Irelands Native Irish Trees [listed & detailed]

With the lead into the winter spring/ tree planting season I went searching for a list of native Irish trees recently. Fair to say I was left extremely disappointed by what I could find.

There are many lists of trees available. On many [state involved] websites I found it extremely difficult to find any details at all. Some showed up but the pages were down or the site ‘suspended’. On others the details were so inaccurate [botanically], or the advice that came with was merely illogic horticulturally. One in fact noting that the Alnus was suitable for growing in a container, others simply a list.

I came up with what I can only describe as the most definitive list of native Irish trees that I have ever seen. That said, I don’t believe I am missing any ?

Before you go any further… I have excluded as best I can what may better be described as  a shrub. I have also chosen to list the trees alphabetically by their botanical names rather than their often variant common titles.

If you are thinking of going native Irish this season have a quick read first… you might just change our mind 😉 but I hope you dont.

1. Alnus glutinosa [alder]

[betulaceae] the commn alder. This deciduous tree can grow up to 25 metres tall and 10 metres wide. It has dark green leaves and produces clustered catkins in winter and ovoid fruit in summer. It grows quite well in poor soil and wet lands. Easily propagated by seed or hardwood cuttings. I always remember this one for its use in farmland shelter belts.

2. Arbutus unedo [Strawberry Tree]

[ericaceae] This evergreen beauty is a big shrub, if it is to be considered so, growing up to be considered so. It can grow up to 8m in height and width. For me it is the reddy peeling bark [kind of eucalyptus like…] that does it for me. Throw in a mass cluster of white flowers in autumn and some red fruits [not to be eaten!!]. Great in a mixed woodland or a specimen. Love it. That said, I’ve rarely seen it on a request list.

3. Betula [birch]

[betulaceae] there are 2 native birches in this list. Another catkin grower, produced seperately, these fellows are most famed for their white/ silver bark and their small leafed autumn foliage. The Betula pendula [silver birch] can grow up to 25 metres tall and 10 metres wide whilst the Betula pubescens [downy birch] can grow to 20 metres tall and 10 metres wide.

4. Corylus avellana [hazel]

[betulaceae] there are many cultivars of the avellana variety. Probably most famed is the C. avellana ‘Contorta’. But they are not to be confused. And one should pay particular attention to the last part of the name, not only here, but with all trees. You have been warned!! Generally speaking the C. avellana’s can grow up to 5 metres tall and wide. Obviously they are most famed for their edible nuts and their yellow and very beautiful winter catkins.

5. Crataegus monogyna [common hawthorn]

[rosaceae] that rose family….once again, pinky white flowers borne in late spring adorn this thorny tree,that are followed by dark glossy red fruits; the seeds of which will cause some stomach upset if ingested. Whilst it is more often grown as a hedge [scioch] and wuite suitable for that, as a tree it will grow to 10 metres tall and eight metres wide. One of these most resiliant trees I have ever met and an absolute must for any garden that is seeking to attract nature. For logic reasons, they’re not a gardeners favourite for a planting nor puning – but I love them.

6. Fraxinus excelsior [Ash]

[oleaceae] The common ash. A deciduous tree, easily spotted in winter by its black buds and grey stems, personally, I love this guy purely for its autum [foliage] colour. The feathered like leaves can grow to about 12” long and go almost bright yellow – the tree itself however can grow up to 30 metres tall and 20 metres wide. Famed for its use in making hurleys…

7. Ilex aquafolium [common holly]

[aquifoliaceae] this fellow make the list of trees but really is more of a shrub or bush, to you and me that is. A more obvious member of the evergreens, its dark green prickly leaves grow to about 10cm, its red berries produced in winter are followed by spring to summer flowers. It can grow up to 25 metres tall and 8 metres wide. Not the prettiest of the holly family… but great for wildlife.

8. Malus sylvestris [wild crab apple]

[rosaceae] another member of the rose family, you can gather therefore its most promnent features are its fragrant cup shaped flowers, in ths case pinky white produced in spring. The flowers are followed by, of course, its red fruits. Often thorned this quite susceptable beauty can grow to 9 metres tall and 7 metres wide.

9. Pinus sylvestris [scots pine]

[pinaceae] with its greyish crackily blue bark at the bottom and a more reddish bark at the top. This pine really [in my opinion isn’t, in my opinion, the prettiest fellow in the book at all. The male ‘cones’ appear like catkins [tiny slim soft pendulums] the females of the pine family are more cone-like, are green conical, 6cm long approximately and can take 2 – 3 years to ripen to a red brown finish. In height up to 30 metres tall and to a width of about 8 metres.

10. Populus tremula [poplar]

[salicaceae] One of the fastest growing upright looking trees I have ever met. The small diamond leaf, spring catkin producing tree [green for the female and red/ grey for the male] has one of the most vigorous root systems I know of. It also grows up to 20 metres tall and 10 metres wide. This is another that I remember famed for its use in shelter belts in farmlands.

11. Prunus [ornamental cherry]

[rosaceae] Once again there are 2 in this block. We’ve all seen a cherry tree at some stage or other…. The Prunus padus [or bird cherry] produces white fragrant flowers in spring followed by black fruits. The difference between this and any other variety of cherry…. this one can grow up to 15 metres in height and 10 metres in width. Like most natives, not exactly one for grandma’s 2 bed town house.

The second is the one I would be more familiar with, the Prunus avium or commonly called wild cherry. I prefer this for its glowing red bark, its white flowers followed by its more coloured red fruits. Once again however it can grow to 20 metres tall and 10 metres wide.

12. Quercus [oak]

[fagaceae] Two oaks enter the native Irish category and here we’ve really hit big boy territory. The Quercus patraea [sessile oak] can grow up to 30 metres tall and 25 metres wide. Whilst the Quercus robur [common oak] can grow up to 35 metres tall and 25 metres tall. In general and as most already know,the oaks are famed for its acorns, the fruit it produces. But I love knowing the fact that its minute male and female flowers are produced seperately but on the same plant usually around late spring.  The males then follow in catkins whilst the females follow in the form of a cluster of flowers on a central stem [raceme]. Then follows what we know as the acorn [fruit]. In my opinion – these guys will grow just about anywhere. I also love their foliage in autum.

13. Salix [willow]

[salicaceae] a genus of around 300 species, the willow in my book holds so many personal memories from baby baskets to simply getting the back of my legs whipped as a nipper by my friends! To horticulture…. a deciduous tree that grows in almost any condition but much famed for that near excesses of water. Its greatest asset, after its stem [for me] is it silhouette through the winter sun – or its form and its smooth, soft catkins that grow upright. Famed in its weeping format… once again be careful the variety that is chosen. Too many varieties to be extremely specific.

14. Sorbus [sorbus]

[rosaceae] thats right, another of the rose family and 2 of to the group…. who’s more than just a pretty face?!! The Sorbus is a great producer of late spring flowers, in clusters that are followed by amazingly spherical fruits – not to be eaten by the way!  The Sorbus aucuparia [rowan or mountain ash] foliage is almost identical in layout to that of the rose [yes valentines etc as you know it] but these grow to about 8″ long. It grows to 15 metres tall and 7  metres wide. Its fruits are reddy orange in colour. 

The Sorbus aria [whitebeam] – now heres a totally new equation – yet still related. Its leaves are round and silvery hairy on the base. It produces white flowers in spring and then produces dark red berries just after. This chappy also grows up to 25 metres tall and 10 metres wide.

15. Taxus baccata [yew]

[taxaceae] an evergreen shrub on the poisonous [all parts except the arils are toxic if ingested] and the conifer list, this chappie kind of also hits the I don’t know whether I’m a tree or a shrub/ bush list. That said the reddish flaky bark is stunning when it is grown for that. The alternate is of course that it is kept as a hedge. It has dark green matt leaves, produces yellow [male] cones in spring and its fruits are green surround by red [arils]. It can grow up to 20 metres tall and 10 metres wide.

16. Ulmus glabra [wych elm]

[ulmaceae] Now here’s one thats a toughie. This species suffered its own variation of the plague when Dutch Elm disease hit and almost wiped an entire species. As a result, you wont see too many of these guys around. No way hosé!! To the spring red flowering tree that is the U. glabra – that is followed by the production of winged green fruit; it is deciduous, its leaves grow up to 15cm long and turn a delightful yellow in autumn. It can by the way reach a height of 40 metres tall and 8 metres wide. Give one of them to your mother in law as a gift!!

34 replies
  1. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:

    Hiya Deidre,

    me too – but – to the best of my knowledge [and I am open to correction] the aesculus [hippocastanaceae] is a genus of about 15 species mainly from South East europe, himalayas, E. Asia and North America and unfortunately [again to the best of my knowledge] not a native of Ireland.

    we Irish have to settle for the bruts like the Crataegus and some [rare] beauts like the oaks.

    update: yip. I second guessed myself and was right the first time… and theres me just back from The Irish Conker Championships 😆

  2. Susan at Stony River
    Susan at Stony River says:

    AGH! Too hard. Willow or yew, willow or yew…
    I finally went for yew for so many reasons, then instantly felt guilty over the willow for so many reasons. I spent many a childhood summer playing beneath a giant of a weeping willow, but the yew is just so lovely…
    Anyhow, thank you for the list!
    Doesn’t Native Woodland have a list on their website? –I think they at least had one in their new-member packet.

  3. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:

    A Chara Susan,

    great to see you again 😉
    like the yew myself – but the poor fellow doesnt know if its a tree or a hedge….

    willow… so romantic. by a lake. lady. darjeeling tea…. etc

    slán go foill

  4. Susan at Stony River
    Susan at Stony River says:

    Peter I’m always here—it’s my connection that makes comments a challenge. Some days are better than others.

    (Speaking of, how did I get a Canadian flag on my last post when I’m sitting here in west Cavan?? Hmmm…)

    My grandmother lies buried under an enormous yew that was twisty-branched and beautiful; it must be centuries old. My mother used to make her Christmas wreaths from it (never got caught by the cemetery folks!) and perhaps that’s how it edged out the lovely willow in my choice.

    Plus, doesn’t yew promise a possible cure for cancer? I never kept up with that news, though I first heard it years ago. Of course, willow eases pain, so once again, this one or that one…LOL

    Now to hit ‘post’ and see what country I land in this time!

  5. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:

    A Chara Susan,

    with that in mind… i’m surprised the much folklored Crataegus really hasn’t got any votes at all… ?
    No idea re the canadian flag… that I can gather it is based on IP address and usually quite a handy tool with regard to international horticultural conversations.
    Nice story re the yew. As I said above… I used to get the backs of my legs whipped with willow as a nipper 😆
    Would never pick that Arbutus…. climbed one in college once with a few drinks on me…. darned gravity 🙄

    ah the memories…!!

  6. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Best book on native Irish trees has to be by Niall Mac Coitir:
    ‘Irish Trees
    Myths, legends & Folklore’

    Its one of those rare ‘perfect’ books that crops up now & then x

  7. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    hey Peter,
    Check out CVNI website
    Conservation Volunteers N. Ireland
    An excellent set up & good website
    At Clandeboye (headquarters of CVNI) brilliant booklets on all native Irish species
    they even look at genetic species as per specific location in Ireland
    They grow native tree species at Clandeboye, co Down & these can be purchased (from whips to taller specimens) bare root until March

  8. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:

    I will check that book out actually. love all that the old mythology malarchy. Find it very hard to find books on the subject – even without reference to trees.

    I just laughed. a lot. 😆
    let me know will ye ? 😉
    so what tree did you pick

    yeah found it very hard to find web based information…. a lot of ‘i think’ kinda style-ee and send off for more information – but very little for the facebook generation […that be you btw 😉 ]

    beir bua

  9. Bernice Burnside
    Bernice Burnside says:

    The Yew- as it brings back memories of childhood. House I grew up in Sligo was named after big Yew tree in garden (Yewtree House) and the swing we hung from it when I was a kid is still there for my own kids to enjoy when they visit nanny and grandad. Your revelation about it being confused as to whether it’s a tree or a hedge draws me to it even more. I’m still working out what I am! Also love the Latin for it- sounds a bit like: Tax Us? Back at ya! Resonates as the budget approaches. Yew wins….me thinks

  10. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:


    love those kind of stories. Makes doing posts like this all the worthwhile. Thank you so much 🙂 Re the yew… its a bit of a crataegus [hawthorn] its a hedge and a tree.

    In the yew context… the ‘ye olde english gardens’ kept them moreeso as hedges… whilst the later years saw them become more of the latter.

    I like to think that the Irish wanted to see what they’d turn out like if we never cut them back at all… 😉

    brilliant stuff 🙂

  11. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    Really wish Beech was native, rather than merely naturalised, as that’s my favourite tree by miles. 🙂 Oak’s a pretty good runner up though.

  12. Bngr
    Bngr says:

    I went for the cherry hoping that that’s the same thing as what we call the cherry blosom, the oak and all are nice but its lovely to see the cherry blossom flowers. Otherwise as I’ve said before I like the fodden trees and Cedrus Libani is my no. 1, and if I hold firm to my intentions I’ll get to see them in the flesh next year.

  13. Hazel
    Hazel says:

    Ah Peter! I picked the Hazel of course…I prefere the one commonly refered to as the ‘Twisted Hazel’, as it discribes my personality better and I frequently try to persuade people to plant them and think of me…but they don’t fall for it!! lol.

  14. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:

    great to see [especially] you back again 🙂 hope you’re doing really good… must make it for coffee with you sooner rather than later
    x. p.

    have to agree with you on the cherry blossoms… there used to be onn the top of my road growing up; and outside pretty much every house as well. My reckon it was the housing estate [did they exist then…?]tree of the 1980’s.
    So beautiful…. they’d be flowering cherries you and I would remember alright. But would I recommend one to you now…. ?

    So I was right after all… prefer the Contorta version myself…. one right outside my window… which I may have to move 😉

    beir bua

  15. Hazel
    Hazel says:

    Hey peter how come some people get to have pretty pictures of themselves and I am a green cyclops with mad looking hair?? I make the best coffee by the way.
    After reading the list again I realise I have 12 of the 16 planted and now I want to go plant the last 4. On the day I was planting I couldn’t decide on a favourite so I kept digging holes…:-0

  16. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:


    you can please all of the people all of the time etc…..

    re the cyclops bit 😯
    re the coffee book me in for a cuppa so 🙂
    re the trees… bulaidh bós
    re the holes… some species have two in there 😆


  17. Gina Boles
    Gina Boles says:

    I voted for the Willow because it’s so graceful. Also, it’s often used as a symbol for organic & natural products – which Gifted by Nature is all about. And lastly, because one of my favourite songs is called Willow, by Joan Armatrading…

  18. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:

    mighty man yourself. looking forward to tuning into Christmas Fm to hear you….. soon 😀

    …a bit of Joan Armatrading…. now theres something I haven’t heard a little of in a while…

  19. Nicola Nestor
    Nicola Nestor says:

    Silver birch or willow…How to choose…but then how to choose between any! Going with Silver birch this time!

  20. Helena McDermott
    Helena McDermott says:

    I am currently planting a native woodland, and am determined to have Arbutus tree, although I have never seen one except in book, I also want a Yew, Mayo 2″the plain of the Yew”, and I live in Mayo.We will also have Birch Willow Rowan Scots pine Wild Cherry Oak, all 30,000 of them It is so exciting,Would it be posssible to enhance walkways, any ideas would be gratefully accepted

  21. Peter Donegan MI Hort
    Peter Donegan MI Hort says:


    I am very envious 🙂 sincerely.

    to be fair to the site and the proposed layout [?] a couple of pics or a quick video would be great [and I’d love to see them] That aside, Acer glabosum or Tilia cordata ‘greenspire’ does spring to mind for the walkways…. two very different trees but that depends on the style of the site etc… 😉

    Re the Arbutus…. think space. Personally all I ever wanted was a +laburnocytissus adamii ended up with a plain old laburnum. You’ll have better luck with the arbutus 😉

    keep me posted on this one – great to hear and you should be really very proud.
    beir bua

  22. barbersfort
    barbersfort says:

    Hi there
    Ive just planted 150+ trees on a .5 acre plot consisting of 12 types of native/non natives. Ive tried to space them 1-2 meters apart but I guess they’re going to get a bit crowded as the years go by?!

  23. peter donegan
    peter donegan says:

    A Chara

    I don’t know which varieties you have planted exactly, but, assuming they are al of the large/ tall-est growing type….
    Motorway planting is almost all done at about 3 per meter squared so they grow really tall quicker.

    In your case, unless you wish to go ‘by the book’ and have each specimen grow as per the ideal growing scenario and to its fullest….. I wouldn’t worry too much.

    Great to hear stories like this and keep me posted on how you get on.

    beir bua

  24. peter donegan
    peter donegan says:

    A Chara Ann Marie,

    I assume its for your garden/ specific area of space. If so maybe you could email me a photo of the proposed or thought of space…. and I could better make a judgement for you from there.
    Let me know if that suits. Tree selection first, the planting of the tree second 😉


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