How to identify trees by their leaves

Identify trees on your walk by their leaves

Ever come across a tree when you're out walking and wondered what it is? All trees have clues and features that can help you identify them - you just need to know what to look for. There are more then 50 species of native tree and shrub in the UK, and lots more non-native species that have been introduced. Whether it's an impressive oak or a pretty ash, Britain's trees are a feature of our landscape. Here, HF Nature Leader Russel Hedley shares some tips for identifying some of the most frequently seen leaves on your walk, which should prevent you from barking up the wrong tree.

Russ' top tips

Common Lime - Tilia x europaea
Common Lime Leaves

Often seen in streets and parkland, this tall broad-leaved tree has leaves that are often unsymmetrical and in the shape of a heart. One side of the heart is higher than the other, so easy to remember as an uneven heart.

English Oak - Quercus robur
oak leaves

There are two types of oak in the UK: sessile and pedunculate oak, also known as the English oak. The more common pedunculate oak has large lobes like on our ears, so think of someone very British with large lobes (Prince Charles) and you'll always be able to identify it.

Field Maple - Acer campestre
Field Maple Leaves

Britain's only native maple can often be seen in hedgerows. Its leaves are a gentle and rounded version of the classic maple-leaf design and the olive colour fades to ochre in autumn.

Sycamore - Acer pseudoplatanus
Sycamore leaves

This non-native species, imported from France, is now well-established and common in our woodlands. It has a leathery version of the standard maple style leaf but with a bright red stem and is set apart by its winged fruits, which spiral to the ground.

London Plane - Platanus x hispanica
London Plane Leaves

Introduced from Spain, this hybrid version of the plane tree has a bright-green maple leaf design but with longer pointier tips on the ends of the leaves. Once pollinated it develops bristly fruits.

Horse Chestnut - Aesculus hippocastanum
Horse Chestnut Leaves

Originally from Turkey, you can often find this tall, impressive tree in parks and gardens. Its leaves are like a hard hand with many green fingers dangling down. Look out too for flower spears from May and conkers later in the year.

Common Ash - Fraxinus excelsior
Ash Leaves

One of our tallest trees, it has a leaf that has been split up into many smaller toothed ‘leaflets’ that sit opposite each other

Get a free tree ID app

Need more detail to help you identify trees when out and about? Looking to know what a wider range of species look like? No problem The Woodland Trust have a free tree ID app for Android and iOS that provides masses of information.

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Meet the HF Leader

Russ is an experienced nature tour guide and has a great passion for all sorts of wildlife. After studying Animal Conservation at university, he was keen to offer relaxed and informative outdoor experiences that would bring people closer to the natural world. Russ leads a variety of HF Holidays nature breaks in different locations in the UK.
Explore Nature with Russ