Trees in Ireland - an idiots guide

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A few months ago I reached a dreadful realisation - after over 30 years walking on this planet I suddenly woke up to the fact that I had not one clue as to the different types of trees populating the local countryside. To set things right I bought a few books and I embarked on a few field studies to try to discover what types of trees actually exist in the locality. I am now pleasently satisfied with my progress, although I still have a lot to learn. As I would have considered myself a blithering ignoramus on the subject of trees, I here describe to you some pointers in identifying trees in your neighbourhood.


Ash trees are one of the commonest roadside trees in Ireland. They are deciduous - in other words their leaves fall off in Winter. In the winter, they are fairly scraggly looking trees, normally about 15m high, with thick black buds arranged in threes at the top of each twig. The branches all tend to bend upwards like monsters fingers. Many ash trees have multiple trunks. In the summer they have narrow leaves arranged in opposite pairs. They are one of the last trees to bud during the summer, and one of the last trees to lose their leaves during the winter.


In winter, from a distance, the alder looks like a tree with dirt all over it. Looking closer, you will realise this is actually different catkins, of which there are two - male and female, often on the same tree. Summer leaves are heart shaped and quite smooth. The tree has a roughly pyramidal shape with a well defined, straight trunk, and much smaller boughs branching from it.


Like ash, this is a very common hedgerow tree. In winter look for a tree with big green buds on twigs that seem to point at right angles from the branches. In summer it has big maple leaves, light green on one side, and very dark green on the other. Sycamore fruits appear in large clusters under the leaves in late summer, and look like small helicopter blades.


This tree is more like a bush and is most visible during midsummer, when large white flowers appear all over the bush, followed later in the year by clumps of elderberries. The leaves are acrid and foul-smelling, and the bark tends to be very corky. Elder is another common hedgerow tree.

Horse Chestnut

This is a bit of a wonder tree, special in so many ways. In the winter it has these really big huge sticky buds, on twigs curving upwards just like ash. It is one of the first trees to display its leaves - big oval leaves in groups of 5 or seven like a turkeys tail. Rapidly after this it goes into flower with great candelabras of flowers appearing all over the tree. During the autumn, the fruit, or chestnuts, appear wrapped in prickly skins for maximum protection.

Common Oak

I find oak one of the most difficult trees to correctly identify for some reason. Oak leaves are easy to spot, but as I am now realising, difficult to describe! The leaves mainly form in clumps at the top of branches.


Hazel is a common hedgerow tree, and is most visible during the early months of Spring, when it is covered in yellow catkins. Hazel is more a bush than a tree, as it does not grow very high.


Elms used to be very widespread around Ireland and Europe until a few years ago, when they were struck down and destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease, a virulent fungus. Elms grow to very large heights and they are covered in large bristly leaves during the summer.


Hawthorn, like Hazel, is a common hedgerow tree / shrub. It's berries, or Haws, are visible during late Autumn, and the leaves are multilobed and relatively unusual in shape. During the months of May, the abundance of white flowers gives you the impression that they are covered in snow.


Birch is a commonly planted tree in Ireland. It is distinguished by a white or silver bark; thin, almost ethereal branches and twigs; and small heart shaped leaves. Birches have catkins that are most visible in early spring. They are short-lived trees, mostly never exceeding 100 years in age.


Beech trees can grow to impressive sizes, and are common throughout Ireland. Beeches are distinguished by a relatively smooth grey bark (elephant's legs), hardy medium sized leaves, and relatively thin twigs, with long narrow buds in winter. Beeches are one of the first trees to start turning brown in autumn.


Rowan, or Mountain Ash, has pinnate leaves like an ash tree, but it is most commonly distinguished by the clumps of red berries which appear during summer, and remain on the tree well into winter. It is a common garden tree.


Lime trees can grow to large heights, and are distinguished by large valentine heart leaves with an impressive bud system during mid-late autumn. In winter limes can be distinguished by its reddish buds which are distributed alternately along the twig.

Lombardy Black Poplar

Lombardy Poplars are distinguished by their shape - skyrocketing into the sky with most branches pointed upwards. Most trees are planted males, so they do not reproduce. They are commonly seen in gardens or on the sides of the many new roads in Ireland.

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