Species guidance

This page is an on-going work-in-progress and we are very happy to hear from you if you have comments or suggestions about what we have written here. It is of course, only a very tiny selection of the vast number of trees out there. If you would like to talk to us about a tree that you think we should include, please drop us a line using the 'Contacts' tab above.

Whenever you are considering planting any tree, the mantra needs to be "Right tree, right place". Consideration of the location will determine much: speed of growth, shape of canopy, shading tendency, root suckering and invasiveness, longevity and of course the eventual mature height and spread needs to drive the species choice from the outset. 

One of the main factors when thinking about the kind of street tree you want to plant is the width of the available pavement, and to some degree, the distance from the kerbside to the front elevation of the houses along the street (the pavement may be quite wide but the houses quite close to the pavement, perhaps because there is little or no front garden). The relative distance to the front of the house from the position of the new tree is also a consideration in choosing a species that will not block the available daylight. Old tree pits (that we often re-use) tend to be located at the boundary of two properties to mitigate the light issue, and, where possible, this is still the intention, kerbside utilities (ie. cables and pipes) permitting. 

When Lewisham Council had the resources to sustain a generous planting policy, many streets were planted with single species. You can see this in the conservation area with the dwindling number of flowering ornamental cherry plum (prunus) trees along many of the smaller streets. However, we now know that this genus is susceptible to the Ganoderma fungus which attacks weaker and older trees. When this happens streets can lose a significant number of trees in a relatively short space of time. For this reason we are now encouraging a greater diversity in our new planting. We hope this post will help you to make that choice. 

The following sections are listed by 'very wide', 'moderately wide' and 'narrow' pavements.Within each section trees are listed in alphabetical order by common name (genus). Where possible we have included information about the density of the canopy and the longevity of the species. 

For those of you with a technical bent, the following table gives an explanation of tree taxonomy (click on the table for a larger image):

Very wide pavements 

Examples of local streets wide enough to support very large tree species are Wickham Road and Adelaide Avenue. 

The London Plane (Platens x acerifolia) was the tree of choice for our Victorian forebears and many fine specimens now grace these roads. 

London Plane trees at the Hilly Fields Crescent
boundary of Hilly Fields
The glorious planting of London Plane in Green Park
in the borough of Westminster
There is a nice write-up about the London Plane at our Islington Tree Officer friend's site here. Sadly, there is now a threat too to mature Plane trees from the Massaria fungal disease (Splanchnonema platen) which attacks boughs already weakened through drought (the London Tree Officers Association site details Massaria here). This should, however, not dissuade us from planting this species. It is still a very valuable and lovely street tree. 

Here are some other species suitable for very wide pavements. Essentially, these tree species should be considered as legacy planting, as they are very big and very long-lived.

Field Maple (Acer campestre) 

The commonplace Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a member of this family and wrongly considered a non-native species. In fact the Sycamore is believed to have been introduced in medieval times and is now considered a naturalised species. Field Maples are very long lived (hundreds of years), have a reasonably dense canopy and grow at a moderate rate to a mature height of 10-18 metres when being regularly managed. The canopy is broadly conical. These trees are often grown for their lovely autumn colour. Some of these varieties can be considered for medium wide pavements. 

Typical autumn colour of Field Maple
Acer campestre Elegant and Acer campestre Lineco. These cultivars (clones, actually) are very robust street trees and will reward in their fabulous autumn colour, usually yellow. These trees are very widely used by native birds and insects. 

Acer campestre Louisa Red Shine - This variety has the habit of putting out new leaves flushed with crimson before turning mauve/green as the season progresses. 

Acer campestre Elsrijk - named after the park in Amsterdam where it was discovered in the 1905s, this cultivar has a more oval habit and magnificent clear yellow foliage in autumn. 

Small leaved Lime (Tilia cordata 'Rancho') 

This variety of this lovely native tree grows less tall than others and is therefore of interest as a street tree. They are extremely hardy trees, tolerant of hard pruning, and very attractive in their light green early summer foliage. The canopy is quite dense with a generally conical aspect so care should be taken to plant where shading is not an issue. The flowers are highly fragrant and very attractive to bees (and used to be used to make a calming infusion during the war apparently!). 

Re: "The sticky stuff on my car". Many are loathe to plant this tree (particularly on public highways) due to the well known issue of honeydew dropping onto cars when the foliage begins to attract large numbers of aphids in high summer. This is particularly true in the case of the large-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos) and the common Lime (Tilia x europea). However, this is much less of an issue with certain varieties, including the Small Leaved Lime Tilia cordata. 

The following comprehensive article from "Horticulture Week" gives a thorough airing of the honeydew issue, and explains why, in some varieties, the flowers are a problem for (honey)bees - click here.

Group of small leaved Lime - Rokeby Road
Moderately wide pavements

Examples of moderately wide pavements in the Brockley Conservation Area are Breakspears Road and Tressilian Road. Historically these streets have been planted with flowering cherry plum species. These species are still an option, and we particularly like the winter flowering varieties, but care should be taken not to plant a new prunus species in a tree pit that has lost a tree to Ganoderma fungus damage. 

Italian Alder (Alnus cordata

The Italian Alder is a naive of the southern Mediterranean and now naturalised in other parts of northern Europe. The 'cordata' in the name refers to the heart shape of the leaves (corde = Latin for heart). It grows at a moderate rate and can reach a mature height of 20-25 metres. It is considered mature at 50-60 years. It has a broadly conical shape and the canopy is moderately dense. In spring catkins provide an early source of nectar for bees and the seeds are a valuable food source for birds. The common alder (Alnus glutinous) is a native species and has a more broad canopy than its Italian relative. They are otherwise very similar trees.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos 'Sunburst') 

Introduced from America in the 1700s, this recent cultivar has the advantage of being thornless. It has attractive frond like leaves, pale yellow in spring with lovely autumn colour. It does well in most soils, particularly drier and free draining soils. It grows 8 - 12m at full maturity (50 years) with a broadly rounded form, and will need regular pruning when mature to control what can be a spreading habit. 

Photo courtesy Des McKenzie @McKenzie6593

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus Fastigiata

A beautiful native (and probably one of the original tree species predating human settlement in London) - the upright (fastigiate) variety is ideal. Beautiful delicate light open foliage, with often lovely autumn colour and overall a fine robust species. Grows 10/15 metres at maturity (these are very long-lived trees - several hundred years is usual). Again, there is a tendency for the canopy to spread as it matures, so careful pruning will be required. 

Hornbeam avenue on Hilly Fields - shape in winter

Ornamental cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera

These popular flowering trees seen all over the borough are termed 'cherry plum' trees, and often produce fruiting bodies (which are usually eaten by wood pigeons in Brockley!). They are relatively short-lived, with 60 years being an upper maximum, and have wonderful spring flower displays for which they are mostly enjoyed. They are prone to the Ganoderma fungus infection, and for this reason, they should not be planted in tree pits where other prunus varieties have been lost to Ganoderma. The flowers of all varieties are very attractive to bees. 

Two handsome mature prunus in front gardens - Geoffrey Road
The purple variety (Prunus cerasifera Nigra) is very lovely with dark purple leaves and abundant pink spring flowers (paling to white). Watch out for a new clone called 'Crimson Point' which is more upright in habit.

Purple ornamental cherry plum - Manor Avenue - spring bloom
This variety is an absolute stunner - Prunus maackii Amber Beauty - abundant clusters of small white flowers in spring (rather like Bird Cherry) with a fabulous polished golden/amber bark. A winner!  

Bird Cherry (
Prunus padus) is a native species and flowers relatively late (May). It is a tough tree but dislikes waterlogged soil. The flowers are heavily scented and appear in long spikes (known as racemes) and are attractive to bees. The fruit is a black berry which is attractive to common birds. 

Bird Cherry on Hilly Fields
We found this delightful article from the blog "Sequins and Cherry Blossom" whilst researching this page and heartily recommend their 'London Top Five' cherry blossom displays - go here.  

Medlar (Mespilus germanica) 

This is an ancient import from south-east Europe and west Asia and known mostly for its strange-looking fruit (which are edible, but only once softened by exposure to frost - or your freezer!). They have pale white flowers in May and June which are attractive to bees and the leaves have fine autumn colour, usually turning a spectacular red. This tree is very slow growing and is about 6m at maturity (50 years).  

Ornamental Pear (Pyrus calleryana Chanticleer)

This is a rather large tree (10/15m at maturity), and moderately fast growing so should be considered for medium to wide pavements. It produces a mass of white/cream blossom as early as March and has glossy foliage which often develops good autumn colour (orange and red, usually). Some fruit is produced, but it is usually small and hard and taken by pigeons before it falls. It is fully mature at about 50 years. The flowers are very attractive to bees. 

Narrow pavements

Juneberry or Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora Robin Hill)

This is an ideal small tree for pavements where space is at a premium. It grows slowly and to a maximum height of 5-10m. The delicate flowers appear first, pink turning white and then the coppery coloured foliage which eventually becomes  green in summer and then beautiful reds and oranges in a good autumn. The berries are red and form quickly and are usually hoovered up by the birds (a favourite of Blackbirds in Brockley!). It needs little maintenance. One down-side is that it is mature at 20 years and may not survive long thereafter. 

The beautiful early flowering Juneberry

Maidenhair Tree (Ginko Biloba Lakeview) 

This tree divides opinion (our 'Marmite' tree!); some love it, and some hate it. It is a real survivor, identified in the fossil record between 150-200 million years ago (see here). It was reintroduced into the UK in the mid 1700s. Female plants fruit after about 35 years or so, so the gender of the tree cannot be certain until then. This variety is a male clone, grows 15-20m at maturity. It needs little attention provided the central leader (the 'shoot') is well-defined and not interrupted. It has a generally conical habit. These trees have lovely autumn colour.

The distinctive shape of the two lobes
of the 'biloba' leaf

Medium mature specimen in SW1
Photo courtesy of Paul Wood / www.thestreettree.com

Rowan/Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia) 

This is a lovely native and has many favourable aspects: open airy canopy; flowers bee-friendly; strikingly coloured berries (colour depending on variety) which are hugely attractive to native birds; autumn colour (depending on the temperature and speed of the onset of autumn) can be spectacular. Again, the tree is not very long lived being fully mature at between 20 and 30 years.

An orange berried variety outside Alder House on Breakspears Road

A typical specimen in an inhospitable location! 
Other varieties we recommend: 

Sorbus aucuparia Joseph Rock - creamy yellow berries, 5-10m at mature height

Sorbus aucuparia Edulis - red berried variety, 10-15m at mature height

Sorbus x thuringiaca Fastigiata - This small tree (technically a clone) is columnar when young becoming broadly oval as it matures. It is a hardy tree and very resistant to poor air and soil. It grows 7-10m at maturity. Berries are red. 

Silver Birch (Betula pendula Fasitigiata)

An upright form of the common Silver Birch. It grows to about 10-15m at maturity. It is fully mature about 50 years. Catkins in spring are an important source of pollen for honeybees coming out of hibernation. 

Betula pendula pubescens - Common White Birch (also known as Downy Birch or Hairy Birch). It is a native of the UK and Europe. It is fully mature at 50-60 years and grows to a height of 15-20m. 

Beautiful white bark on Common White Birch - Tanner's Hill

Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)

This ancient native is the parent of numerous crab and eating apple varieties. It is a very pretty tree, small, and covered in a profusion of white flowers (pink-tinged in bud) giving good autumn colour. The small fruits are generally picked off by birds before they get big enough to drop. It grows to about 20m maximum and can be very long lived. The flowers are attractive to honeybees. 

We also love the copper/purple-leaved varieties, and recommend Malus Rudolph and Malus Profusion both 5-7m at maturity.

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