Treetop treasures: a guide to flowering trees

The beguiling blooms on trees are often overshadowed by emerging foliage. Do you know the difference between blackthorn blossom and field maple flowers?

The Country Life Guide to Flowering Trees

Trees flower like any other plant, but these delicate blossoms, many of which rely on wind, rather than insect, pollination, can go unnoticed as all the action happens high up and unfurling leaves quickly envelop them. The cherry plum is one of the earliest to come into flower, followed shortly by black- thorn, the brilliant-white flowers exaggerated by the tree’s black bark. Many trees are monoecious (they produce both male and female flowers), such as the hazel, which bears distinctive, hanging catkins known as lambs’ tails—the male flowers that provide the pollen—and, almost hidden on its twigs, diminutive, scarlet female flowers. Simon Lester

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guide to flowering treesAlder (Alnus glutinosa)
Pale-golden male catkins, as seen here—measuring just under 1in to just over 2in long—flower between February and April. The greener and more oval-shaped female equivalents grow in groups of three to eight


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guide to flowering treesApple (Malus x domestica)
Five-petalled and usually white, with touches of pink, apple-tree blossom appears in spectacular fashion in May and June





guide to flowering treesAsh (Fraxinus excelsior)
Both male and female highly ornate flowers, which look as if they’ve been dipped into a pot of purple paint, emerge before the ash’s leaves in spring, forming in spiked conglomerations at twig tips




guide to flowering treesBlackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
Cascades of white flowers, which contain both male and female reproductive parts, appear before leaves in March and April. Traditionally, a spell of bad weather that follows the flowers’ emergence
is known as a ‘blackthorn winter’


guide to flowering treesEnglish oak (Quercus robur)
The English or pedunculate oak flowers between May and June, with the male blooms forming slender, golden catkins, which distribute pollen into the air. Brown, spherical female flowers grow in groups at the ends of branches




guide to flowering treesField maple (Acer campestre)
Diminutive, yellow- green and cup-shaped, the field maple’s flowers —which contain both male and female reproductive parts and hang in clusters— emerge with its leaves in April





guide to flowering treesGrey willow (Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia)
Slightly longer and greener than their male counterparts (see overleaf), which grow on separate trees, female catkins (seen here) flower from March to April





guide to flowering treesHawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
These highly scented flowers—that, like the blackthorn, are hermaphrodite —are white or occasionally pink-tinged and grow in flat-topped clusters in May




guide to flowering treesHazel (Corylus avellana)
Clusters of pale yellow, pendulous male catkins emerge from mid February. In contrast, the hazel’s female flowers are miniature and bud-like with red styles




guide to flowering treesHorse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Appearing in May, individual flowers have 4–5 fringed white petals, with a pink flush at the base, and rise like candelabras from the tree’s foliage



guide to flowering treesLaburnum
The long, drooping yellow flowers of the laburnum, which emerge as 4in–12in-long racemes in late spring, give rise to its old poetic name ‘golden chain tree’





guide to flowering treesLime (Tilia x europaea)
Renowned for their heady, almost intoxicating scent, the lime’s white-yellow, five-petalled flowers—so beloved of bees—dangle in groups of two to five from numerous branches in high summer




guide to flowering treesRed horse chestnut (Aesculus x carnea)
The striking flowers of this artificial hybrid between A. pavia (red buckeye) and A. hippocastanum (horse chestnut), thought to have been cultivated in Germany before 1820, emerge in May




guide to flowering treesScots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Male flowers, comprising clusters of yellow, knobbly anthers (as seen here, in the process of shedding their pollen) can be found at the base of shoots on these ancient trees. Small, red-purple and round, female flowers grow at the tips of new shoots


guide to flowering treesSpindle (Euonymus europaea)
Tiny, four-petalled hermaphrodite flowers, which grow in clusters, emerge in May and June, when they’re pollinated by insects



guide to flowering treesSweet chestnut (Castanea sativa)
Flowers appear, in late June to July, as long (4in–8in), upright pale- yellow, mostly male, catkins with female flowers at the base




guide to flowering treesSycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)
Pale-green or yellow flowers, with paper-thin petals, yellow anthers and a white stamen, bloom in April, shortly after the leaves, and hang in knobbly tassels




guide to flowering treesWisteria
The arresting and beautifully scented blooms of this popular garden climber may appear in shades
of white, blue, purple and pink from April to June




Photographs by Paul Quagliana