If you go down to the wood today… but which tree is which

I remember when tea leaves came in boxes each with a small picture card, to be collected into sets. One set was of Britain’s trees. Each card had a picture of a tree; from learning the shape of the tree you were supposed to be able to tell the species of the tree. Hmm… I have never found this easy, especially as often our trees don’t have space to grow into their natural shape. So to get their ID sorted I’ve gone for the opposite end of the spectrum – instead of looking at whole trees, I suggest starting with trees’ leaves as they are so distinctive. Leaves are also lovely and fresh at the moment. Just looking at them, I feel better. Yesterday, I took a wander round Priory Wood and gathered leaves from different trees. I’ll focus on three species.

Oak leaves are wavy round the edges

Oak leaves are thin at their base, widening towards their end and wavy round the edges. Oak is one of our longest lived tree species. In the UK, oak is the tree species which supports the most other living creatures. In Priory Wood there is a fantastic old Oak tree, with gnarled, wide girthed trunk and branches.

Hazel leaves are roundish, toothed and hairy, so softish to the touch. If you are not sure if it is hazel, give a leaf a stroke… Once cut, hazel branches grow rapidly and straight upwards from the base of the tree. Hazel used to be coppiced – cut down to the ground – as people used these branches for poles. Our next door neighbour on the allotment off Green Lane still harvests hazel to provide himself – and us – with bean poles. Cutting down of hazel opened up space in woods: as light came in flowers grew and butterflies flew. Where our old woods are being cared for, hazel is once again being coppiced to bring new life back into them.

Each elder leaf has divided into 5 leaflets, each leaflet is evenly toothed round its edge.

Each of elder’s leaves are divided up into 5 leaflets, each leaflet is toothed round the edge. Elder is easy to spot now as its large, flattish, creamy, frothy flower heads are just opening up. We will soon be able to pick elder’s flowers to make delicious elderflower cordial.

When I got home, I had a happy half hour doing a simple version of brass rubbing with the leaves I had picked. I placed a leaf under a piece of A4 paper and with a coloured pencil, held at an angle, I coloured over it. I just love seeing the shape of each leaf and the pattern of their veins emerge. As I did more, I realised that this works best if you have the leaf upside down – this way the most prominent ‘bulge’ of the veins are against the paper you are rubbing onto.

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