A conversation with my brother a little while ago “Charlie, not one of us at this bbq can name a single tree around us”.
I have found that generally there are very few people under the age of 35 who can name more than 4-5 trees (try it) and positively identify less than that.
In the subject of Bushcraft tree identification really is the foundation for everything else. As described in my previous post, you need the tannins to tan hides. We also need to know which lumber is best for carving, which is best for firewood and which is best for structures.
So, my method when learning to identify trees and learn a little bit about them is entirely stolen from the BBC Bitesize framework, they can take the credit but I won’t pay them.
Little and often.
If you’re reading this you mostly likely have a vague interest in woodland, forrest’s and the outdoors. When I first began to learn I would take a week and nail one tree, identify it in one place then find more of them around my local woods when out with the dog. The next day I would identify it again, touch the bark, observe the leaves if it’s in leaf. And repeat the scientific name to the tree, a little bit pagan but it does work!
The next day I would repeat the previous steps and but learn the uses and experiment and experience how these actually work in practice. At the end of this week you will be able to identify one specifies, know it’s scientific name and it’s uses by first hand experience. This all by applying an hour a night. The next week do another and then another and you will know more than you think by the end of a month. It will begin to seem like a new language, the way sycamore branches look compared to ash. How completely obvious an oak tree is compared to a beech.
To start you off I will provide you with 3 very common trees found in the U.K. and some information about them and how to identify them. I will put the name beneath the photo of each so you can have a bash at identifying them first.
Quercus Robur (English Oak)
The English oak is known as the King of the Woods. It is synonymous with England and the United Kingdom. It can be found in all parts of the U.K. and is most easily identifiable by its leaves; lobed, rounded and look very much like nothing else around! If the tree is not in leaf look to the floor beneath it.
Oak wood is very strong, used often in construction for this quality. It is a hard wood. The seasoned timbers make excellent firewood for cooking as the embers create a steady heat for a long time. The acorns that are produced in the autumn can be collected and ground into a flour to make biscuits.
The buds are knobbly and thick with a red-brown colour, often found in threes at the tip.
The bark is linear and becomes deeper and more pronounced with the ageing of the tree.
Corylus Avellana (Hazel)
Hazel is often coppiced in the autumn (cut to the stump to encourage new shoots in the spring, a method to get more wood per tree) when the sap has returned to the roots. It is a quick growing tree with very straight shoots, these are dark brown and often have a lighter brown crispy thin bark that is peeling.
The more mature shoots will become thicker and the bark with become much lighter, almost a silver colour.
Hazel, due to its natural straightness, makes for excellent pot hangers and tent pegs. This coupled with its beautifully easily carving qualities. The seasoned wands also make good drills for a bow and drill friction fire set. It is a softer wood so not great for construction. If coppiced a single Hazel can live for up to 300 years, which is a lot of wands!
See the very straight young shoots here.
Hazel will produce Hazel Nuts in the autumn, these are green to begin with and then turn darker brown when ripe. That being said the squirrels will always beat you to them!
Betula Pendula (Silver Birch)
The silver birch is my favourite tree, in the spring the sap is raising and this can be tapped in a similar way to how the Canadians harvest the sap from Maple trees. The bark is impregnated with oils so when scraped up can be ignited with a spark. The inner bark can be harvested and used to create containers and the wood is soft enough to carve nicely but also allows for a smooth edge. As well as this the timber also works well in a bow and drill friction fire set!
This tree is very easily identified by its silver-white bark which peels away in sheets.
The twigs which the tree shed make excellent kindling, they are a dark purple colour and also have the naturally flammable oils so take a flame easily and burn hot.
In the U.K. the birch doesn’t grow particularly large and because of our lower average temperature the inner bark won’t get particularly thick. In more northern climates, the boreal Forrest around Russia and parts of Canada, the bark can become thick enough to construct canoes big enough to be paddled through the rivers and lakes.
So there you have three trees, their scientific names and some uses. You should be able to find at least one if not all three in your local park or woods.