Copse of beech trees

Word Smith: Copse

Not to be confused by the homophonic nickname for the police. You know, as in those officers with the Copper Badges, shortened simply to COPS.


This Word Smith comes from the woods, the trees and the remarkable ability of some species to flourish below ground, even after it is assaulted above.

Copse refers to the young stem of a tree or a small outcropping of trees. I came across the word in the fascinating book, The Hidden Life of TREES, by Peter Wohlleben. I had heard the word, but found the use of the verb to coppice new to me. Some grammarians say that since copse is a plural noun, referring to a copse of trees is redundant; however, a copse of maples is correct, calling out the species of the copse.

Chestnut coppicing

The verb “to coppice” refers to woodland management action of harvesting the trees, usually for firewood or charcoal. The present participle or gerund of copse is coppicing, which sounds to my ear like some sort of illegal act against law enforcement at the local level (cops) and the Feds (ICE).

Coppicing trees in New Zealand

More specifically the foresters’ practice is a traditional method of woodland management. The forester exploits the capacity of many species of trees to put out new shoots from their stump or roots if cut down. In coppiced woods, arborists have repeatedly cut the young tree stems at ground level or near to the ground, resulting in a stool with varying numbers of legs. The new stems grow quickly and the harvests can be in a few years, while waiting to harvest an uncut tree to maturity could take decades.