Tree identification by winter branches

In winter, once the leaves have fallen, you may be able to identify mature deciduous trees by the appearance of their branches. A branch can take two main forms. In one (monopodial) the main growth is in the same direction every year with branching on either side e.g Ash, Aspen and Lombardy Poplar. In the other (sympodial) the main growth changes every time a branch is formed giving a zig-zag and ‘twiggy’ appearance e.g Maples, Limes and Oaks. Note that some trees have straight growth when young but become twiggy when flowers are formed e.g. Horse Chestnut. 

Tree identification by winter branches – shape and orientation of branches, buds, thorns and old fruit. Here are 20 examples of trees that are common in Britain. Click on each photo to enlarge it.

Common Ash – upward turning branches with opposite shoots

Common Lime –  zig-zag shoots with small buds

English Oak – many short shoots  at the end of branches

Sessile Oak –  fewer shoots at the end of branches  than the English oak

Hornbeam branches with old fruit

Norway Maple opposite shoots and old fruit stems

Sycamore branches with opposite buds and old leaves

Silver Birch with long hanging shoots and catkins

Common Hazel with catkins

Common Beech – long pointed terminal buds on shoots that turn upwards

Common Alder with catkins and cones

Bird Cherry long unbranched shoots


Horse Chestnut large sticky terminal buds on upward turning shoots

Common Hawthorn with berries and thorns

Blackthorn with berries

White Willow small flat buds on long shoots

Hybrid Black Poplar – sharp-pointed terminal buds on long upward turning shoots 

Weeping Willow – small flat buds on long hanging shoots


Lombardy Poplar with shoots that cling to the trunk 

Aspen – sharp pointed buds on short spurs