Stories from the Barn

A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands

Tree bud Identification

Ash tree buds

Take a woodland walk and use tree bud identification to add spice to Winter woodland walks.

Become an expert in tree bud identification. Signs of the changing season appear on each of our woodland walks at the moment. Although there doesn’t appear to be much to look at, especially when the trees are darkened by rain, the clues are there.

Look closely at the twigs on the trees and spot the emerging buds. H.E Bates referred to these emerging buds as being between the seasons, neither Winter nor yet Spring. Those leather buds. Indeed the buds on the ash tree do look like leather rugby balls but then I put myself to the test. Could I identify all the trees from the bud alone and the answer was no.

Oak tree buds

Bud scales on the Oak tree

The bud is the trees way of getting a head start on the Spring. The tree protects the leaf or flower by growing a modified leaf or a scale to protect the new growth. These are tough scales impervious to insect attack. Some have a furry inner covering to give further protection to the tender leaf or flower inside. The tree may prepare all its new leaves in this way in one flush. Others may create early buds with another set to follow.

Walnut tree buds

Walnut tree buds

How to identify what buds are what on a twig.

Buds encase either leaves or if it is a tree species that blooms in Spring, then flowers. There is a difference between the two types of bud. The flower is often a more complicated structure than the leaf and therefore the flower bud tends to be a larger, fatter thing. However it is more complicated still. Every year the trees grow bigger. They broaden by cell division under the bark and the branches grow longer by growing from buds at the end of the twig.

Ash tree buds

Ash tree buds

On the Beech tree for example the leaf buds are long and slender. They push away the old leaves that are still clinging onto the branch. The Ash tree has very obvious terminal buds on the twig from which new twig growth will emerge. Then look along the length of the twig for the scar left from last years terminal bud. This will show you how much growth the tree has made since last year.

Beech tree bud identification

Beech leaf buds with the old leaves remaining on the twig.

Take time to study the buds closely as the clues to identifying which tree you are looking at can be found on the bud itself. Look for the colour of the bud scales, the number of buds and where they are located on the twigs. This is a great project for putting including in a nature journal and could be a really fun thing for children to do. As always the Woodland Trust have a first rate twig identifier but there are several others out there.

If you want to cut a twig to bring indoors do it before the sap starts to flow to avoid damage to the plant and don’t take too many off the same plant. Far better to leave it on and make your observations in the field. The more you look the more you see.