Learn to Identify Trees and Plants for Bushcraft and Survival

The biggest single thing you can do to further your bushcraft and survival skills is to improve your tree and plant identification.

Put simply – you can’t use the optimum resources until you can identify them.

My name is Paul Kirtley and I've been teaching bushcraft since 2003. 

I’m particularly passionate about breaking down the barriers to learning about trees and plants, especially for those of you who want to make practical uses of relevant species via bushcraft.

My Tree & Plant Identification Masterclass is the most detailed online botanical training created for those focused on bushcraft and survival skills. This in-depth course will take your identification skills to a completely new level.... 

I'd be very happy to send you the pre-course information via one of the buttons on this page.  


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Why You Need To Improve Your Tree & Plant Identification Skills

Learning more about tree and plant identification will help you learn how to use relevant resources effectively and sustainably.

Even learning how to identify and use the most common tree and plant species for practical bushcraft and survival purposes, you will become more self-sufficient and better able to meet your needs in outdoor settings.

Moreover, knowing how to identify and use tree and plant species will increase your confidence and knowledge for making informed decisions and solving problems when out in the wilds.

Further, by learning how to identify an even greater number of species than the basics, as well as understanding their characteristics and uses, you will gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the natural world.

I should also add that I truly believe learning about trees and plants is good for your personal growth and development more broadly. Developing an increased knowledge of trees and plants is a rewarding and enriching experience that helps my students grow both personally and intellectually.

Human history is inextricably linked with plants and trees.  Yet being somewhat removed and disconnected from nature is a psychological pain point for many living in the modern world.  Re-connecting with nature through the study of trees and plants is highly beneficial from this perspective alone. 

Imagine where your tree and plant ID skills could be in a year’s time if you allocate some dedicated time to developing this ability over the coming weeks and months…

OK, so there are benefits to learning about trees and plants but why should this be a priority in the context of bushcraft and survival?

Of course you should have a solid foundation in the core skills of bushcraft and survival, such as covered in the Online Elementary Wilderness Bushcraft Course, namely safe and efficient use of cutting tools, fire-lighting and maintenance, sheltercraft, water sourcing and purification, cordage and bindcraft, traps and trapping, fishing, natural navigation, plus an awareness of environmental hazards, combined with a knowledge of using clothing efficiently. 

Underlying a lot of even basic skills, however, is at least a rudimentary knowledge of the materials used and how to identify them. 

Beyond rudimentary knowledge, many possible refinements and nuances in basic applications (such as fire management, or cordage making, as two easily relatable examples) are highly dependent on being able to differentiate between similar materials.  Not all wood burns the same.  Not all fibres are as strong. 

To put it bluntly, if you want to move beyond the very basics of "this is wood, I can burn it", you need to up your game with tree identification, at least. 

And if you truly want to move towards a knowledge of nature that allows you to sustain yourself (not just in terms of sustenance but also materially), you need to look in depth at plants too...

"Likely 75% of your knowledge should be about plants!" 

The above is something the late, great Wilderness Living Skills Instructor, Mors Kochanski, would say. 

Indeed, look at the teaching aid pictured here. This was drawn by Mors himself. It represents how Mors thought about dividing up bushcraft and survival knowledge. 

You can see the importance he attributed to knowledge of plants - edible plants, medicinal plants, useful plants, poisonous and magical plants.

Also represented in this diagram is the notion of the overwhelming importance of plant knowledge once you move outside of the most rudimentary basics of survival. 

"At so many levels, plants are incredibly important in a survival situation. One of the biggest reasons I believe I see people fail in a survival situation is because of their lack of knowledge around plants.  Food, medicine and tools."

- David Holder, Lead Survival Consultant on the History Channel show "Alone".

Why aim specifically at learning to identify trees and plants for bushcraft and survival (rather than general botanical training)?

One important point is focus.

There are thousands upon thousands of species of plants and trees.  

Some of them are more useful than others.

Some of them occur over a wider geographic range than others. 

Some are more common in their range than others that occur in the same area.

Hence, once you start looking through the lens of bushcraft and survival, there is a hierarchy of trees and plants.

This hierarchy exists both in terms of what to learn first as well as what to target first in the field. 

The plants and trees at the top of your list to know are the most common, widespread and useful species. 

You should also know really, really important plants and trees, even if they are not as common or widespread as some less useful species.  These tend to be species with multiple uses or with high value in a critical area, such as food. 

Focusing on the tree and plant species you need to know for bushcraft and survival is much easier, and more efficient, than wandering the woods with a field guide hoping you are going to learn the right plants.

But there are still a lot of useful trees and plants.

We also need to know how to differentiate between similar-looking species and we also need to be able to recognise plants that are poisonous to ingest or are otherwise harmful.

 So, even in the context of bushcraft and survival, learning about trees, and especially plants, can still seem ominous.  Even with some focus, the learning curve can still seem steep and slippery.

You might be asking some, or all, of the following questions.

Where does one start?

What are the most important plants for us to learn for bushcraft and survival?

Which ones are of little value?

Which ones are edible?

Which ones are poisonous?

To answer these questions and more, I put together a series of filters to bring to the fore the most important plants. I then also devised some frameworks, for learning tree and plant ID, for applying our knowledge to identifying useful resources for bushcraft and survival, as well as categorising unfamiliar plants.

Understanding this methodology is valuable in and of itself, even if you don't join my course... and I'd love to share it with you. 

These ideas are presented in more detail, with concrete examples, in pre-course materials, which you can access via one of the buttons on this page.

Moreover, this information will also improve your ability to prioritise resources while you are out in the field, applying your skills.

Get the Pre-Course Information

I’d love for you to learn more about my ID frameworks, and how you can apply them, in the presentations via the following link. I’d also love for you to learn more about the course.

The pre-course presentation materials also explain the structure of the course, how it is delivered, its flexibility, how you will have lifetime access to the latest course materials, how to access the live webinars with me and the private community we have built around the course materials for students of the course.

Should you wish to proceed onto the online course, you'll have all the information you need to decide whether the course is right for you at this time.

Get the Pre-Course Info

Meet Your Instructor

Paul Kirtley is considered one of the leading wilderness skills educators globally. He has been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. 

Over the years, Paul has worked with Ray Mears, Lars Falt, Juha Rankinen, David Scott-Donelan and many more. 

In particular, in the realm of plant knowledge, Paul was fortunate enough to spend time learning from, and working with, the wonderful and sadly missed, late Professor Gordon Hillman. 

Paul is also a member of the Association of Foragers

Through his company Frontier Bushcraft Ltd., which he founded in 2010, Paul offers high quality field courses, wilderness expeditions and online training resources. 

He is a published author, having contributed sections to various outdoor books over the years and his first book Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft having been published in 2021. 

Paul is committed to furthering knowledge sharing, and the quality of information and instruction, in the realm of wilderness skills.  He was one of the main organisers of the 2022 Global Bushcraft Symposium, held in the UK, which brought together bushcraft, survival and wilderness skills educators from around the globe to share best practice and increase collaboration in these fields of outdoor education.

How is the Tree & Plant Identification Masterclass Structured and Delivered?

12 Modules With Over 120 Sections

The Tree and Plant Identification Masterclass is divided into 12 modules that broadly follow the seasons of the northern hemisphere.  More than 120 sections are spread across the 12 modules, with each section focusing on a particular aspect of important trees and plants for bushcraft and survival. Pictured here is an example of one of these sections.

Videos Filmed On Location

The Tree and Plant Identification Masterclass contains numerous videos filmed on location in high definition. These largely fall into one of two types, either looking at a particular subset of trees or plants, such as trees with needles in a particular area, or a seasonal, virtual tree and plant walk looking at prominent plants and trees, along with their identification features.

Clear and Concise Presentations

Screencasts are an important format for this course.  They allow a combination of images and text-based information to be shared, along with a voiceover.  They usually cover multiple species or genera, often with an accompanying set of notes or a worksheet. You watch these as you would a video.  Reviewing these again later is made more efficient by being able to play the screencasts at up to 2x the recorded speed.

Course Notes

Handy course notes with summary information, in attractively designed PDFs for you to download and save or print are provided. These have all been created specifically for this course.


Worksheets are provided for you to download and use in conjunction with videos and presentations. These help you process the information in the screencasts and videos, as well as forming the basis of a set of your own notes, should you wish to use them for this.

Distribution and Habitat Information

It's important to understand where you might find specific species or particular groups of species.  The "Three Fs" approach, described in the pre-course presentations, highlights the fact that we want to bring to the fore widespread and common species.  But we still need to know the geographic distribution and the habitats in which we might find a particular tree or plant.  This allows us to be aware of the likely resources in an area and not waste time looking for materials we are unlikely to find. Knowing broadly where species are likely to occur can also help us positively identify species when we first encounter them.

A Systematic Approach

The material in the course develops your knowledge systematically, involving you with "homework", where you apply the identification frameworks to the trees and plants found near to you. Areas of identification knowledge are revisited multiple times, in different seasons.  Importantly a whole range of identification features are considered across the course - shoots, leaves, stems, needles, bark, buds, flowers, fruits, cones, seeds, roots and tubers, as well as the overall morphology, habit and character of species.

High Quality Images Used Throughout

In both the screencasts and notes, high quality photography, captured on professional grade cameras is used throughout the course.

Custom-Built Course Portal

The Tree and Plant Identification Masterclass is delivered in a custom-built, dedicated course portal, which is housed on Frontier Bushcraft's Online Bushcraft Courses website.  The course portal is fully device responsive and will look at its best on high-pixel count screens such as modern phones, tablets and retina screens. But regardless of your device, old or new, the course portal is a dream to use and look at.

BONUS - Webinars - Value £240

In addition to all the course materials in the portal, there will be six webinars to accompany the course.  These are live seminars, using the leading webinar software provider, to deliver an engaging and interactive session for the students on the course.  In each webinar, we usually review the latest couple of course modules, using fun, informal visual quizzes. These sessions also allow us to layer on additional information and answer student questions. Webinars are recorded and posted in the course portal, so course participants can review them subsequent to the live session.

Given the amount of valuable information in this course, delivered across multiple formats, it's probably not surprising it receives great feedback...

Danny Barrett, U.K.

"I joined the Tree and Plant ID Masterclass as my knowledge of tree and plants was lacking. I found the course very well mapped out and a joy to learn. My knowledge of trees and plants has grown ten fold and continues to grow thanks to Paul Kirtley. I highly recommend the tree and plant masterclass to people who want to advance their bushcraft knowledge."

Paul Moore, Northern Ireland Survival School, U.K.

"If you want to find the best plant and tree course for bushcraft online... stop looking you have found it with Paul Kirtley.  The man is dedicated to his students at a level which puts university lecturers to shame!! I have studied at MSc level and the quality of info Paul puts out is better and far easier to follow. Highly recommended. And he is a nice bloke." 

Craig Taylor, U.K.

"I'm enrolled on three of Paul Kirtley's online programmes.  Having worked in the online training industry for approximately 15 years I can wholeheartedly attest to the sound design, delivery and facilitation that goes into each of these programmes."

Christy Miles, Way of the Wild, U.K.

"I can’t recommend this course enough. πŸŒΏπŸ’š The online resources are so comprehensive and you have them for a lifetime once signing up. Paul Kirtley has made sure this course will take your Tree & Plant ID to the next level. I find this course gives me direction and focus, in an area where there are so many things to learn."

Ian Shankland, U.K.

"Paul’s enthusiasm is infectious. What would be an impossibly large subject to absorb is made realisable by the focus on the most relevant aspects from the bushcraft and survival point of view. Of particular value to me is being able to learn at my own speed and when life events intervened I could catch up later, as the material will always be there to go back to....In short, this course does what it sets out to do. I initially thought that including ‘Masterclass’ in the course title was a little pretentious but in fact it is very appropriate. That’s exactly what it is."

Tom Scandian, Spoon Carving With Tom, Australia.

"I've had a chance to get my teeth into Paul Kirtley's Tree and Plant Masterclass and I’m blown away by how clear, concise and detailed his work and information is. Having been interested in the subject for sometime and reading through numerous books and websites teaching myself (and been through frustrating periods banging my head against a wall with certain terminology and grasping concepts) I can promise you, without a doubt that you will learn so much so quickly from Paul."

Recent social media comments from members of the course...

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