Winter Tree ID Tips

Working at the World of Bushcraft in Bakewell has its perks, not least that during a lunch break you can wander into the countryside and have a micro nature fix. On today’s walk I thought I’d share a couple of the features I use to ID trees at in winter.

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

A non-native to the UK but common and widespread, this tree is very easily identified in the summer months with it large ‘hand-like’ leaf clusters and spiky conker shells. Once those are lost to Autumn though this tree is still rather easy to ID: it has sticky, almost toffee apple leaf buds which are arranged on it’s twigs in opposite pairs. In the picture you can see it’s even caught a few rogue hairs from the local dog walking crowd. The Horse Chestnut, or Conker Tree, is one worth learning from a Bushcraft perspective as it’s leaves, conker shells and conkers themselves can be used to make a quick soap. The soap made from the smashed up conkers is an excellent means of cleaning yourself and your clothes in the field, and conkers can be stored for long periods for this purpose.

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)

Of the same Soapberry family as Horse Chestnut, Sycamores fall into the Maple (Acer) Genus. There are some some family resemblances, as the buds also form in opposite pairs along the twigs. However Sycamore buds are small, brilliantly green with dark scale tip almost like mascara. Sycamore are another non-native to the UK, but are useful in bushcraft. The wood is quite weak structurally, so doesn’t make for great shelter building unless it’s green, but can be carved easily into spoons and spatulas. If you’re just starting out in learning to carve utensils, get yourself some green sycamore from a local tree surgeon and get stuck in. You might find the grain likes to run away a little when making larger cuts, but once you’re aware of that you can compensate quite easily. If you’d like to learn more perhaps you’d like to check out our carving workshops.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Elder trees are another useful tree to us, the stems when cut green and carefully dried make excellent hand drills for firelighting. Throughout the year their beautiful five petaled creamy white flower clusters make great fitters when battered and fried over the fire, and later in the year the berries can be used for elderberry wine (a favourite of mine). In winter though they can look a little forlorn, being elderly in appearance and well as name with wrinkled bark and nobbly branch nodes. The buds are purple, often with a tufted appearance.

Yew (Taxus baccata)

The final tree I noticed on my walk this lunchtime was a gorgeous old Yew. Readily identified as an evergreen it stands quite apparent from needled species such as pine and fir as it’s often a dense and dark spot in the landscape, growing out wide as opposed to up straight like a pine. To further refine your skill at identifying this tree is well worth looking more closely at those needles though: you’ll notice they arrange themselves into two flat rows along each side of the twig, however a closer look with reveal they actually grow spirally from the main stem and twist themselves into the two row configuration. This tree is definitely worth being aware of as it’s poisonous, to the degree that it is not recommended that you even use the wood as firewood. The soft red flesh of the berry is edible, however the seed within contains the same poisons as the rest of the tree. As these fleshy berries form an important winter food for Thrushes and Waxwings, the seeds within for Finches I’d suggest leaving them entirely for the birds.


I hope you find that useful, I’d love to know what details you look out for in the winter so leave us a comment below.


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