers and greenish-white female flowers. In autumn the leaves turn yellow at first, then orange or red-brown. The leaves take quite some time to rot fully, and beech woods are carpeted with a deep layer of leaf litter.


Field Maple in Autumn, WWT
Field Maple - Acer campestre
The field maple is a round-headed tree with a sinuous trunk; the ends of its branches droop, then turn up. It prefers chalky soils so is found in most woodlands in Wiltshire. When the leaves first emerge they have a pinkish tinge to them. When fully out the small leaves are opposite and have three main round-tipped lobes and two smaller basal lobes. They are dull green in colour and downy underneath. In autumn the leaves turn an amber-yellow colour adding a beautiful glow to Wiltshire’s Woodlands.





Hazel leaf, Paul Harris
Hazel - Corylus avellana
Sometimes the hazel tree is referred to as a bush as it grows from several stems rather than just one. It is common throughout woodlands as an understorey species. The leaves are alternate with serrated edges, a drawn out tip and hairy surfaces, they grow up to 10cm long and 6-12cm across. The leaves grow in April and turn yellow before falling in October. The leaves are an important food source for the caterpillars of many species of moths.



Wild Service Tree, Roberto Erzo
Wild Service Tree - Sorbus torminalis
This is one of Britain’s rarest native trees and is usually found in oak and ash woodlands. When the tree is young its branches form a conical shape, and broaden into a spreading domed head as they mature. Superficially the wild service tree resembles a maple in leaf, but it's leaves are alternate; they are also shiny on both sides and have several lobes, the bottom pair of lobes grow at right angles to the leaf-stalk. The veins underneath have small hairs. It autumn the leaves turn from a purplish-red colour to bright red putting on a stunning display. 




Sessile Oak, Peter Birch

Sessile Oak – Quercus petraea Normally found in woodlands with poorer soils, as a result, Sessile Oak does not support the same diversity of wildlife as the Pedunculate. It has a narrow crown, rugged bark and hairless twigs. Leaves have long, yellow stalks and are less deeply lobed than Pedunculate Oak; they are broadest just above the middle. There are star shaped hairs in the side of the veins on the underside of the leaves. The flowers are out April to May before the leaves are fully open and look like golden-green catkins.

Horse Chestnut, Margaret Anne Clarke
Horse chestnut - Aesculus hippocastanum
is one of the easiest British trees to identify and its leaves are often the earliest to appear. The leaves have five to seven large, thick, stalkless leaflets with pronounced veins and a long, tapering base. The Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner moth Cameraria ohridella causes significant damage to the appearance of the trees. As the common name suggests, the larvae of this moth produce mines within the leaves, feeding between the upper and lower surfaces the larva digs its way into the leaves of the tree, damaging the leaves and stunting growth.
Silver Birch leaves, Bri Weldon
Silver birch - Betula pendula
Its papery-white bark makes it easily identifiable. The leaves of silver birch are small and roughly diamond in shape. They are toothed on both sides and borne on slender warty twigs that shiver in the slightest breeze. The new leaves emerge in April and are bright green at first, with the colour darkening to a duller green after a week or two. The colour changes to yellow or brown in autumn, with the colours becoming more intense after sharp frosts. Silver birch leaves tend to turn a brighter yellow than those of downy birch, which are usually dull or brownish. 
Hawthorn, Darin Smith/ WWT
Hawthorn - Crataegus monogyna
The 3 to 5-lobed shiny leaves are roughly oval in shape. The are alternate, with deeply divided lobes, spreading at a wide angle, and paired stipules at the base of each leaf. The upper surface is dark green above and paler underneath. Hawthorn is also widely known as the May-tree, and is the only British plant to be named after the month in which it flowers, it is usually found in hedgerows and trimmed, but left unattended they can reach 14m in height. 
Blackthorn leaves and fruit, Phil Sellens
Blackthorn - Prunus spinosa
The beautiful white blossom tends to appear early in the year before the leaves, often in a very cold period following a false spring. The leaves are small and alternate, dull above and hairy beneath. The leaves turn yellow before they fall off in winter. Blackthorn is spread by suckers to form impenetrable thickets up to 4m high. These thorny thickets provide valuable protection to other wildlife including nesting birds where they can nest undisturbed.