Deciduous Trees

Here are some of the deciduous trees you are likely to see on the Quantocks.

Apple trees

  • Apple orchard

Old apple orchards are a special Quantock feature.

The wild version is the crab apple which grows from pips dropped by people or birds. The trees are small and shrubby – they hardly ever grow taller than 9m. The name comes from a Norse word skrab, which means ‘scrubby’. Its pinkish-white blossoms can be very pretty. Wild crab apples are bitter and small, but all apples originally descend from it. We don’t eat crab apples very often now, but in the past people made them into a drink called ‘verjuice’. They thought it healed scalds and sprains. Many types of bird and insect eat crab apples.


  • Ash and coppiced hazel
  • Looking up at ash leaves and hazel leaves
  • Ash

Ash and hazel woodland is a special Quantock habitat. Ash trees can grow very tall, up to 40m high. They have greenish-grey bark, which cracks as the tree grows. Their leaves are shaped like feathers and grow in pairs. Before its leaves come out, the ash’s black buds open to reveal lots of small, purple flowers.

People used to believe that ash trees had special powers. They thought that burning ash logs would scare away evil spirits.

Ash wood is almost pure white, and very strong. We use it to make handles for tools, tennis rackets and skis.


  • Beech trees
  • Beech trees


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The beech tree can grow in a variety of different soils. It has smooth grey bark and shiny green leaves. In autumn the leaves turn yellow first, then orange or reddish brown. Beech wood is perfect for furniture because it bends easily and is a lovely rusty brown colour. People have been making beech chairs for hundreds of years.

You can find lots of life in a beech wood. Jays, wood mice and grey squirrels eat the beech nuts that have fallen to the ground. In the spring, bluebells and wood anemones appear. But in the summer the wood seems dark because the thick beech branches and leaves don’t let much light through.

Massive old beech banks are a very special and unusual Quantock feature.


  • Birch trees
  • Birch trees

The silver birch has a straight, whitish silver trunk and drooping branches. It usually grows to about 15m. In April, brown dangling ‘catkins’ open out. They stay on the tree until winter, when they break up into seeds that float away on the breeze. As the trees get older, the bark turns brown.

In Celtic times people saw the silver birch as a holy tree and used its twigs in their rituals. Today we use the long, thin twigs to make brooms.


  • You can see the long spiny thorns sticking out from the sides of the branches
  • A dense Quantock tangle of blackthorn, bramble and wild rose (and a fox hole)

Blackthorn grows on the edge of woodland and in hedges. It has lots of long sharp thorns which cross over each other, so that many birds and plants are protected by its branches. In the spring it is covered with white blossom. The blackthorn produces blue-black fruits called sloes, which are made into jam, wine and gin. Its wood is hard and tough and can be used to make walking sticks.

Field maple

  • Field maple
  • Field maple branches with deeply ridged bark

In autumn, the green maple leaves turn to wonderful shades of red, yellow and gold. Maple seeds have wings which twist and turn in the breeze. This is how the seeds are spread. Maple wood is hard and beautifully patterned, and can be carved into all sorts of shapes. It has been used to make bowls, furniture and even violins.


  • hawthorn  bushes growing on Bicknoller Hill.
  • A tangle of hawthorn branches and berries

Hawthorn can grow almost anywhere and is often used for hedges. It grows fast and can reach 14m. (It is also called quickthorn). The dark red berries are called haws. They are a favourite food for many birds, and they can be made into a jelly for cooking. In some country areas, people believe that it is bad luck to cut down a hawthorn bush or to take its blossoms inside.


  • hazelnut
  • Yellow hazel catkins in an old hedge (The green leaves are brambles)
  • A newly laid hazel hedge.

Hazel. It is a sign of spring when the yellow dangling flowers (or catkins) of the hazel appear. Hazelnuts are a favourite food of squirrels, mice and some birds. Prehistoric hunter-gatherers collected them to save until winter when there wasn’t much food.

Hazel shoots grow quickly into long, flexible branches. They make good hedges as the upright shoots can bent over and they will still grow. For countless years, Quantock people have coppiced hazel to provide bendy hazel rods to make baskets, fences and walls.


  • Windblown holly on the heath

Holly can grow in most places. Birds like to eat the bright red berries, which is how the seeds are spread. People believed that holly is associated with eternity because it is green all year round and the berries last for a long time. They thought it was unlucky to chop down a holly bush.


Oak trees provide food and shelter to many other living things: birds, small mammals, spiders, insects, mosses, lichens and fungi. In medieval times, peasants sometimes let their pigs wander free in the oak forests to feed on acorns, their favourite food. You will see two types on the Quantocks:

English Oak

  • long-stemmed acorn of English Oak
  • single oak n a hedgrow
  • parkland including single oaks
  • Plants, insects, moss and lichen living on and around an old oak tree.

The English oak is called the ‘king of trees’. It can live for hundreds of years and grow as tall as 35 metres. Its massive, thick trunk and dense wood makes it very difficult to chop down.

Oak trees were sacred to Iron Age people, who used oak mistletoe in their rituals. Oak wood is excellent for house beams, furniture and ships’ timbers. In Tudor times, as the English navy got bigger, more and more oaks were cut down to provide wood for ships. Queen Elizabeth I wrote laws to protect them, and new oak forests were planted. When creating parkland, oaks were often the first choice. You can see some majestic single English oaks on the Quantocks.

Sessile oak

  • acorns on sessile oak
  • sessile oak woodland
  • mature oak woodland, a rich habitat for wildlife
  • coppiced oak

This type of oak tree does well in wet, less fertile areas, like the Quantock Hills. Its trunk is longer and thinner than the English oak’s, and it can grow up to 40m tall. Sessile acorns sit against the leaf stem, instead of hanging down on their own stems. This is where the name comes from - ‘sessile’ means ‘sitting’.

Sessile oak woods are a special Quantocks habitat.

On the Quantocks, people used to cut back the sessile oak shoots to use for charcoal. New shoots grew from the stumps, and were cut back again a few years later. This is called ‘coppicing’, and it kept the trees quite small. It went on until the 20th century. Oak bark was also collected. It contains tannin which was used in the Quantock tanneries for turning animal skins into leather.


  • A baby rowan tree starting life on the heath.
  • Rowan

"What is Red?"

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The rowan is also called ‘Mountain ash’ because it grows in high, rocky places. It has grey, shiny bark and feather-like leaves. In May it forms clusters of white flowers, and in autumn red berries appear. The berries are full of Vitamin C and in the past people made them into a drink to prevent a disease called scurvy.

The rowan has been connected with witchcraft since ancient times. The Celts used to plant it outside their houses to keep witches away. On May Day they hung rowan leaves over their doors to scare off evil spirits. Rowan wood was once used widely for making tool handles and long-bows.


The goat willow is also called ‘pussy willow’ because of its smooth, silky catkins. This shrubby tree grows to about 15m high. Its flowers come out early in the year and bees like to collect their pollen and nectar. The goat willow’s bark contains a chemical called salicin which is used in medicines. Its wood is very soft so it isn’t used very much now. In the past people made it into clothes pegs and parts of tools.