British Native Trees
With the intense heat of the past couple of months beginning to wane, it is time to think about plant choices for Autumn. Hopefully the soil will have soon absorbed enough moisture to make it more workable!
This week we are considering a selection of British native trees, many of which are suited to garden situations as well as woodland. With the constant threat of foreign pests and diseases invading our shores, it is more important than ever to maintain our native population of insects, birds and other wildlife, which rely on these species for their survival. You will also be benefitting the eco-system within your garden, which will negate the requirement for the use of pesticides. The following trees will all benefit wildlife in your garden in different ways, as detailed below.
Malus sylvestris – The Crab apple is the wild ancestor of the cultivated apple and makes a good pollinator for most domestic varieties. The fragrant pale pink blossom is a good source of pollen and nectar for insects, while the fruit is loved by migratory winter visitors such as Fieldfares and Redwings. Pick the crab apples in early autumn to make delicious jellies and jams, or roast and serve with meat.
Prunus spinosa – The Blackthorn is a good choice for informal hedging, providing a thorny barrier for boundaries and a dense thicket for nesting birds. It produces white flowers in early spring and purple-black sloes in late summer. The foliage is food for the caterpillars of many moths and butterfly species. Pick the sloes after the first frost of autumn and use to make sloe gin and other wines and preserves. Blackthorn must be handled with care when pruning as a prick from a blackthorn thorn often causes a serious septicaemia – so please wear heavy leather gloves when pruning or handling.
Salix caprea – Familiar as ‘pussy willow’, so called because of the silky, grey male catkins that resemble a cat’s paw, the Goat Willow is a great colour addition to the winter garden and is often coppiced to maintain its brightly coloured stems. The foliage is the main source of food for the purple emperor butterfly and several species of moth caterpillars. A ‘snippet’ of science – traditionally willows were used to relieve pain, as the painkiller aspirin is derived from salicin, a compound found in the bark of all Salix species.
Crataegus monogyna – The Hawthorn is a top tree for wildlife and can support more than 300 species of insect, whilst the haws are a rich source of food for migratory birds during cold spells. With beautiful pink-white blossom in May (varietal forms have blossom ranging from white to the deepest pink), this tree provides year round interest and can be grown as a stand-alone specimen or used in a native hedging mix.
Corylus avellana – Another good variety for a native hedging mix, the Hazel is laden with ‘lamb’s tail’ catkins in spring and in autumn produces delicious edible ‘cobs’, popular with both people and wildlife. Mainly associated with the hazel dormouse, which eats the nuts to fatten up for winter, Hazelnuts are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, jays and native mammals such as red squirrels and bank voles.
Ilex aquifolium – The Holly is the tree that brightens up the darkest days of winter with its glossy evergreen foliage offset by scarlet berries on female plants. An easy to grow tree suited to any size of garden, it provides birds with food and shelter from predators, and our homes with wreaths and garlands at Christmas.
Sorbus aucuparia – The Rowan is a tough tree that belies its delicate appearance as it can flourish at high altitudes, hence its other common name, the Mountain Ash. With fern-like foliage, it sports clusters of creamy white flowers in spring followed by deep orange berries in autumn. Both are a rich source of food for pollinating insects and birds such as the Redstart and Redwing. With a lovely upright habit, it makes the perfect specimen tree.
Betula pendula – The Silver Birch is a graceful, attractive tree with light airy foliage turning golden in autumn, catkins from spring to autumn and distinctive silvery-white peeling bark. It is loved by small birds such as long tailed tits, siskins, greenfinches and redpolls, which are attracted by the abundance of insects it hosts.
Prunus avium – The Wild Cherry is one of our most attractive native trees: its beautiful clouds of spring blossom brighten up the hedgerows and the cherry fruits that follow are popular with birds and give the tree its Latin name ‘Avium’. With warm autumn tints, this is a good choice of tree for multi-season interest.
Sambucus nigra – The Elder is a small popular tree, with many cultivated varieties offering different coloured foliage and flowers. Many moth caterpillars feed on the foliage and small mammals eat both the flowers and berries, the latter being popular for making into wine, cordial and preserves.