I was treated to a beautiful sunrise which illuminated the sharp frost as I drove up the M6 to Runcorn. It was a perfect December day for CAN’s Winter Tree Event at Norton Priory Museum and Gardens. CAN had the privilege of holding the last event in the classroom before it was to be demolished before a major 16 month re-build of the site.

I soon met up with Jack Swan who was leading the day. He had industriously spent the week collecting twigs and buds from over 40 different tree species. They were neatly tied up in separate bundles putting my own haphazard contributions to shame.

As soon as members arrived and were sufficiently warmed with tea, coffee and biscuits, Jack explained that there were three forms of bud arrangement, namely, opposite, alternate and spiral. He then showed us how to get to grips with counting bud scales and the difference between adpressed (buds lying flat against the twig) and not adpressed.

We used the excellent Field Studies Council (FSC) key “A Guide to the Identification of Deciduous Broad-leaved Trees and Shrubs in Winter” by Andrew May and Jonathan Planter. Winter tree identification is an essential skill if working in habitat management as much of the work is undertaken in the winter months and this key is a valuable aid.

Ash3 zoomThe distinctive black buds of Ash (Fraxinus excelsior).

Our first group of twigs to be examined were those where buds are arranged in opposite pairs along the stem. This included four different species of Maples including Sycamore, Field Maple, Norway Maple and Japanese Maple. In addition, we were able to recognise the characteristic black buds of Ash, whilst Elder has distinctive ragged buds and a pungent aroma.

We took great care as we moved onto those species with alternate buds where thorns or spines are present including Blackthorn and Hawthorn. However, anomalies do occur and Jack showed us some examples of Hawthorn without thorns!

For the rest of the morning we studiously worked our way through the key with Jack’s materials covering a variety of Birches, Alders, Poplars, Cherries, Oaks, Willows, Hazel and Beech. One fascinating species is Walnut in which the pith of the stem is segmented or chambered (see photo).

Walnut (2) cropThe segmented or chambered pith of Walnut (Juglans regia).

After lunch we ventured out into the grounds of Norton Priory and used a combination of profile, bark and bud examination to identify species. Jack pointed out many of the introduced species present in the gardens and how these differed from our native trees.

Hornbeam 4 cropThe attractive bark of Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) showing a metallic-blue sheen and obvious vertical fissures.

Red Oak cropJack getting to grips with a Red Oak (Quercus rubra) at Norton Priory.

As the sun dipped we returned to the classroom where Jack gave us all a random twig from his collection and challenged us to have a go with just the key to guide us. It was really encouraging that most members were able to successfully identify their twigs although the lack of bud scales on Alder Buckthorn proved a bit tricky.

It was a great day in the company of Jack Swan and Paul Quigley from Norton Priory. I would like to take this opportunity to thank both of them for all their hard work in facilitating many CAN events over the last 5 years. I can’t wait to see the new improved facility!

LimeCommon Lime (Tilia x europaea). A hybrid between two native species with characteristic burrs and leaf shoots at the base of the tree.