Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre

ID Parade

Winter Twigs, Buds and Bark

When the leaves have fallen, it is still possible to identify deciduous trees by the colour of twigs and the buds they bear along with the colour and texture of the bark. Download our ID guide to Winter Twigs, Buds and Bark to take with you and identify the species you see; don't forget to send us in any sightings via Living Record 


Oak bud, Steven Lilley
Pedunculate Oak - Quercus robur
In younger trees the bark on oak trees is just slightly fissured, and shiny, but these deepen as the trees get older and develop burrs. The tangled branches become twisted and gnarled with age. Buds on the oak tree are clustered at the tips of their shoots around the large terminal bud; they have many scales, are about 5mm in size, round, brown and hairless. The twig is grey- brown in colour.


Ash buds, Paul Darby/ WWT
Ash - Fraxinus excelsior
Also known as the common ash, this tree is tall growing up to 40m, and domed with widely spaced branches. Ash trees can be easily identified in winter by the pale greyish bark twigs and contrasting black buds that are opposite, 1cm in size and squat. These buds start forming before the leaves appear in the spring forming clusters of buds at the end of the twigs. The bark is greenish-grey in colour and smooth when the tree is young, becoming fissured as it grows old.


Beech bark, Steve Day/ WWT
Beech - Fagus sylvatica
Beech trees can grow to a height of 30-40m and are mainly found on chalky soils, they avoid low-lying areas, where the soil may become water-logged. Older trees have a massive many branched dome, young trees are slimmer and more conical. They are easily identifiable by the very smooth grey bark. The buds are set at a angle to the twig and have scales, they are up to 2cm in size and chestnut-brown. The twigs are dark brown. 



Field Maple bark, Rob Large/ WWT
Field Maple -
Acer campestre Field maples are a round-headed tree; the ends of its branches droop, and then turn up. It can grow to a height of 26m. The bark is grey or light brown, with fine shallow fissures. The buds of the field maple are opposite, 3mm in length with brown lower scales, and green upper scales with hairs. Twigs are dark brown in colour which develops a corky bark with age.
Hazel buds, Sharon Pilkington/ WSBRC
Hazel - Corylus avellana
Hazel is easy to spot as many stems rise from the ground rather than one single trunk. The bark is scaly, grey/ brown in colour, has yellow breathing pores and peels off in long strips as the tree matures and is often covered in mosses and lichens more so in the wetter parts of its distribution. The twigs are covered in long stiff hairs; the buds are alternate, round, green and hairy and up to 8mm in size.





Wild Cherry, Jess Beemouse
Wild cherry - Prunus avium
Pyramidal in shape, the wild cherry has shiny, chestnut-brown bark which peels in horizontal strips. They are particularly found in beech woodlands where the white blossom is conspicuous in beech woodlands in spring. Favoured habitat is clay soils over chalk. Grey-brown twigs have clustered buds on short side shoots that have many scales, are 7mm in size and are brown and shiny.   



Crack Willow, WWT
Crack Willow - Salix fragilis
The twigs of this tree crack off easily when bent – hence the name. Twigs are frequently shed in gales. These twigs can easily take root so the tree is a successful coloniser. The buds appear alternately along the shoots. Native to Europe and Asia, the tree is most commonly found beside rivers. The bark is grey-brown with large fissures. Look out on the ground for the leaves – they are 9-15cm long with a finely serrated margin.







Sycamore bark, Amanda Slater
Sycamore - Acer pseudoplatanus
Sycamores grow vigorously growing to 35m in height, because of it's fast growth it provides valuable timber by the age of 60. The buds of this tree are 1cm in size, with green scales that  have brown edges. The twigs are brown with paler breathing pores. The grey, fissured bark ages to a pinkish-brown colour.  



Horse Chestnut buds in winter, H. C. Williams
Horse Chestnut - Aesculus hippocastanum
The Horse Chestnut is easily identifiable at this time of year by the nuts, known as 'conkers'. These can be found on the ground amongst leaf litter around the base of Horse Chestnut trees. The bark is reddish-brown, or dark grey-brown in colour and scaly. The buds are 1.5cm in size, dark and sticky on fawn coloured twigs.
Elder, Tomasz Przechlewski
Elder - Sambucus nigra
The Elder does well in rich, neglected ground such as abandoned gardens and churchyards. It usually remains a bushy shrub with many stems arising from ground level. If given enough light and space the Elder may grow into a shrub 9m tall. The twigs are brittle with raised breathing pores. The young leaves are purplish and opposite.
European Larch, Rachel the Cat
European Larch - Larix decidua
The buds on the European Larch are arranged in a sprial along the straw coloured and ridged twigs. The buds are small at 1-2mm in size and are brown in colour. The bark is light brown, in fine regular plates. The golden colour of the larch before it sheds it leaves distinguishes it from most other conifers, which are evergreen.
Elm bark, Sludgegulper
English Elm - Ulmus procera
The English Elm was typical of the lowland landscape before Dutch elm disease ravaged its numbers. The disease is borne by the scolytid beetle, which burrows under the bark and spreads as a fungus that block the tree's sap. The 2mm dark brown and lightly hairy buds are arranged alternately up the hairy, reddish-brown twig. The bark is dark and divided by long fissures.


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