Field Guides > Tree Guides > Identifying common tree buds

Identifying common tree buds

Hello! This guide is here to help you quickly and easily identify some of our most common trees by their buds. Simple scroll down and browse the buds available to see which looks similar to the one you wish to identify, then click the link below each image to visit that tree’s profile page and see its other clues and check its identity. Please note, I have not yet completed all the tree profiles, so only some of them are linked.

Using our tree buds identification guide

Tree buds are a helpful clue to identifying trees on our nature walk during the winter and early spring when there are no leaves or flowers. Because, while at first glance they are easily overlooked and we rarely think about them, actually, no two tree buds are exactly the same. From large, sticky buds (horse chestnut), to small, hairy buds (rowan), pointy buds (spindle) and round buds (hazel), even black buds (ash) to green buds (sycamore) there is a lot going on once you think about them. The main features to look for when identifying tree buds, are:

  • Colour
  • Shape (e.g. round and blunt, thin and pointy)
  • Size (e.g. small, large, long)
  • Single or multiple
  • Scales or hair
  • Position (e.g. alternate or opposite)

Remember, if you struggle to identify a tree bud, look around for other clues. Are any of the buds on the tree beginning to open yet? Even very young leaves can give you a clue. Take a look at the tree’s bark – are there any distinctive features? And, look around on the ground beneath the tree. Are there any of last year’s leaves, fruits or seeds? If you are still not sure, just make a note of where the tree is and come back to it later in the year.

Some tree bud facts...

As I am sure you know, leaves are very important in the life of a tree, since they are their kitchens of factories for energy production. And, it takes a lot of energy to make new leaves after the trees drop them during the autumn. So, having their new leaves protected in little buds gives the tree time to slowly nurture and nourish them until the cold and gloom of winter have gone and it is time to catch the sun again. 

But, buds don’t just act as blankets, protecting the bay leaves from the cold. They also stop insects, birds and other organisms from damaging these important parts. This is why some buds are sticky or hairy, or have really tightly sealed bud scales. Then, when the weather and he sunlight is just right, they all unfold and open, allowing the buds to burst.

Did you know though, it is not just leaves inside those buds. While many tree buds do contain baby leaves, some house baby flowers (blackthorn) or catkins (willow) or even a bit of both. Why not keep an eye open the next time you take an early season nature walk and see which tree buds you can spot.

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