Trees and shrubs: native to Britain

With so many trees and shrubs for gardeners to choose from, it can be useful to know which ones are native to Britain. These range from obscure rarities to familiar favourites.

Save to My scrapbook
Sambucus nigra Elderberry RHS / Simon Garbutt
Sambucus nigra Elderberry RHS / Simon Garbutt

Quick facts

Recommended native trees for gardens;


It is widely accepted that ‘native’ trees and shrubs are those species that have occurred naturally in Britain since the last Ice Age. The more recent introductions that have established themselves in the wild are referred to as ‘naturalised’ or ‘archeophytes’.

Not all British native trees and shrubs have the ornamental properties required for garden use. Others may grow too large to be considered appropriate for the average-sized garden – take English oak (Quercus robur) or common aspen (Populus tremula), for example, both of which can reach over 20m (70ft).

However, native trees and shrubs have a place in UK gardens and some are familiar favourites either as full blown trees or clipped plants; e.g. box (Buxus sempervirens), English yew (Taxus baccata), holly (Ilex aquifolium), hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), beech (Fagus sylvatica), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and silver birch (Betula pendula).

Others are particularly useful in larger gardens, especially those backing onto British countryside where obviously exotic trees would look out of place. While some lend themselves to coppicing – hazel (Corylus avellana) and many willow species (Salix) – or are important species in mixed native hedging; hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and elder (Sambucus nigra).

Practical considerations

This list is a guide for gardeners. If planting outside of gardens for conservation use, seek professional advice regarding choice of species and provenance.


Suitable plants

This list comprises trees and shrubs native to the Britain and Ireland. It excludes natural hybrids and non-native species that have naturalised (see section below).

Large Trees 25m (80ft) or over at maturity

Alnus glutinosa (alder): 25m, good on wet soils
Betula pendula AGM (silver birch): 25m, attractive white bark
Carpinus betulus AGM (hornbeam): 25m, good for hedging
Fagus sylvatica AGM (beech): 25m, good for hedging and chalky soils
Fraxinus excelsior AGM (ash): 30m, prefers alkaline soils, seeds freely
Ilex aquifolium AGM (holly): 25m, evergreen, attractive berries on female forms
Pinus sylvestris AGM (Scots pine) (native in Scotland only): 30m, evergreen, good specimen tree
Populus nigra subsp. betulifolia AGM (native black poplar): 35m, pollution-tolerant
Quercus petraea AGM (sessile oak): 30m, good specimen tree, lime-tolerant
Quercus robur AGM (English oak): 35m, good specimen tree, lime-tolerant
Salix alba (white willow): 25m, very fast-growing
Salix fragilis (crack willow): 25m, coarse tree for damp areas
Tilia cordata AGM (small-leaved lime): 25m, prefers chalky soil
Tilia platyphyllos (large-leaved lime): 30m, prefers chalky soil
Ulmus glabra (wych elm):35m, susceptible to Dutch elm disease
Ulmus minor (small-leaved elm): 30m, susceptible to Dutch elm disease, not readily available
Ulmus plotii (Plot's elm): 30m, susceptible to Dutch elm disease, not readily available
Ulmus procera (English elm): 40m, susceptible to Dutch elm disease

Medium Trees between 10-20m (25-70ft) at maturity

Betula pubescens (downy birch): 20m, tolerates poor or wet, acid soil
Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn): 10m, good as hedging, attractive berries
Populus tremula AGM (aspen): 20m, tolerant of most soils
Prunus avium AGM (wild cherry): 20m, attractive flowers and fruits
Prunus padus (bird cherry): 15m, autumn colour, fragrant flowers
Salix caprea (goat willow): 10m, yellow catkins on male trees
Salix pentandra (bay willow): 10m, showy catkins on male trees
Salix triandra (almond willow): 10m, long catkins on male trees
Sorbus aria (whitebeam): 20m, attractive berries, good on chalk
Sorbus aucuparia (rowan): 15m, attractive berries and autumn foliage
Sorbus bristoliensis: 10m, woolly leaf undersides, orange fruits
Sorbus devoniensis: 15m, medium-sized brown berries
Sorbus domestica (service tree): 20m, pollution-tolerant, best on acid soils
Sorbus subcuneata: 10m, large, brown berries, not readily available
Sorbus torminalis (wild service tree): 20m, attractive autumn colour
Taxus baccata AGM (yew): 15m, evergreen, pollution- and wind-tolerant

Small Trees between 5-9m (5-28ft) at maturity

Acer campestre AGM (field maple): 8m, good autumn colour
Arbutus unedo AGM (strawberry tree) (native in Ireland only): 8m, evergreen, attractive flowers, fruit and bark
Buxus sempervirens AGM (box): 5m, evergreen, good on chalk, prefers partial shade
Corylus avellana (hazel): 5m, good on chalky soil
Crataegus laevigata (midland hawthorn): 8m, attractive berries
Malus sylvestris (crab apple): 9m, attractive fruit
Prunus spinosa (blackthorn): 5m, spiny tree, small purple fruit
Pyrus cordata (Plymouth pear): 8m, spiny shrub, small fruits
Rhamnus frangula (alder buckthorn): 5m, attractive autumn colour and fruit
Salix cinerea (grey willow): 6m, silky male catkins
Salix viminalis (osier): 6m, fast-growing, attractive male catkins
Sambucus nigra (elder): 6m, attractive flowers and fruit
Sorbus arranensis (Arran whitebeam): 7.5m, small fruits, narrow leaves
Sorbus eminens: 6m, large red fruit
Sorbus hibernica: 6m, small pink/red fruit, not readily available
Sorbus lancastriensis: 5m, large crimson fruit
Sorbus porrigentiformis: 5m, large leaves, small fruits
Sorbus pseudofennica (Arran service tree): 7m, elongated red berries
Sorbus rupicola: 6m, elongated leaves, deep red fruit
Sorbus vexans: 6m, not good on chalk, scarlet fruit
Sorbus wilmottiana: 6m, small leaves and fruit

Large Shrubs between 3-6m (10-20ft) at maturity

Cornus sanguinea (dogwood): 3m, attractive winter stems
Euonymus europaeus (spindle): 3m, good on chalk, attractive fruits
Hippophae rhamnoides AGM (sea buckthorn): 6m, needs drainage, female bears fruit
Juniperus communis (juniper): 6m, grows in any well-drained soil
Ligustrum vulgare (wild privet): 3m, useful for hedging
Rhamnus cathartica (buckthorn): 6m, good autumn colour, bears fruit
Rosa caesia (hairy dog rose): 3m, single pink/white flowers, hips, not readily available
Rosa caesia subsp. glauca: 3m, red, glaucous stems
Rosa canina (dog rose): 4m, fragrant flowers and red hips
Rosa micrantha (small-flowered sweet briar): 3.5m, single flowers and red hips, not readily available
Rosa obtusifolia (round-leaved dog rose): 3m, strong thorns, white/pink flowers, not readily available
Rosa stylosa (short-styled field rose): 3m, single flowers and red hips, not readily available
Rosa tomentosa (harsh downy rose): 3m, fragrant flowers and foliage, not readily available
Salix myrsinifolia (dark-leaved willow): 4m, tolerates wet, hairy young stems
Salix phylicifolia (tea-leaved willow): 4m, glossy dark winter stems
Salix purpurea (purple willow): 5m, attractive winter stems
Salix aurita (eared willow): 3m, prefers acid soil, red/brown stems
Sorbus leptophylla (Welsh whitebeam): 3m, large scarlet fruit, not readily available
Sorbus leyana: 3m, small leaves and fruit
Sorbus minima: 3m, sparse shrub with scarlet fruit
Viburnum lantana (wayfaring tree): 5m, attractive flowers and fruit
Viburnum opulus (guelder rose): 5m, attractive fruit and autumn colour

Medium Shrubs 1.5-2.5m (5-8ft) at maturity

Cytisus scoparius (broom): 1.5m, thrives in poor, acid soil
Rosa agrestis (small-leaved sweet briar): 2m, good on chalk, erect stems, not readily available
Rosa arvensis (field rose): 2m, fragrant flowers and red hips
Rosa mollis (soft downy rose): 2.5m, pink flowers, small hips, not readily available
Rosa rubiginosa AGM (sweet briar): 2.5m, apple-scented foliage, red hips
Rosa sherardii (Sherard's downy rose): 2m, clusters of flowers and red hips, not readily available
Sorbus anglica (English whitebeam): 2m, good autumn colour
Ulex europaeus (gorse): 2.5m, evergreen, good on poor soil
Ulex gallii (western gorse): 2m, evergreen, thrives in sandy, acid soil

Small Shrubs 1m (3ft) or less at maturity

Rosa pimpinellifolia (burnet rose): 1m, attractive flowers and hips
Ruscus aculeatus (butcher's broom): 75cm, evergreen, female plants produce berries
Salix herbacea (dwarf willow): 10cm, forms a creeping mat
Salix lanata AGM (woolly willow): 1m, small alpine species, grey leaves
Salix lapponum (downy willow): 1m, small dense shrub, grey leaves
Salix myrsinites (whortle-leaved willow): 50cm, carpeting species, shiny leaves
Salix repens (creeping willow): 60cm, attractive male catkins
Salix reticulata AGM (net-leaved willow): 8cm, dwarf, mat-forming species

RHS Find a Plant – native trees shrubs

Naturalized species

The following are not native but have become naturalised (i.e. introduced into the wild where they now flourish):

Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore)
Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut)
Amelanchier lamarckii (snowy mesipilus)
Castanea sativa (sweet chestnut)
Juglans regia (common walnut)
Laburnum alpinum
Laburnum anagyroides
Larix decidua
 (European larch)
Mespilus germanica (medlar)
Prunus cerasifera (cherry plum)
Quercus ilex (holm oak)
Quercus cerris (Turkey oak)
Rhododendron × superponticum (see our page on invasive non-native species)

Some naturally occurring hybrids include:

Betula × aurata
× intermedia
× media
× rosacea
Salix × alopecuroides
× calodendron
Salix × capreola
× fruticosa
× latifolia
Salix × lauriana
Salix × lintonii
Salix × meyeriana
Salix × mollisima
Salix × multinervis
Salix × pontederiana
Salix × reichardtii
Salix × rubens
Salix × rubra
Salix × sericans
Salix × smithiana
Salix × stipularis
Sorbus × vagensis
Tilia × europaea
Ulmus × elegantissima
Ulmus × hollandica
Ulmus × vegeta
Ulmus × viminalis

Join the RHS

Become an RHS Member today and save 25% on your first year

Join now

Gardeners' calendar

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.