click to enlarge the pictures

Plane trees

Plane trees
in skyline.

beech leaves

beech leaves.

pond leaves

pond leaves.

pond leaves

various leaves in the
pond at fountain court

Russell Hotel

Plane trees beside
the Russell Hotel.

plane twigs

Plane trees
in the skyline.

Trees of London


Things to look for:

              The prospect of identifying trees in the winter when they have shed their leaves, particularly between the months of December and May, can seem daunting, and who can blame those that consider it best to postpone this pastime until the spring? Leaves are the most distinctive factor in telling one type of tree from another. However, there are other clues and some of these come to the fore in the absence of leaves.

The Shape:

              The shape of a tree can sometimes be concealed by the presence of leaves and now is the time to look closely at this factor.
              Take a look at the height and size of the tree. If the tree is above twenty metres it can only belong to certain categories. However, be warned, a tree merely being short does not exclude any categories, as it may not be a fully grown tree.

The silhouette:

              All trees have distinct silhouettes, but some are more striking than others. Observe how round is the tree: its height to breadth ration; how twisty are its branches and twigs; how much light gets through.

Nut and seeds:

              Some trees like the London plane and the silver birch hold their nut, seeds or cones throughout the winter only releasing them in the spring, unlike other trees, like the oak, which release their seeds, acorns, during the summer or in autumn.


              It is surprising how many, and for how long, straggler leaves survive on trees, sometimes throughout the winter. It is true they are often shrivelled, but if you get close they still contain some identifiable features.
              Do not neglect to observe the leaves lying on the ground around the tree, but be cautious as some of these may have blown from other trees.
              Perhaps this is the time of year to concentrate on conifers and evergreens. Most conifers keep their needles in the winter, but not all; the dawn redwood and the larch do not. Take a look at the holm oak and the ivy tree. The best of all is the strawberry tree, which often has its red ripe fruit in December.


              Bark is a reliable friend in the winter and, with some trees with thick foliage, is easier to see.


              In describing leaves the terms opposite and alternate are used. However when confronted with a mass of green leaves these features are sometimes difficult to discern. In the winter it is easier to see whether twigs grow from branches in opposite or alternate formation, also look at the buds on the twigs and see if they are opposite or alternate.


              A tree is never inactive; there is always something going on. No sooner have the leaves from one year been shed, than the leaf buds for the next year start to form. The size of these buds and their state of development can give clues. The horse chestnut tree has a leaf bud that is visible and develops early in the winter. It is quite large and moist and appears on the extreme of the twigs.

The Christmas Tree

              If all else fails and you insist on being lazy, there is always the Christmas tree to fall back on. There is no clear rule, but most are Norway spruces, the one at Trafalgar Square definitely is. This year take a closer look at it, its shape, its needles, and afterwards admire its decoration

tulip trees

Trees of London        A James Wilkinson Publication ©