How To Describe Trees, Forests & Woodland In Fiction Writing

Good writing has a range of vocabulary. A single word can make all the difference to the tone and meaning of a sentence. There are times when I struggle to find the correct terminology, so I have decided to create word masterlists – helping me and you to write precisely. View all my vocabularly masterlists here.

Little known fact about me: I’m something of a conservationist. I have a degree in conservation and since 2016 I’ve worked with the Wildlife Trust, the UK’s leading conservation and nature recovery charity. Nature is vast and complicated and there is no way of fitting all the possible terminology onto one list. For this reason, in this post I will be solely focusing on words for trees, forests and woodlands and the features therein, and will largely be focused on UK and European woodlands, though I’m sure a lot of this can be applied elsewhere. This is also not an exhaustive list of everything in a forest, but is a jumping off point for myself and for you to use. With that said, I hope you find this helpful.

Remember: Not all of these words are interchangeble! Read the definitions carefully to make sure you are using the words correctly.

how to describe a forest
Photo by Johannes Plenio, from Pexels.

Words for A Group Of Trees

ForestA large area covered chiefly with trees and undergrowth.
Wood/WoodsAn area of land, smaller than a forest, that is covered with growing trees.
GroveA small wood: a group of trees without underbrush.
OrchardA piece of enclosed land planted with fruit trees.
ThickettA dense group of bushes or trees.

An area of woodland in which the trees or shrubs are periodically cut back to ground level to stimulate growth and provide firewood or timber.
“coppices of oak were cultivated”


Cut back (a tree or shrub) to ground level periodically to stimulate growth.
WoodlotA restricted area of woodland usually privately maintained as a source of wood-products such as fuel, posts, and lumber.

From this list, you would have noticed that these terms not only describe a group of trees, but rather the function of that group of trees. AKA “Are those trees managed and why?”

This is something to consider when describing a woodland. If it is managed, don’t only consider why but consider how. Is it grazed by cattle? Is it cut back by human workers? Different management techniques result in different types of habitat, ergo different terminology.

Don’t assume that if a habitat is not artificially managed that it’s simply a wild, untamed mess. Nature has it’s way of shaping the landscape and can appear surprisingly logical even in the harshest of environments. Consider the impact wild animals, natural fires, weather, and competing plants will have on the appearance of the landscape.

The Difference Between Coniferous And Deciduous (And Why It Matters)

Deciduous or broadleaved trees grow their leaves during the spring and lose them during the winter. Coniferous trees grow needles and cones instead of leaves, which don’t shed seasonally.

The reason this matters is because whether your forest is coniferous or deciduous will impact the ecosystem around it. Generally, you’re not going to get a mixed woodland of coniferous trees and deciduous trees. In the UK especially, conferous forests such as pine forests tend are specially culvitated for the purpose of growing pine trees, so anything else is out. More to the point, deciduous and coniferous trees prefer different soil types so they won’t grow together. Deciduous trees usually prefer fertile, well-drained soil, whereas conferous trees grow in acidic, often sandy soil which is lower in fertility because conferous trees do not drop their leaves and these aren’t rotting down into the soil to provide it with nutrients.

Obviously you shouldn’t go to intense scientific detail about why your fictional forest looks the way it does because that would be pain-stakingly boring. My point is, if you’ve described a scene where a pine tree by an oak tree because you like pine trees and oak trees, maybe reconsider.

Descriptors And Adjectives For Describing Trees

Here’s some adjectives to inspire you to write a compelling description of trees and forests. I’ve paired them with what I associate with coniferous forests and deciduous ones, but these words can easily be used for both in the right circumstances.

Describing a deciduous forest as ‘dry’ and ‘harsh’ tells me that the forest is not in very good condition and is dying. A privately owned coniferous forest will be quiet, but a coniferous woodlot will be noisy and full of workers.


Remember to keep in mind the time of day and time of year. Here’s a great list of 35 words to describe a forest at different times of day.

Words For Undergrowth

Another major difference between decudious and conferious forests is what grows beneath the trees. Due to the low nutrients in the soil around conferious trees, the forest floor tends to be sparse of bushes and plants. ‘Undergrowth’ is generally a term used when describing decudious forests, however some of these words can be used for either.

UnderwoodSmall trees and shrubs growing beneath taller timber trees.

A dense growth of shrubs and other plants, especially under trees in woodland.

Shrubs and small trees forming the undergrowth in a forest.
VegetationPlants considered collectively, especially those found in a particular area or habitat.
FoliagePlant leaves collectively.
VerdureLush green vegetation, or the fresh green colour of lush vegetation.

What sort of plants are in the undergrowth? All sorts! The easiest way to brainstorm ideas is to think about what your forest needs to sustain itself.

Plants flower. Plants provide food. When describing your natural setting, remember that there are most likely going to be animals living in that setting. And animals need to eat.

But before you put any old flowering bush in your woodland, consider seasonality, location, and the condition of the environment. Is it mushroom season? Are the flowers blooming? Have the berries ripened? All of these questions will depend on what plants are growing in your setting.

Woodlands are my favourite habitat. They’re instinstically beautiful and complex and there’s always more going on inside them than you think. If you found this helpful, be sure to leave a like. I would also reccomend the article below.

Furthur Reading: The Seven Layers Of A Forest.


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