Are you pining for a nature fix on your daily lockdown exercise? The aptly named Paul Wood, whose new guide to the urban forest, ‘London’s Street Trees’, has just been published, says you need look no further than the trees on your neighbourhood streets. Here are some of the most eye-catching trees in flower around now. They’re just a few of the hundreds of different kinds that grace our pavements.
1. Judas tree
What to look out for: Magenta flowers bursting straight out of the branches.
Where to see them: Fairly common around town: look out for them in Bermondsey, Kentish Town and Highgate.
Why they’re amazing: Judas trees are named after Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus. Legend has it that, mortified by his duplicitous deed, he hanged himself from a branch of this tree. The formerly white-flowering judas tree was so humiliated by this association that it was shamed into becoming a pink bloomer.
2. Chinese dogwood
What to look out for: Big creamy, white, four-petaled flowers.
Where to see them: Rather rare: go to Dalston, Dulwich and King’s Cross.
Why they’re amazing: Producing such an unbelievable number of flowers, it’s hard to see the tree for the blossom. Sadly, those flowers don’t last forever but, come the autumn, a chinese dogwood can be covered in juicy red fruits, which is what warrants its other name, strawberry dogwood.
3. Handkerchief tree
What to look out for: Big white flowers dangling among the leaves.
Where to see them: Very scarce, but one or two can be seen in Shoreditch, Chelsea and Archway.
Why they’re amazing: Christened handkerchief trees because their flowers look like pieces of fabric. Seeing one of these in full flower can cause jaws to drop.
4. Bird cherry
What to look out for: An unruly tree with flower spikes pointing in all directions.
Where to see them: Many places: try Deptford, Crystal Palace and East Finchley.
Why they’re amazing: It’s a cherry tree, but not as you know it… The flowers are small but abundant. They appear in white spikes, a bit like buddleia, that mauve-flowered shrub of waste ground, giving the impression of an arboreal firework display. One of our native trees, this one’s much loved by non-human Londoners, who you’ll see buzzing round the flowers in droves.
5. Horse chestnut
What to look out for: A big tree with five-lobed leaves and pink or white flower candles.
Where to see them: Familiar and common around London, especially East Dulwich, Crouch End and Walthamstow.
Why they’re amazing: Come the autumn, those flowers will turn into shiny, woody conkers loved by kids from Clapham to Colindale. The tree gets its name from horseshoe-shaped scars left on the twigs after the leaves fall.
6. Paul’s scarlet hawthorn
What to look out for: A small, spiky tree, often with a distinct lean, covered in pink flowers.
Where to see them: Another old favourite, seen all over from Tottenham and Brixton to Finsbury Park.
Why they’re amazing: Some years paul’s scarlet hawthorns are so thickly covered in flowers you’ll wonder why you haven’t spotted them before. Get up close and personal to smell the heady scent.
7. Rudolph ornamental apple
What to look out for: A small tree resplendent with colours of many shades.
Where to see them: Newly fashionable, these trees are popping up all over. See them in Forest Hill, Stoke Newington and Highgate.
Why they’re amazing: There are dozens of ornamental apples giving cherries a run for their money when it comes to spring blossom. Rudolph is one of the last to bloom, and one of the prettiest. Scarlet buds burst open into deep pink flowers that lighten as they age. Purple leaves emerge along with the flowers to add another hue to the show. A real stunner.
8. Manna ash
What to look out for: A creamy froth of flowers.
Where to see them: In Hampstead, Angel and the City.
Why they’re amazing: Named after heavenly manna, the mythical substance that sustained the Israelites during their 40-year exodus in the desert, manna ash produces sweet sap, but its flowers are more impressive.
9. Bastard service tree
What to look out for: Masses of upward-sweeping branches scattered with bunches of pearly flowers.
Where to see them: All over town, from Paddington and Peckham to Marylebone.
Why they’re amazing: With a name like that, where to start? Actually rather handsome, if a little understated, these neat trees were popular back in the ’70s, and appear to be making a comeback on pavements around town.
10. Wild service tree
What to look out for: Discrete flowers and pretty, spiky leaves.
Where to see them: Scattered around Acton, Clapton and Bloomsbury.
Why they’re amazing: A rare native tree found in some of London’s loveliest woods, and occasionally on the streets too. Its name is thought to derive from a Latin word for beer flavoured with the berries of this tree. London’s craft brewers have yet to experiment.
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