Nature at Home: Walking under Trees

During the lockdown the UK has become green again, as new leaves have sprouted and opened. Trees become much easier to identify during spring, as they regain their leaves and flowers. I’m going to concentrate on just a few trees, as there are far too many to describe them all in this post.

A new sycamore leaf (Acer psuedoplatanus) © Kerrie Curzon.
A new sycamore leaf (Acer psuedoplatanus) © Kerrie Curzon.

Blossoming

Hawthorn (Cretaegus monogyna) leaves appear first, followed by the small open white flowers. The hawthorn is also known as the May flower or blossom, as it used to flower in May, the effects of climate change mean that the flowers now appear in April. The blossom is a great place to see bees and flies of many kinds. Hawthorn can have a very strong and somewhat unpleasant odour and has associations with death because of this. Look out for other trees in bloom, cherry and horse chestnut both have striking blossom.

Hawthorn leaf © Kerrie Curzon.
Hawthorn leaf © Kerrie Curzon.
Hawthorn blossom (and honeybee) © Kerrie Curzon.
Hawthorn blossom (and honeybee) © Kerrie Curzon.

In plain sight

The plane tree is very easy to identify before the leaves appear – have you ever wondered what the tree with balls hanging all over it was? Well, those are the seed pods of the London plane (Platanus x acerifolia). London planes are hybrids that were created as robust urban trees, as toxins are shed when the bark flakes away. The bark is fairly easy to identify, with an array of colours that are revealed by the peeling layers. You should still be able to see the seed pods between the leaves. Soft and furry young leaves appear first, before they grow into a large palmate shape. The leaves look similar to sycamore, so you’ll have to use more than one feature to be sure of identification. Using other details such as seeds and bark can help identify trees more easily. Sycamore seeds are very different to those of the London plane. They are often known as helicopters and you’ve probably seen them spinning down from trees or played with them as a child.

London plane, with seed pods.
London plane, with seed pods.
Close-up of the bark colours and patterns of a London plane.
Close-up of the bark colours and patterns of a London plane.
A plane tree with large older leaves and small new leaves © Kerrie Curzon, taken on a smartphone.
A plane tree with large older leaves and small new leaves © Kerrie Curzon, taken on a smartphone.
Sycamore seeds, later in the season © Kerrie Curzon.
Sycamore seeds, later in the season © Kerrie Curzon.

Protecting our trees

I can’t end a blogpost about trees without mentioning elms. Brighton & Hove has a nationally important collection of elms. Dutch elm disease has decimated populations elsewhere around the country, but Brighton & Hove was, in part, protected by the South Downs and the sea. The population is closely monitored for disease and there are strict rules about when to prune elm and buying elm as timber. New elms are planted to expand the population. The Preston Twins were one of the oldest and most distinctive elms in the country. Sadly earlier this year, one of them became infected and had to be felled, you can still see the other one close to Preston Manor. Elm trees will make their presence known to you later in spring when the elm mast (seeds) falls from the trees and blows everywhere.

Elm leaves © Kerrie Curzon.
Elm leaves © Kerrie Curzon.
Fallen elm mast © Kerrie Curzon.
Fallen elm mast © Kerrie Curzon.

We are becoming more aware of the benefits to health and wellbeing that trees and other nature can bring. Take a moment to pause and begin to make sense of all the green you see around you. Once you can identify a few plants, the endless bank of green will become textured in new ways, enriching your understanding and your life. 

Discover More

Have a look at the previous posts in the Nature at Home series to help with insect identification. Look out for upcoming posts for more details on flowers and trees.

If you want to upload any of your sightings, iNaturalist is a user-friendly citizen science platform. It even helps with identification too. You may also find these guides useful:

The Field Studies Council (FSC) has excellent guides for trees and other plants, which are often very easy to use.

The Woodland Trust produce handy swatches:

Leaf swatch

Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant

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