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Deciduous Trees In Caithness
Mrs J Campbell

  Nature & Environment   Forestry    Tree Links
Trees, especially alder, willow, birch, rowan and hazel have been a feature of the Caithness landscape since the end of the last ice age. Tree stumps exposed in peat beds may be as old as 4000-8000 years. The scrub woodlands in Caithness, a common feature in the sheltered straths until as recently as 200 years ago, were used for sheltering cattle as well as being heavily cut for firewood and the larger trees for house building and manufacture of agricultural implements.

Despite problems with wind exposure, a low mean summer temperature in Caithness, and animals, trees still survive. The myth that trees will not grow in Caithness can be scotched by walking the short distance from Northcote Street to the Harmsworth Park in Wick. In that short section of road there are excellent mature specimens of the following:


A native of Britain which regenerates from fallen seed. The leaves are pale green when opening dark green later, oval in shape ending in a shortpoint. The tree is particularly attractive for its good autumn colour. Trees below ten feet retain their leaves but larger trees shed them. The fruit is an egg shaped pointed green husk. In autumn the husks turn brown and split into four lobes to release the beech nuts. The wood is used for furniture and turnery goods.


The copper beech is a natural "spoil" of the ordinary beech discovered in the 18th century.


An attractive tall tree with masses of matt green foliage. It was brought from France in the Middle Ages. It seeds profusely and thrives in Britain like a native tree.

The leaves often have a red or orange tint on opening and have five broad coarsely toothed lobes with long reddish stalks. They are deep green on the top and pale bluish green underneath. The leaves are often disfigured by "tar spots" caused by a fungus. The greenish/yellow flowers open in late May. The fruits are winged keys, green first and then turning to brown before being blown off.

Its wood is useful for furniture.

4. ASH

A native of Britain it in usually the last tree to come into leaf and one of the first to shed it foliage. In winter it has prominent long black buds and its leaves are pinnate with a channelled leaf stalk. The flowers are purple in a knobbly cluster. The winged keys each contain a seed at the base and the tree regenerates freely from fallen seed. It is a tall tree with an open rounded crown.

Its wood is useful for oars, tennis raquet frames, hockey sticks etc.


A native of the Balkans and Asia Minor brought to Britain in the 16th century. The horse shoe shaped scars are left by the falling leaves. The brown winter buds are sharply pointed and coated with resin. The leaves consist of from five to seven leaflets with serrated margins. The upper surface is dark green and hairless, the lower is covered with woolly down which soon disperses. Autumn colouring can be magnificent.

The candelabra type flowers come in mid May and may exceed over one foot in height and have more than 100 white flowers.

The fruits are contained in a thick spiky husk. The wood is not of much use.

6. OAK

The national tree of England has heavily indented leaves varying in size. Both sexes of flower appear on the same tree in May. The Acorn and cup are first green and turn brown in autumn. The oak apple is formed by a gall wasp. It is a slow growing tree. Its timber has a wide range of uses.


A native tree of Britain. It likes marshes or well open spaces. Its leaves are slender, 3-6 inches long. It roots readily from cuttings.Its wood is too soft to be useful.


A native of Britain, sometimes no more than a bush though it can form a small tree. Its leaves are pinnate and the twigs are stout but brittle as they hold a thick white pith. It has fragrant bi-sexual creamy white blossoms in flat topped heads sometimes brewed to make a refreshing and medicinal tea. The flowers are succeeded by small green globular berries which eventually turn purple black and juicy and can be used to make wine.


A native of Britain. A small tree conspicuous for its white iridescent leaves due to a dense coating of white hairs on the lower surfaces. The upper surface is dark green and hairless - "Beam" is a Saxon word for "tree". Its wood is of little use.

10. ELM

A native of Britain. The leaves are oval with a toothed margin. The upper surface is rough with short hairs. The leaves are amongst the last to fall in autumn. The fruits are clusters of oval wings but fertile seeds are rarely produced and trees are established by suckers. The wood is used for furniture.


This tree belongs to the Apple family. It obtains its name "Mountain Ash" because its leaf formation is like that of the Common Ash. It has creamy white flowers in spring and red berries in autumn. In olden times it was associated with fairies and witchcraft. The name "rowan" comes from "runa" meaning a charm. It was often grown near dwelling houses to keep away evil spirits.

It is a tree of the mountains and thrives in poor soil. It has lovely autumn colours and its berries are used to make jelly,


A native of Britain forms a small bushy tree. It has a twisted and rugged habit.

The planting of such trees by members of the Field Club is surely something to be encouraged. Most of them grew from seedlings. Anyone finding seedlings is requested not to destroy them but to give them to me so that they can be brought on for a few years in the District Council's nursery garden and then planted in suitable areas such as parks.

This article first appeared in the Caithness Field Club Bulletin October 1982.