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European Atlas of Forest Tree Species

The European Forest Tree Species Atlas describes almost one hundred major tree species, and their role in Europe’s forests. Both online and in hard-copy, it provides a wealth of information on the role and ecology of forests in Europe, from protecting soils, over storing carbon, to providing a habitat to wildlife.

These pages are a pilot project to provide an interactive pathway to this information. They give summary information about selected tree species and are designed to be reached from a mobile device, after scanning a QR code.

In a first phase, we will equip trees around JRC’s Visitors’ Centre in Ispra with a QR code corresponding to their species, to allow visitors to learn more about them on the spot.

Featured trees




Sweet chesnut





Scots pine





Sessile oak





Silver birch





Great capricorn


Select an item above to read more details or browse the European Atlas of Forest Tree Species


Sweet chesnut - Castanea sativa Mill.

French: Châtaignier commun | German: Edelkastanie
Etymology of Latin species name: sativa = sown, as it has been always cultivated

Where it grows

Find out more on the download page of the Atlas for the sweet chesnut .

The sweet chestnut is native to central-southern Europe (the northern Iberian Peninsula, the South of France, central-northern Italy, the southern Balkan Peninsula) and Asia Minor (western and northern Turkey, the Caucasus). It can be found at sea level in its northern range, and at up to 1 400m above sea level (asl) in Greece and 1 700m asl in Asia Minor. This tree has been widely planted and cultivated outside its natural range throughout the warm-temperate climate regions, such as South and North America and Australia.

What it looks like

The sweet chestnut is a medium-large tree, growing 30-35m in height with a trunk of 1.5-2m in diameter at the base. When cultivated, it can reach a very large size, with a trunk of more than 6 m in diameter. This tree is also a long-living species, and some plants are estimated to be more than 1 000 years old. The leaves are long and narrow, with toothed margins. Flowering occurs in June-July. Male flowers develop in long yellowish-green catkins, with female flowers at their base, which are embedded within a small spiny green involucre (membranous envelope). Pollination is driven by wind and insects. The fruit is a brownish nut enclosed in a spiny cupule.


The sweet chestnut is a multipurpose tree, producing good quality wood, edible fruits and several secondary products such as pasture, hay, mushrooms, berries, etc. The timber is strong and durable, and can be used for construction, furniture and long poles. Chestnut wood is also used for burning and for producing charcoal. Chestnut trees are cultivated in orchards for fruit production. The nut can be prepared for consumption in many different ways: roasted, candied, boiled, dried, or milled into flour. The flowers are rich in pollen and nectar and are therefore highly useful to beekeepers for honey production.

Did you know?

  • In Europe, the sweet chestnut covers an area of more than 2.5 million hectares (about the size of the island of Sardinia).
  • The chestnut tree has been cultivated since the Neolithic era (4000 BC), together with walnut tree and cereals. The first unambiguous evidence of chestnut cultivation is reported in Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, and dates back to around 2100-2050 BC.
  • In about 90% of chestnut forests, the sweet chestnut is the only or the dominant species. However, chestnut forests require continuous silvicultural maintenance. In fact, in the absence of human management, chestnut stands tend to be invaded by other species and to evolve towards mixed deciduous forests.
  • The largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world is “The Sweet Chestnut of Hundred Horses” in Sicily (Italy). It is composed of three different trees splitting from a unique plant. They measure 13, 20 and 22m in girth and share the same roots. It is not known precisely how old it is, but estimations range from 2 500 to 4 000 years.

Public and reusable images of potential use

Distribution map of sweet chestnut in Europe
© European Union, 2017
sweet chestnut tree
© Flickr, Tracy Turrant – CC-BY 2.0
Edible nuts of the sweet chestnut.
© CaptMikey9 – CC-BY 2.0
Roasted nuts of the sweet chestnut.
© Flickr, elif ayse – CC-BY 2.0
Male yellowish flowers in catkin clusters.
© Flickr, Maja Dumat – CC-BY 2.0
"Castagnaccio" cake
© Flickr, fugzu – CC-BY 2.0
Painting: “The Sweet Chestnut of Hundred Horses”
© Wikimedia – CC0 1.0


Scots pine - Pinus sylvestris L.

French: Pin sylvestre | German: Waldkiefer, Gemeine Kiefer, Rotföhre, Weißkiefer
Etymology of Latin species name: sylvestris = from forest, as it forms large forests

Where it grows

Find out more on the download page of the Atlas for the Scots pine .

The Scots pine is found from Western Europe to the far-east of Russia, and from northern Scandinavia to the mountains of southern Europe (Pyrenees, Alps and Balkan Mountains). It grows at seal level in the northern part of its range and at over 2 600m above sea level in the Caucasus. This pine frequently forms large single-species forests especially in the Boreal regions, but across its wide range it can be also found with many other tree species.

What it looks like

The Scots pine is a medium-sized conifer, reaching 30-35m in height, only exceptionally over 40 m, and 50-130 cm in diameter. The life-span of this pine is about 250 years, sometimes up to 400 years. It develops an open crown with spreading branches. The stem is characterized by the reddish-orange bark in the upper part. Leaves are needle-like, blue-green in colour, 5-7cm long and set in pairs. Male flowers are numerous, clustered at the base of new shoots and yellow or pink when mature. Female flowers occur on the tips of the shoots and become rose-purple at pollination. The cones develop the year following pollination and are conic 5-8cm in size. In autumn the cones open and shed the winged seed, which are dispersed by the wind.


Scots pine is one of the most commercially important tree species, especially in northern Europe. It is used for pulp and sawn timber production (buildings, construction, furniture, etc.). The wood is easily workable and is one of the strongest softwoods. This pine is a pioneer species and grows on poor soils; for this reason it is also planted for land reclamation and anti-erosion purposes, and as a windbreak.

Did you know?

  • Scots pine is frequently used in dendrochronology, the study of the annual rings of trees, because it is relatively long lived and often grows in marginal conditions, where small fluctuations in temperature and/or moisture can have a noticeable effect on its growth and ring size.
  • In Scandinavia and Russia resin is extracted from Scots pines to produce the “Stockholm tar”. This product is used traditionally as a wax for wood and ropes to protect them from the elements, to weatherproof, or to improve the grip (e.g. applied to the handles of baseball bats, or to the Nordic-style skis). Nowadays this tar has been substituted by synthetic products, which can be more easily produced industrially.
  • In the USA Scots pines are planted for growing as Christmas trees.
  • Scottish Highlands were once covered by forests composed principally by Scots pines. They have been overcut mainly for timber demand and for creating cattle pastures. Now only small portions of the ancient Scots pine forests still remain in Scotland, covering about 17 000 ha.

Public and reusable images of potential use

Distribution map of Scots pine in Europe.
© European Union, 2017
Male flowers dispersing pollen.
© Pixabay, Adriankirby - CC0 1.0
Female purple flowers
© Flickr, Rudolf Baumann – CC-BY 2.0
Isolated Scots pine
© Flickr, Ashley Basil – CC-BY 2.0
Branch with open pine cones
© USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database – Public Domain 1.0
Scots pine plantation
© Wikimedia, Pit1233 – CC0 1.0
Native Scots pine
© Flickr, Fitzpatrick – CC-BY 2.0


Sessile oak - Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl.

French: Chêne rouvre, Chêne sessile | German: Traubeneiche, Wintereiche
Etymology of Latin species name: petraea = of the rocks, as it can grows on dry soils

Where it grows

Find out more on the download page of the Atlas for the sessile oak .

The sessile oak is commonly found across most of Europe, reaching northwards to the southern Scandinavian Peninsula, and southwards to the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula, southern Italy, the Balkan Peninsula and Turkey. It grows at sea level in the northern range and at up to 1 300m above sea level (asl) in the Alps and 2 000m asl in Turkey. This oak is typically one of the dominant tree species in European temperate deciduous mixed forests.

What it looks like

The sessile oak is a large tree, growing 30m in height and 1m in diameter. When isolated, it develops into the typical tree shape: a main stem with a globose crown. Individuals can live for a very long time (over 1 000 years in some cases) and become large (over 40m tall), attaining diameters of 3-4m. The leaves are egg-shaped with lobed margins. Male flowers grow in groups of green-yellowish catkins that are 5 cm long, while female flowers grow in clusters of bracts, which are small, solitary and inconspicuous. Pollination is driven by wind. The fruits are 2 to 3cm acorns that reach maturity in about six months.


Since the earliest times, sessile oak has held an important role in human culture in Europe, providing wood for fuel, acorns for livestock, bark for tanning leather, and timber for construction. Together with the pedunculate oak, the sessile oak is amongst the most economically important deciduous forest trees in Europe, providing high quality hardwood for construction and furniture manufacture. This oak also has an important ecological role, as it supports many species of insects such as moths, wood-boring beetles and gall-forming hymenoptera, and the acorns provide a valuable food source for many birds and mammals, such as jays, mice, squirrels and wild boars.

Did you know?

  • The oak was a sacred tree to the Greeks, Germans, Slavs and Celts, and this is why the oak frequently features in place names, and as part of national or regional symbols, e.g. it has appeared on German, Croatian and British coins, and in Bulgaria’s coat of arms.
  • As the wood is resistant to liquids, it is used for making barrels for wines and spirits, the flavour of which it often enhances.
  • Mammals and birds are important for seed dispersal, in particular the Eurasian jay, which can be considered the primary propagator.
  • Oak Decline is a new syndrome that mainly affects pedunculate and sessile oaks, and has become a widely recognised problem in recent years. Whilst not yet fully understood, it may be a consequence of human activities that have led to, for instance, the lowering of groundwater table, the absence of flooding, air and water pollution, inappropriate silvicultural practices, and climate change.

Public and reusable images of potential use

eu map
© jrc 2017
© Arnaud25 cc by 2.5
© anro0002 cco 1.0
coat arms
© stadt herdecke, public domain
© Jerzystrzelecki cc by 3.0
© relaisfrancmayne public domain


Silver birch/warty birch - Betula pendula Roth

French: bouleau verruqueux | German: Hänge-Birke, Sandbirke, Weißbirke, Warzenbirke
Etymology of Latin species name: pendula = hanging, as its branches droop

Where it grows

Find out more on the download page of the Atlas for the silver birch .

The silver birch occurs naturally throughout most of Europe: from the Iberian Peninsula, Italy and Greece up to Scandinavia. It is also present in central-northern Asia, from Caucasus through Siberia, up to China and Japan. This birch grows at sea-level in its northern range and at up to 2,500 m above sea level in Asia Minor. Silver birch prefers cold climates and it is more abundant in the boreal zone, where it can be the dominant forest species.

What it looks like

The silver birch is a medium-sized tree, growing to 15-25m in height, only exceptionally it can reach 30m. It develops slender trunks with diameters under 40cm. Silver birch commonly lives for 90-100 years, and more rarely up to 150 years. The bark of mature trees is silvery-white, with horizontal fissures. Leaves are triangular with toothed margins and ending in a pointed tip. The foliage is pale green and turns to yellow and brown in autumn. In summer catkins of male flowers release yellow pollen. The catkins of female flowers are shorter, and, after wind pollination, they develop into cylinder-shaped fruits formed from hundreds of winged seeds, which are dispersed by wind.


The silver birch commercially is one of the most important sources of hardwood in northern Europe. It is fast-growing and tolerates low temperatures, infertile soils and water deficit. For these reasons, it is widely planted primarily for wood production, but also for revegetation, land reclamation and erosion control. The light and porous wood has numerous uses: pulp for paper, plywood, veneer, timber, furniture and firewood. For its pleasant colours, silver birch is commonly planted in urban areas, roadsides and parks.

Did you know?

  • Birch sap can be tapped and consumed, either fresh as a tonic, fermented (birch beer or wine), or concentrated into a syrup.
  • Medicinal properties of birch have been noted since the medieval period; leaf or bark decoctions have diuretic, anti-rheumatic and anti-fever purgative properties.
  • This tree is considered holy and revered by Celtic and Germanic tribes, for having sacred powers of renewal and purification.

Public and reusable images of potential use

© European Union, 2017
© Flickr, S. Rae – CC-BY 2.0
© Flickr, Andrew – CC-BY 2.0
fruits of silver birch
© Wikimedia, Giovanni Caudullo – CC-BY 4.0
© Flickr, Martin Pettitt – CC-BY 2.0
Birch sap extraction
© Fotolia, Ornitolog82


Great capricorn beetle - Cerambyx cerdo L.

French: Capricorne du chêne, Grand capricorne | German: Große Eichenbock, Heldbock, Riesenbock, Spießbock

Where it lives

The great capricorn beetle can be found in most of Europe, except in northern regions, North Africa and Asia Minor. This insect lives in old and large trees on forested hills at low altitude, mainly white oaks (pedunculated and sessile oak), but it is also found in other oaks and trees of temperate and Mediterranean forests (downy, cork and holly oak, chestnut, birch, willow, ash, elm, walnut, hazel, etc.). Usually the host trees are in open sunny areas, and are large plants that are in decline and have injuries on the trunk. These trees are rare in nature, and are more abundant in manmade environments, such as in orchards, traditional farmland and landscaped parks.

What it looks like

The great capricorn beetle is a large xylophagous insect belonging to the family of the longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae). It has an elongated body with black legs and body, except for the reddish-brown end. It measures from 5 to 11cm and its antennae are longer than its body, 11-12cm in length. As with all longhorn beetles, males are smaller than females. The larvae of the great capricorn beetle are white and fleshy, measuring up to 10cm long when mature.

Life cycle

Between late spring and summer, females lay their eggs in a deadwood part of old living trees. During the first year, larvae feed on the wood under the bark. In the second year, they go deeper into the trunk, feeding for 3 to 5 years and creating large galleries. In the last year, the larvae work back towards the bark and make a chamber that opens to the outside, where they develop into nymphs and then adults. Adults remain sheltered inside the chamber during the winter, and in the warmer period they fly out and mate, remaining on the bark of the host tree. Adults live 3 to 5 weeks, feeding on the sap that appears on injuries in the bark and on mature fruits.

Did you know?

  • Adults are weak flyers and very rarely fly more than 500m from the tree where they were born.
  • When an old tree is declining and injured, it starts to emit a different spectrum of volatile organic substances, which are detected and attract the adult beetles, and induce females to lay their eggs.
  • This species has an important ecological role in the forest, undermining the wood of dying trees, and promoting their decline and faster substitution; in this way it can maintain a balanced age structure of forest trees in both space and time.
  • Due to a lack of old forests with veteran and decaying trees, this beetle is declining in northern Europe. It is therefore protected since 1992 by a European Union Directive (Dir. 92/43/EEC) and is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • On the other hand, the great capricorn beetle has a higher population density in the Mediterranean region, and in some areas is considered a pest as it can seriously damage cork and holly oak forests.

Public and reusable images of potential use

great capricorn
© jean-daniel echenard cc by 2.0
damaged wood
© graniers cc by 2.0
great capricorn
© mll cc by 2.0
Dead oak
© fritz geller grimm cc by 2.5