Temperate Climate Zone

On this page are some examples of trees in the northern temperate climate zone that are deciduous in fall and winter.

Deciduous trees in temperate climate zones bear green foliage in spring and summer, and lose their leaves in autumn and winter. They are seen in public green spaces, and in vast forested areas where nature takes care of itself. There is a lot of biodiversity among those trees and shrubs.

Fruit- and nut trees as ‘food-trees’, are also deciduous in the temperate climate zones. But on this page a distinction is made between those deciduous ‘food-trees’ and let’s say the ‘common’ deciduous trees.

Deciduous trees that are classified ‘common’ on this page, do not produce fruit, berries or nuts that are edible for humans or livestock, or for the larger wildlife. But they do have a justified existence though!

The trees provide nesting opportunities for birds in spring and summer, and are also a food source for the small ground-animals (such as mice, moles, rats, squirrels, hedgehogs), and insects. The trees also produce oxygen for this time of the year and absorb CO2 in their process of photosynthesis.

Several deciduous tree species in a park with striking autumn colors.

For the Netherlands, it is striking that most of the deciduous trees in the public space are ‘common’ trees, but aren’t fruit- or nut trees that produce fruits or nuts edible for humans.

At the same time there is also the observation that there are a reduced amount of evergreen trees in this western part of Europe, such as the different conifer species, like pines, cedars, etcetera. 

Thus when in fall the leaves begin to flutter down, the branches of many trees quickly become visible. And that is the bare image of ‘naked’ trees that determines our landscape for the following six months.

For western Europe, that is, from the middle of the autumn period (October) until after the first weeks of spring (April). And since there weren’t many fruit- or nut trees among those, there isn’t much of a harvest either, except for commercial fruit growers and for some gardeners. 
Picture below, deciduous Beech tree.

So for half of the year, the Netherlands is bare for a large part. Most of the green that can be seen are the many meadows that are kept for grazing cattle, but without any trees in sight.

Now, how is this for the country and part of the world you live in? Is your public space green throughout the year?
Do these trees produce fruit and nuts, and how many evergreens are in your area?

On top of these observations, there is the bad news that many trees nowadays are cultivated to create a better or new look. For instance for them to produce beautiful blossoms, or colorful but non-edible berries in autumn, or for the trees to grow faster for logging.
The major disadvantage of this, is that these cultivated trees once they mature after 20 to 40 years, will not naturally reproduce or regenerate.

But humans are curious and like to experiment with things. It is also because people and companies are encouraged by governmental regulations to genetically alter plants and sell their patented cultivars for profit, whereas it is forbidden to sell natural seeds and plants the way we find them in nature.

It is also encouraged -probably by commercial regulations as well- to import trees and plants from other parts of the world that do not naturally grow in western Europe’s environment.
Also in the Netherlands for example, some tree species that grew naturally here for ages, including the conifer forests some 500 to 1000 years ago, are nowadays a rarity.

In a sense we are looking at the cultivation plan of our green space from about twenty, to fifty, to a hundred years ago. Nowadays it is even also questionable what is left of that cultivation plan, given the increased commercial logging and biomass ‘power’ stations. (How much ‘power’ is there in destroying nature huh?).

Next are some examples of trees in the northern temperate climate zone that are deciduous in fall and winter, and which do not produce food (fruit & nuts) in summer (except for birds and small ground-animals).
Photo below of stately tall poplars.

Think, for example, of trees such as the Poplar, genus Populus of the Willow family. There are around fourty species worldwide, These trees look great when they have grown large and give a stately impression, especially in summer with their beautiful rustling canopy in the wind, under which you can find cooling in summer heat.

Another example is the Platanus, which can be quickly recognized by the patterned bark in green and brown tones. Fully matured the tree can reach a height of 98 to 164 ft (30-50 m).
There are about 9 species worldwide, such as the Western-Plane tree (Platanus Occidentalis) from America, and the Oriental-Plane tree (Platanus Orientalis) from the Balkans and Asia Minor.

The plane tree with the characteristic bark. All Platan trees belong to the Platanaceae family.

Plane trees, Poplars and other such trees, are often planted in the Netherlands as a park-, avenue- and street tree, because of the ornamental characteristics and also the shady canopy. For the Netherlands these are concidered exotic trees. Unforunately, some of those have been cultivated into hybrids as well.

Close-up of the nicely structured bark of the Plane tree, which flakes off and colors in various shades of green and brown.

The custom of planting exotic trees in the Netherlands, which are foreign for the country, thus nonindigenous or nonnative,  probably dates from the period when wealthy nobles were able to travel the European continent by horse and carriage, and perhaps also sail the world’s seas, where they discovered these beautiful trees elsewhere and took seeds or saplings back with them. But nowadays with modern travelling, the import of foreign tree and plant species is tremendous.

Such an example of an exotic tree is the Ginko Biloba tree, originally from China and Central Asia. It has beautiful unique smooth edged fan shaped leaves, that are clustered on the branches. See picture above.

The Ginko Biloba is the only species belonging to the Ginkoaceae. It is estimated that the Ginko was already on the planet around a 100 million years ago, but is nowadays growing as a heritage in the wild around 4500-5000 years old, in small areas in eastern and southeastern China.

The tree nowadays also grows in other parts of the world such as Korea, America, Canada and Europe, also cultivated varieties.

The name ‘Ginko’ etymologically is believed to be stemming from Japanese, and it means ‘silver-abricot’, resembling the color of the fruit. The Ginko-fruits however look more like large yellowish or light orange cherries, which only grow on the female trees. Once they ripen and fall of the trees they spread the smell of aging smelly cheese. In Chinese the name for the tree sounds like ‘Bakwa’.

The seeds of the Ginko grow inside the fruits and are edible. They have the size of a walnut and therefore, the Ginko tree is also called Japanese ‘Nut Tree’. Continue reading about the nuts below.


The nuts are available on Asian markets and can be sprouted. Eaten in large amounts however, the Ginko nut can cause seasures. But a few of them, around a quantity of 10, roasted and sprinkled with some salt, turn in a translucent green, and are then considered a delicacy. The nuts can also be mixed in soups or are grinded to powder and mixed with flour as to reduce the costs of the flour.

Because the nuts can only be eaten in small quantities, it is not recommended to grow these on a large scale in Europe, also because the tree isn’t native. Therefore this tree has been classified as a decidious exotic tree.

The male trees by the way do not produce the smelly fruits (whih might also cause an allergic reaction when eaten), and are therefore planted closer to homes as decorative trees, because they don’t smell bad when the fruits are ripe and because of the nicely shaped leaves which also do have medicinal properties. But if one doesn’t mind the smell for a short period of the year, then the female trees produces a nut harvest as well!

But as a ‘food-tree’ in Europe, the Chestnut might be the better choice for a nut tree for mass production, as it is native and indigenous, and because one can eat as many chestnuts as one wants.

And although exotic trees such as the Ginko Biloba, or the Plane trees and Poplars, are deciduous in autumn and winter, and also do not produce food for humans, the trees do provide oxygen in the summer and absorb CO2.

The above applies also to the many native trees in the northern temperate climate zone, such as for the Birch, recognizable by its beautiful white bark.

The Paper Birch (Betula Papyrifera),
has light colored rings in the white bark that peels off curly in some places, which looks like curled paper.

Stem of the Paper Birch, Betula Papyrifera.

The European White Birch (Betula Pendula), has a smooth white bark with almond-shaped oval spots which looks like eyes. This bark does not peel off.

These Birches below are planted at a mutual distance of 10 to 15 meters, or 32 -49 feet.

Birches have been native to the Netherlands since time immemorial. For example, there is also a place name ‘Berkhout’ in the province North Holland, which means ‘BirchWood’.

Leaf of the European Birch, both summer and autumn.

The European Birch, like the Paper Birch, has ribbed horizontal stripes across the bark. However, these do not peel off as with the Paper Birch.

Another native species (besides the Birch), is the Maple tree, (genus Acer), of which are aroud 125 Acer species worldwide.
Some species of Maple trees are: Bigleaf Maple (Acer Macrophyllum- 40 meters tall-, Sugar Maple (Acer Sacharum) yes the tree that contains the sweetest sap, tapped from the trunk as maple sirop, and which maple-sugar is derived of, Common maple, Norway maple, Paper maple, Field maple, or Spanish barge).

These Maple seeds are almost ripe at the end of September. In Holland we call them also ‘helicopter seeds’ because they whirl downwards in pairs of two with a circulating movement of the wings, reminiscent of the rotating blades of a helicopter. Tiny ground-animals do eat the Maple-fruits and seeds, such as field mice, chipmunks and squirrels.

Maple leaves are large and have a beautiful shape. They are also symbol of the Canadian flag. In a way, the leaves function as solarpanels which can derive lots of sugar in the proces of photosynthesis for the nourishment of the tree, which is converted into the tree-sap! Deer and moose eat the young twigs and leaves of the trees.
Maple leaves color red in autumn, and are famous for their bright colors that time of the year.

There are many more deciduous tree species that although they provide little food for humans or wildlife, create plenty for birds and small ground-animals (as well as oxygen). Some of these are:

The various Alder species
(White alder or Gray alder, Black alder, Green alder),
The various Linden species
(Dutch lime, Winter lime, Summer lime),
The ‘Ornamental’ Chestnut (being the wild chestnut or horse chestnut with white blossoms -and the hybrid pink blossoms),
The various Poplar species
(Balsam Poplar, Rattle Poplar, Black Poplar),
The various Willow species
(Gray willow, Water willow, Crack willow, White willow, ‘Ornamental’ willow (weeping willow), Toe or Cat willow, Laurel willow.

The Ornamental Willow (Salix Pendula, Genera: Salix, Salicaceae – Willow family) adorns many ponds with its descending branches. The ‘Pendula’ refers to the Latin word ‘pendulus’, meaning ‘hanging’ & ‘moving back and forth’, here these are the branches oftentimes quietly rustling and gracefully swaying in the wind.

Photo below: Picturesque pollard willows at a small forest fen.

There are many more tree species in the Netherlands that are both deciduous but non-food-bearing. Many of them are also placed as ornamental trees, because of their beautiful bloom (blossoms in the spring, or nicely colored -but non-edible berries in the autumn).
Tastes differ -so to speak- when it comes to planting tree species. Many of the tree species mentioned will be preserved in the Netherlands.

What to think of the beautiful flowering  exotic ‘Ornamental’ chestnut tree? This tree doesn’t naturally occur in the Netherlands,  and it is traditionally named ‘Wild’-, or ‘Horse’-chestnut.

However, the chestnuts that this tree produces in the fall are not edible, not even for horses. The majectic blossoms in spring are visited by bees that produce honey from them. At the end of October this tree loses its large leaves. See the page NUT TREES for more info on Chestnut trees.

It could happen that residents of family domains more often choose food-bearing trees and&or evergreen trees for practical reasons.
The ‘and&or’ is a choice that can be made for one and&or the other. Common deciduous trees still have their righteous place on family domains though. Because a ‘food forest’ doesn’t necessarily consist of fruit- and nut trees only. There are also mushrooms, edible leaves, maple sirops and all of that. Fruit- and nut orchards sounds nice too. Just saying!
But Squirrels know how to collect and store their food!

So if, in addition to a food forest, one also wants evergreen trees on their estate, one can make a second selection. Suppose you want a fence that visually also provides a dense hedge in winter, and that also blocks the wind, then evergreen conifers are a solution.

The seeds of a number of conifers are also edible for humans, such as from the Pine tree. It would therefore be logical if habitants of hectares-villages opt for a conifer that remains green all year round, AND also produces edible seeds.

The beauty of the concept of the family-domains is that each family can make its own choice for the tree species to be planted. This applies to both the quarter hectare of forest on each hectare-plot, as well as the green fencing of the hectares. So a wide variety of tree species can be seen.

Next pages are on fruit-trees, nut-trees, conifers, shrubs and bushes.