Trees and shrubs
The English oak is also known as the common or pedunculate oak. Its Latin name is Quercus robur, which means rugged or strong, and is our most important native broadleaved tree that can live for many hundreds of years, supporting a huge array of wildlife.
The English oak is abundant throughout Ruislip Woods, commonly found both as a canopy tree in the woods as well as a hedge and field tree on the woodland margins. The English oak is a slow-growing tree taking some 60 years to produce its first full crop of catkins, and gaining heights of over one hundred feet and girths of 30-40 feet.
Over the many hundreds of years that Ruislip Woods have been worked to grow and provide oak timber for buildings regionally some of the more notable constructions include timber used at the Tower of London in 1339, Westminster Palace and Windsor Castle in 1344, and the Black Prince's Manor House at Kensington in 1346. As the oaks are grown for the specific needs of timber markets locally oaks within Ruislip Woods have not had the chance to grow to great heights and girth, commensurate with their age. There are, however, many impressive English oaks to be found throughout the Woods.
The second oak species to be found in Ruislip Woods, although not in the same abundance as the English oak, is the Sessile oak Quercus petraea. The term 'sessile' means 'stalkless' and in this case refers to the lack of stalk (or petiole) found on the acorn on the Sessile oak (as compared to the acorn of the English oak that does have a stalk. Just to be confusing the leaves of the Sessile oak have stalks but the leaves of the English oak do not!
The Sessile oak, like its close relative the English oak, can live for many hundreds of years and attain great heights and girth.
Standing on London clay or clays of the Reading Beds suits both the English and Sessile oaks as the soils are acidic and frequently poorly drained, especially in some of the valleys and on the more gently sloping ground.
The Hornbeam Carpinus betulusdominates both canopy and understorey cover in Ruislip Woods on account of the tree growing both as a fully mature canopy tree and as the main coppice species. Ruislip Woods is well known for its scattered compartments of Hornbeam coppice with oak standards (click here for information on coppicing [link to: coppicing]).
The Hornbeam is a smooth-barked tree that in maturity often develops a fluted trunk (said to give it rigidity and strength). Although the Hornbeam looks superficially like the Beech Fagus sylvatica(smooth grey-green trunk) the obvious difference is that, whereas the leaf edges of the Hornbeam are serrated (and the surface (lamina) itself looks like it's corrugated) the Beech leaf edge is smooth.
The Hornbeam prefers low-lying rich soils or clays and is shade tolerant (hence it makes an excellent coppice and understorey tree). Its natural distribution is South East England, the Thames Valley, and locally in South Wales and Somerset.
Although Beech trees are found in Park Wood, Copse Wood and Mad Bess Wood, they are most abundant in Bayhurst Wood, providing a transition to acidic sessile oak-beech woodland. Maturing at 120 years old, and attaining great girth and height, Beech trees provide majestic structure and architecture to the Woods. Beech trees form deep shady woods, as their thick leaves create layer upon layer of canopy, which screens out the light. Hence there is often a species-poor understorey and ground flora beneath beech trees.
The Silver birch Betula pendulais an attractive tree that allows much light through its canopy and on to the woodland floor. The earth beneath a birch tree is often lush and welcoming to flowers, and the tree's affinity with water encourages the growth of many forms of fungi, like the scarlet fly agaric, the milk cap, chantrelle and boletus. With the exception of beech, the birch hosts more species of fungi than any other tree. The fungi aid the tree, supplying them with food material.
It is known as a pioneer species, rapidly colonising open ground, and is generally overtaken in time by species such as oak, hornbeam and beech. The Silver birch can grow to 80 feet, although 30-40 feet is more typical. Silver birch can be mature at 40 and may last for only another 20-40 years.
Wild Service tree
The Wild Service tree Sorbus torminalisis also known as the Chequers tree on account of the edible berries used in the past to make an alcoholic drink called chequers. The Wild Service tree can be found throughout Ruislip Woods but is rather uncommon; Bayhurst Woods has some good specimens. The tree can germinate from seed although it seems it more readily propagates by sending up suckers from its roots and thus spreading slowly in the woods. This is one of the reasons why the Wild Service tree is regarded as an ancient woodland indicator.
Aspens are rarely still, for their leaves tremble at the slightest movement of air, hence their Latin name Populus tremula. Aspen, along with willows, are most abundant in Ruislip Woods around the Ruislip Lido, the lakeside edge, as they take up prodigious amounts of water. Like willows, aspen tends not to live for too long, typically for 50-60 years.
The Rowan tree Sorbus aucupariais commonly found throughout Ruislip Woods and is a most attractive tree at any time of the year. It is a small tree growing up to 30 feet in height, with a slender trunk and upwards pointing branches. Rowan is a species of the rose family, along with apple, hawthorn and wild cherry. It is not surprising therefore to find clusters of bright orangey-red fruits hanging from its branches in the months of September and October. Rowan berries are a favourite food for birds, especially song-birds. They sing for hours after gorging themselves, and aid the propagation and distribution of the seeds during their flight.
The Field maple Acer campestreis usually found as an understorey or woodland edge tree and has an attractive corky light-brown bark. Like all maples the Field maple has a palmate (palm-shaped) leaf with three lobes that turn yellow in autumn. Like the Yew, Wild cherry and Rowan, Field maple is found throughout Ruislip Woods without being abundant. Field maple responds well to coppicing and as such makes a good hedge tree.
The Crack willow Salix fragilishas particularly rough furrowed bark and dark green leaves which are grey-green underneath. Its leaves turn a much richer russet-yellow in autumn than the white willow Salix alba.
Crack willow is so called because its branches and twigs are easily cracked or snapped, being decidedly less supple than other willows. As a propagation strategy this works well as by snapping off so easily twigs and small branches can be carried away from the parent tree by a stream or river and become naturally planted. Like all willows Crack willow is a water-loving tree and is best seen around the Ruislip Lido.
The Wild cherry Prunus aviumis an attractive tree often found along woodland edges. The bark of a mature Wild cherry is a glossy, shiny grey-brown with horizontal lines of breathing pores (lenticels) that often peels. In the autumn clusters of deep red wild cherries hang from branches, providing a wonderful food source for many woodland fauna, especially birds.
While Hazel Corylus avellanais often thought of as a large shrub, it can grow to the size of a small tree. Hazel responds excellently to coppicing, being fast-growing and sending out multiple straight-stems. Hazel is found commonly throughout Ruislip Woods and often seen in hedges and woodland edges. Hazel is often seen as an understorey tree, similar to yew, wild cherry, hornbeam, field maple and rowan. The nutritious and tasty hazel nuts are taken by large birds, squirrels and mice and often stored for consumption during the winter months.
The Holly Ilex acquifoliumis common but not abundant in Ruislip Woods, and as an understorey tree tolerates the deep shade cast by canopy species such as oaks and the hornbeam (its leaves reflect light like a mirror). Growing red as they mature Holly fruit stones (contained in the berries) are a very attractive food source for larks, finches, nightingales and field-fares. Holly seeds are poisonous to all except birds.
Usually not growing to more than 10m this small evergreen tree is intimately associated with pagan festivals, especially Christmas time. The evergreen leaves of holly have represented immortality to mystics of all ages. To the druids the holly was especially sacred. When winter descended they advised people to take it into their homes, for then it would shelter the elves and faeries who could at this time join mortals without causing injury to them.
Other plants found in Ruislip Woods include:
- Alder Alnus glutinosa
- Ash Fraxinus excelsior
- Crab Apple Malus sylvestris
- Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
- Yew Taxus baccata
- Midland Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata
- Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus
- Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnus
- Bramble Rubus fruticosus
- Bracken Pteridium aquilinum
- Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum
- Creeping soft-grass Holcus mollis
- Tree Wisdom by J. M. Paterson. HarperCollins Publishers Limited, 2002.