Despite being a fairly small country, England has a surprising variety of native trees and plants, including some that are well-known and others that are a bit more obscure.
We’ll look through some of them here, giving descriptions and information about them.
We’ll only include trees that are native to England here (native meaning that the trees colonized England after the most recent ice age, but before the land bridge connecting it to the rest of Europe disappeared).
There are actually several trees that are often considered very English which are not native species and have a shorter history in the country than most people realize, so don’t be too surprised if you don’t see one that you were expecting to.
More specifically, the European Ash, which is the variety of ash found in Europe generally and England in particular. It is a deciduous tree, meaning that it sheds its leaves in the fall.
Ash trees are one of the most common trees in England, and they typically grow together to form domed canopies, reaching heights of up to 35 meters. It is unusual for them to live longer than 250 years, although some examples do exist.
Young ash trees can be identified by their smooth, light gray bark which becomes thicker and fissures as the tree ages. Even in winter, when it has shed its leaves, an ash tree can be identified by its smooth twigs that have dark leaf buds on them.
Though they are native to England, they are also native to a wide range of other parts of Europe, from Western Russia to Northern Spain.
Blackthorn can be considered a deciduous shrub or small tree. Small in relative terms, that is – they can still grow to a height of six or seven meters, and they can also live for up to a century.
One thing that blackthorns are famous for is that they’re the source of the fruits that are used to make sloe gin in Britain. The fruits flavor the gin, giving it a sweet, sharp fruity flavor. Sloe is another name that’s sometimes used for the blackthorn.
Wood from blackthorn was traditionally considered excellent firewood, and it is still used today to make walking sticks. Apart from their fruit, they can be identified by their small white flowers and oval-shaped, jagged-edged leaves.
Elder trees can grow to a respectable height (up to 15 meters) but have relatively short lives – not usually more than 60 years. It produces small, dark-colored berries which come into ripeness at the end of summer or the beginning of fall.
While these can be cooked and eaten, they cannot be eaten raw. This is because they contain toxins that are destroyed by the cooking process.
The tree’s leaves are pinnate (meaning that they are arranged in a featherlike pattern) and usually come in groups of 5 to 9. Like the blackthorn, the elder tree also produces small, creamy, white flowers.
It’s hard to think of the hazel tree without thinking of hazelnuts. They’re beloved of squirrels just as much as by people and develop from the small fruits that grow on the tree. Hazel trees are often coppiced, meaning that they are often cut back to their stumps to allow them to regrow.
This is a traditional method of wood management that allows people to repeatedly harvest the trees while still allowing them to grow. They can live for several hundred years in this case, though they are unlikely to live beyond 80 years if left to grow naturally.
They can reach heights of 12 meters and can be identified by the soft, downy hair on the underside of their leaves. Also note its gray-brown bark, which starts out smooth but then starts to peel as the tree gets older.
This tree gets its name from the fact that its wood is very hard (like horn) and the Old English word for tree, “beam” (compare this to the words used in German – “Baum” – and Dutch – “boom” – in the present day). They are deciduous trees, shedding their leaves in the fall.
When fully grown, they can reach a height of up to 30 meters, and can live for 300 years, or sometimes even longer. They have oval-shaped leaves with finely toothed edges that look somewhat similar to beech leaves, but are smaller.
Probably the most English tree there is, the English oak holds a particular importance in the country’s culture and history. It can reach heights of up to 40 meters, but they shorten as they get older to help them to extend their lifespan.
Oaks can reach a very great age – the oldest in England is thought to be about 1000 years old, though there are some elsewhere in Europe that are even older, possibly even as old as 1500 years.
This great age combined with their sturdy build has made them a symbol of national strength in England.
The future King Charles II hid in an oak tree from revolutionaries during the English Civil War, and this tree is now known as the Royal Oak.
The name Royal Oak has been given to 8 ships of the Royal Navy and is one of the most common names for pubs in England. Other than its size, the English oak can be recognized by its leaves. They have a very short stem, have deep lobes, and grow in bunches.
These trees were once common in England, but are now one of the country’s rarest trees, with only a few thousand known in the whole country. It usually reaches heights in the 20 – 30 m range, although in some cases they can reach up to 40 meters.
They can also live for up to 200 years. The female catkins which grow on the trees as fruits turn into seeds that look like cotton balls, which fall at the end of the summer. They can be recognized by their leaves, which somewhat resemble hearts and end in a long, thin point.
They carry a faint smell of balsam.
Reaching a height of 15 meters and living for up to 200 years, Rowan trees have a silver-colored bark and distinctive, serrated leaves. Rowan trees have a special place in various kinds of European tradition and folklore, often being associated with magic in some way.
In particular, in England, they were believed to have the ability to repel witches. Modern practitioners who have revived the pre-Christian Druidic religion of Ancient Britain regard rowans as thresholds between this world and others.
The tree produces small, red berries. These are sour but are safe to eat and can be used to make a sharp-tasting jam.
Here you can see that Old English word for tree (“beam”) crop up again. This name is fitting for its whitish-green leaves, cream-white flowers, and also from the color of the wood inside the bark. The bark itself, though, is grayish-brown, though it can look reddish in sunlight.
They can reach 15 meters tall in maturity and can live for up to 70 or 80 years. Its leaves are thick, shaped like green ovals, and have irregular ‘teeth’ along the edges.
Though not somewhat rare in the wild, they are widely grown in parks and gardens, making them a common sight in England. The wood of these trees was traditionally used to make cogs in machinery, among other things.
Yew trees are often associated with death and evil, likely due to the fact that they’re extremely poisonous. Its toxins can be inhaled and absorbed through the skin, and consuming even a small amount of it can be lethal.
In one case, a workman was killed after inhaling sawdust from a yew tree. Nevertheless, it is typically found in churchyards in England, as well as the rest of Britain and sometimes elsewhere.
Some explanations for this include that they were planted to stop cattle from grazing on rich church lands (since the poison from the yew would kill them) or to symbolize eternity due to their long life, among others. In many cases, the trees are older than the churches themselves.
The wood of yew trees was also prized and has historically been favored for making things from lutes to longbows.
The trees can grow to around 20 meters in height and often live for several hundred years. Some trees, however, are believed to be older than 1000 years, or even multiple thousands of years.
There you have it, a list of 10 trees that are native to England. Of course, a list like this can only scratch the surface – there are many other trees native to England, as well as many more that are common there, despite being introduced hundreds or thousands of years ago.
If you’re going to be in England, you might try to see if you can spot some of these trees – give yourself extra points if you manage to spot a rare black poplar!