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  • Writer's pictureHarris Brooker

Deciduous Trees of Speyside

Sessile Oak (Quercus Petraea)

One of the largest deciduous trees in Speyside, growing to between twenty and forty metres in height and extremely important from a wildlife point of view, with 326 species of wildlife found only on oak. Sessile Oak is named for its acorns which don’t have stems, unlike those of the English Oak which lives further south. They have leaves that are linear with rounded lobes and the bark of these trees is cracked and fissured. The acorns are particularly favoured by Red Squirrels and Jays, which like to store them for future consumption - those acorns that they forget about will then germinate and grow into new trees. They can live to between 500 to 1000 years - one in Wales lived to 1200 years.

In this image there is a Sessile Oak tree zoomed out so that its large size can be seen.
Sessile Oak (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

In this image there are a set of Sessile Oak leaves that are linear, lobed and these ones have green and orange on them.
Sessile Oak Leaves (Photo Credit: Valeria from Pixabay)

Another important feature of oak for biodiversity is that it decays for centuries afterwards, providing food and breeding habitats for insects. Thousands of years ago Sessile Oak forests stretched all across the west coast of Scotland and are particularly good homes for birds such as Wood Warblers. But overtime much of these forests were felled, because for foresters it was one of the first choices of wood to use because of its sturdiness and when smelting iron, the wood could burn for longer than some other species. It was said that a large amount of oak was felled in Britain to make ships to take on the Spanish Armada.

Nowadays most oak forests are protected, though the wood is still used for whisky barrels and firewood. Some old ones are kept for ornamental purposes. It is without a doubt one of the best trees for biodiversity.

Silver Birch (Betula Pendula)

A quick growing deciduous species by comparison to others, Silver Birch can grow to thirty metres in height and have pale white bark that cracks like paper, especially along the base of the tree. It produces long, dangling male catkins that are likened to ‘lamb’s tails’ and the female ones are shorter, greener and are erect - both appear from April to May. Its leaves are light green, triangular with a toothed edge and a longer leaf tip than those on the similar Downy Birch. These turn yellow in autumn. The twigs are hairless but have white warts that give them a rough texture. They only live for about seventy to eighty years and produce an open canopy that allows plants such as Wood Anemones to flourish.

In this image there is the trunk of a Silver Birch tree which is silvery white and cracks at the bottom.
Silver Birch (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

In this picture there is a leaf belonging to the Silver Birch, which has jagged edges and a longer tip.
Silver birch leaf (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

Downy Birch (Betula Pubescens)

Another quick growing deciduous tree, very similar to Silver Birch but lacks cracking in the bark which is usually browner and has a more grooved appearance. The branches have an ascending look to them. The male and female catkins are similarly differentiated as they are in Silver Birch and are produced from April to May. The leaves are less jaggedly toothed and are broader in the middle, with a shorter leaf tip. The leaf stems are usually covered in hair, hence the name ‘Downy Birch’ and don’t have white warts. Like Silver Birch they have a light canopy that allows plants to grow on the forest floor.

In this image there is the tree trunk of a Downy Birch which has distinctive grooves on the bark.
Downy Birch (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

In this image there's a close up of a Downy Birch tree trunk with its distinctive grooves.
Downy Birch grooves (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

In this image there is a leaf belonging to a Downy Birch which has rounded toothed edges with a shorter leaf tip than Silver Birch.
Downy Birch Leaf (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

Rowan (Sorbus Aucuparia)

Also known as Mountain Ash, Rowan trees bear leaves that are set in pairs, that look opposite at first glance but are actually alternate and are fronted by a solitary leaf. The flowers have male and female reproductive parts altogether and are born in dense clusters, each bearing five creamy white petals. They are especially known for producing orange berries in autumn whose seeds are spread by birds and the berries themselves are often eaten by Pine Martens and can stain their scat orange. It is often a tree that is browsed by deer, especially as saplings and so are highly palatable.

In this image there is a Rowan tree trunk that is grey with white patches of lichen.
Rowan (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

In this image there is a bunch of red Rowan berries with green leaflets clustered around them.
Rowan berries (Photo Credit: Kanechka from Pixabay)

Bird Cherry (Prunus Padus)

A tree that is especially fond of wetland areas, its leaves are oval with serrations. It bears white flowers in April which are attractive to bumblebees and are produced in clusters that grow on small stalks known as racemes. Each flower has its male and female parts together and when these disappear, they are replaced with black berries, which the birds like to eat. They are not edible to humans however as they are poisonous - not seriously so, but would give you a mild burning sensation in your throat.

In this image there are spiked clusters of white flowers that belong to the Bird Cherry tree.
Bird Cherry Flowers (Photo Credit: Sergei_spas from Pixabay)

Hazel (Corylus Avellana)

A native tree that grows in lowland areas. It is best known for its hazelnuts, which appear in late summer and used to be commercially harvested up until the 1900s - nowadays they are largely imported. The leaves are broad with jagged edges, but they have a soft feel to them due to the hairs on the underside. The flowers are monoecious, that is they have the male and female flowers on the same plant, but they have to be pollinated by wind blowing the pollen from other Hazel trees.

In this image there are the green broad leaves and a cluster of nuts from the Hazel tree.
Hazel leaves and nuts (Photo Credit: wojtekspool from Pixabay)

In this image there are long yellowish male catkins from the Hazel tree.
Hazel male catkins (Photo Credit: congerdesign from Pixabay)

Beech (Fagus Sylvaticus)

A naturalised species, native mainly to England and Wales but with plenty in Scotland. Beech has broad green leaves that turn yellowish orange in autumn. Its bark is greyish white and smooth. The buds on the trees are brown and pointed, like spearheads. Not much grows under them because of their closed canopy but in autumn they produce fruits called beech masts, which are eaten by birds like Chaffinches and Bramblings.

In this image there is a Beech tree showing it as though being looked up from the ground showing its trunk and dense leafy canopy.
Beech tree (Photo Credit: FelixMittermeier from Pixabay)

In this image there are a few Beech tree trunks showing their smooth grey bark and leafy canopy of brown leaves.
Beech tree trunks (Photo Credit: Antonio Lopez from Pixabay)

In this image there are the green leaves of the Beech tree seen as though looking at them from below.
Beech leaves (Photo Credit: Thomas from Pixabay)

Sycamore (Acer Pseudoplatanus)

A naturalised species, thought to have been introduced either by the Romans or the Tudors, no one knows for sure which. In winter they can be recognised by their pink-brown twigs which are hairless and in spring and summer they have leaves with five broad lobes. They produce small, green-yellow flowers that hang in spikes like a bunch of bananas. The fruits they produce are winged and are known as samaras. They are related to the maples, such as those found in North America that feature a maple leaf as the Canadian flag. The bark is light grey and the buds are thick and green. It is ideal as a street tree because of its tolerance to pollution.

In this image there are the green lobed leaves and greenish flower spikes of the Sycamore tree.
Sycamore leaves and flowers (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Images from Pixabay)

Common Hawthorn (Craetagus Monogyna)

A species of tree that is often planted as a hedgerow, it is known for its thorniness which is why birds such as Tree Sparrows like to use them as nesting areas. They have lobed green leaves and produce dense white flowers that are appealing to insects and their red berries bear one seed. This is a contrast to the Midland Hawthorn which grows further south and has three seeds inside their red berries.

In this image there are the trunks and branches of the Common Hawthorn in a hedge.
Common Hawthorn (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

In this image there are the branches and the lobed leaves of the Common Hawthorn.
Common Hawthorn leaves (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

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