Silent Sunday – Bare Bones

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NaBloPoMo_2015

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Tortworth Chestnut

Today I went in search of some serious tree porn. . . see what I found! Definitely an OMG moment!!

Tortworth Chestnut

179The Tortworth Chestnut (sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa) is thought to have grown from a nut planted in 800 AD. This makes it over 1,000 years old, dating back to Saxon times.

The full beast

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The girth of the main trunk is about 11 metres (36 foot). There are numerous branches which have laid down roots around the mother tree, which are creating a little chestnut copse.

Suckers from the mother tree

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I became aware of this handsome beast after reading Archie Miles’s book “Hidden Trees of Britain”. The Tortworth Chestnut is tucked away in a field, near the church in Tortworth, Gloucestershire.

Close up of the main trunk

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It is a must-see for any tree enthusiasts, I pretty much wet myself when I first caught a glimpse of this amazing, awe-inspiring fella. The photos don’t do him justice but still. . . 🙂

Plant of the Week – Cedrus libani

First written and posted on 26th January, 2014. Please click here if you would like to read the original post on This and That.

This week’s plant profile is about one of my favourite trees, the Cedar of Lebanon. It was the first tree I became fascinated with after seeing them on a nature programme when I was ten or younger. At Ashridge I’m surrounded by them and am re-discovering my love and awe for these beautiful, majestic beings once more. I hope you enjoy the read 🙂

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Genus: Cedrus

Species: libani

Family: Pinaceae

Common name: Cedar of Lebanon.

Translation: Cedrus is the ancient Greek name for cedar, libani translates as “of Mount Lebanon” relating to where the tree comes from.

Type of plant: Evergreen tree.

Origin: Asia, including Lebanon, Turkey and Syria.

Technical details

The ideal growing conditions for Cedrus libani is in full sun, in an exposed or sheltered position with well-drained soil.

Soil: Cedrus libani thrives in most soil types and pHs, including: acid, alkaline or neutral: and chalk, clay, sand or loam.

Resilience: Very hardy.

Propagation: Propagation is easiest by seed or semi-hardwood cuttings.

Cultivation: Cedrus libani is one of Britain’s most recognisable and oldest specimen trees, known as one of the greatest ornamental trees and as such is iconic to the British landscape we know today. It grows well anywhere with well-drained soil, so long as it has plenty of room to reach its full potential, which can be up to 130 feet high.

Pest and disease problemsCedrus libani is generally pest and disease free but can be susceptible to honey fungus and aphids.

Interesting Facts

1. The name conifer comes from Latin and means “cone bearing”. All conifers bear their male and female reproductive organs in separate cones (strobili) rather than in flowers. Male cones produce pollen grains which are transported to the female cones by wind and the seeds subsequently develop within the female cones. The foliage of conifers is either needle-like (like Cedrus libani) or scale-like (like Cupressus and Chamaecyparis). The conifers belong to the group of seed plants known as the gymnosperms, which literally means ‘naked seed’. This is the main characteristic which differentiates them from the more advanced flowering plants (angiosperms) which bear their seeds encased in an ovary that becomes the fruit. Other gymnosperms include ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and cycads.

cedrus_libani cone

2. Cedrus libani was introduced to Britain in the 1600s, however popularity of the tree took off in the early 19th century, thanks to the efforts of an 18th century landscape gardener – ‘Capability’ Brown. He designed more than 170 parks and gardens in England, planting cedars in many of them, including the gardens at Ashridge.

3. The most prominent landscaping feature in London’s historic Highgate Cemetery is its “Circle of Lebanon”, where a Cedrus libani stands in the centre of a circular trench cut into the ground and lined with mausoleums.

4. The fame of Cedrus libani has been helped by the Bible, in which it is mentioned more than any other tree – its wood is thought to have been used to build King Soloman’s temple.

5. The Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) and the Deodar (Cedrus deodara) are two close relatives of Cedrus libani, all are in the pine family (Pinaceae). A work colleague told me a way of telling the three species apart by looking at the shape of the trees – atlantica branches ascend, deodara branches descend and libani branches are level. Cool or what?!

6. Cedrus libani is the national emblem of Lebanon and is displayed on the Lebanese flag.

lebanese flag

7. Young Cedrus libani trees are slender and conical shaped, developing their distinctive level branches as they mature.

8. The strong, durable wood of Cedrus libani is a popular building material, it is also a favourite of furniture makers because of its sweet smell.

9. The resin of Cedrus libani was used by the Ancient Egyptians to embalm the dead, while sawdust of the tree is said to have been found in the Pharaoh’s tombs.

10. Cedrus libani has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM), meaning it is a plant of outstanding excellence.

Resources

Plant Names Simplified (Johnson & Smith)

RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

A Concise Guide to Trees (Jenny Linford)

Collins Tree Guide

The Hillier Manuel of Trees and Shrubs

Kew’s A-Z guide of Plants and Fungi (website)

Plant of the Week – Picea abies

First written and posted on 24th December, 2013. Please click here if you would like to read the original post on This and That.

The last plant profile for December has to be the ultimate Christmas related plant – the Christmas tree! There are several popular types of trees that are used at Christmas but I chose the Norway spruce because it is the closest to my roots – see what I did there?! I hope you enjoy the read, I will continue with the plant profiles again in the New Year. 🙂

Picea abies

Genus: Picea

Species: abies

Family: Pinaceae

Common name: Norway spruce

TranslationPicea is the Latin name for spruce, derived from the word “pix” or “pitch”, referring to the sticky resin in spruce bark. abies is the Latin name for fir, which is another type of evergreen conifer.

Type of plant: Evergreen tree

Origin: Europe, particularly Scandinavia and northern Russia

Technical details

The ideal growing conditions for Picea abies are in full sun, in moist but well-drained soil, ideally acidic. They do well in an exposed or sheltered spot but needs protection from cold, drying winds.

Soil: Picea abies thrives in most soil types and pHs, including: acid and neutral: and loam, clay and sand.

Resilience: Very hardy.

Propagation: Propagation is easiest by grafting or semi-hardwood cuttings.

Cultivation: Picea abies is best known as Europe’s Christmas tree, it is a traditional feature in many homes at Christmas time because of its symmetrical shape, rapid growth, dark green foliage, and distinctive pine fragrance. Asides being used as a festive decoration, it is cultivated for use in large lawns, parks and woodland areas and makes a very effective screen or windbreak in cold northern climates.

Pest and disease problems: Picea abies is prone to attack from adelgids, aphids and conifer red spider mite.

Interesting Facts

1. The name conifer comes from Latin and means “cone bearing”. All conifers bear their male and female reproductive organs in separate cones (strobili) rather than in flowers. Male cones produce pollen grains which are transported to the female cones by wind and the seeds subsequently develop within the female cones. The foliage of conifers is either needle-like (like Pinus abies) or scale-like (like Cupressus and Chamaecyparis). The conifers belong to the group of seed plants known as the gymnosperms, which literally means ‘naked seed’. This is the main characteristic which differentiates them from the more advanced flowering plants (angiosperms) which bear their seeds encased in an ovary that becomes the fruit. Other gymnosperms include ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and cycads.

Picea abies cone

2. Picea abies is Europe’s most important timber tree, valued for its straight, strong timber. Cultivated in plantations, it has many commercial uses, among them the manufacture of paper pulp and packing cases and for general carpentry. It is also one of the main woods used by violin makers, because of its lightness, flexibility and strength.

3. Other species of conifers that are also used as Christmas trees are: Abies nordmanniana (Nordmann fir): Picea pungens (Blue spruce): Abies koreana (Korean fir): and Abies fraseri (Fraser fir).

4. Evergreen trees have traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans also used them to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia, and Christians use them as a sign of everlasting life with God.

5. The first Christmas trees came to Britain sometime in the 1830s. They became very popular in 1841, when Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s German husband) brought a tree back from Germany and had it set up in Windsor Castle. In 1848, a drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle” was published in the Illustrated London News and the tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas time became fashionable.

6. In Victorian times, Christmas trees would have been decorated with candles to represent stars. In many parts of Europe candles are still widely used to decorate Christmas trees today.

7. In 1895 Ralph Morris, an American telephonist, invented the first electric Christmas lights, similar to the ones we use today.

8. Tinsel was also created in Germany, were it was originally made from thin strips of beaten silver. But when plastic tinsel was invented it became very popular as it was much cheaper than real silver and also lighter to go on trees.

Picea abies needles

9. An angel or star is usually put on the very top of the Christmas trees, which reminds Christians of the angel who brought glad tidings of great joy to the shepherds in the fields.

10. The Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, London, is the most famous one in Britain. Each year since 1947, a Christmas tree has been given to the people of London from the people of Norway in gratitude for Britain’s support for Norway during World War II. For many Londoners the Christmas tree and carol singing in Trafalgar Square signal the countdown to Christmas.

The tree is usually a Norway spruce (Picea abies) and stands at over 20 metres high and is between fifty to sixty years old. It is selected from the forests surrounding Oslo with great care several months, even years, in advance. The Norwegian foresters who look after it describe it fondly as ‘the queen of the forest’.

The tree is felled in November during a ceremony in which the Lord Mayor of Westminster, the British ambassador to Norway and the Mayor of Oslo participate. It is brought to the UK by sea, then completes its journey by lorry. A specialist rigging team erects it in the square using a hydraulic crane. It is decorated in traditional Norwegian fashion, with vertical strings of lights and a star at the top.

Resources

Plant Names Simplified (Johnson & Smith)

RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

A Concise Guide to Trees (Jenny Linford)

Kew’s A-Z guide of Plants and Fungi (website)

Plant of the Week – Ilex aquifolium

First written and posted on 1st December, 2013. Please click here if you would like to read the original post on This and That.

To get everyone in the festive mood I’ve decided that the plant profiles for December will be about plants that are associated with Christmas! This week features the common holly tree, I hope you enjoy the read. 🙂

Ilex aquifolium

Genus: Ilex

Species: aquifolium

Family: Aquifoliaceae

Common name: Common holly

Translation: From the Latin ilex which comes from the name of the Holm Oak Quercus ilex because it looks like holly. The aquifolium part is Latin again, meaning “pointed leaves”.

Type of plant: Tree

Origin: Native to Europe and West Asia.

Technical details

The ideal growing conditions for Ilex aquifolium are in full sun, in an exposed or sheltered position with well-drained soil.

Soil: Ilex aquifolium thrives in most soil types and pHs, including: acid, alkaline and neutral: and chalk, clay, sand and loam.

Resilience: Very hardy.

Propagation: Propagation is easiest by seed or semi-hardwood cuttings.

Cultivation: Ilex aquifolium is an evergreen tree, commonly found in woodlands and hedgerows. It is very shade-tolerant and as such can survive as an understorey species in woodlands, particularly oak (Quercus robur) and beech (Fagus sylvatica) woods. It has been cultivated as an ornamental tree in gardens and parks, and is well known for its use as a festive decoration.

Pest and disease problems: Ilex aquifolium is prone to aphids, scale insects and holly leaf miner. It can also be affected by holly leaf blight.

Interesting Facts

1Ilex aquifolium is the most widely grown holly in Britain but there are five to six hundred other species worldwide. Its distinctive prickly, spiny leaves deter grazing animals and protect birds from predators as they feed on its bright red berries. However on higher branches (where grazing animals pose less of a threat) the leaves have virtually no spines.

2. The fruit of Ilex aquifolium is technically a drupe, and not a berry. A true berry, such as a gooseberry, consists of several seeds enclosed within the soft flesh formed from the ovary wall. In drupes, such as holly fruits and plums, the seeds are enclosed in a hard case surrounded by soft flesh.

3. The fruit of Ilex aquifolium is toxic to humans and will cause vomiting and diarrhoea if eaten. It provides bright, ornamental colour around Christmas time and is also an important winter foodstuff for birds when there is little else around to eat. Although hard and extremely bitter in the autumn, the fruit becomes softer and more palatable to wildlife after being frozen.

4. A popular belief is that the quantity of fruit Ilex aquifolium bears predicts whether or not there is a harsh winter to come – a plentiful amount indicates severe weather ahead.

Ilex aquifolium flowers

5Ilex aquifolium is dioecious, meaning it has separate male and female plants. The white flowers appear in May and pollination is generally performed by bees and other insects. The fruit develops on female plants by late November.

6Ilex aquifolium can live up to 250 or 300 years, although the oldest trees in the UK, in the Shropshire Hills in England, are thought to be possibly up to 400 years old.

7. It was once considered bad luck to cut down an Ilex aquifolium tree, as its evergreen leaves were considered a sign of eternal life and supernatural powers. These beliefs are still held to today and many trees are found in the midst of hedges where they serve as useful landmarks for local people.

8. The freshly cut wood of Ilex aquifolium burns fiercely and makes excellent firewood. Its white, fine-grained, hard wood is used for decorative carving and was formerly used for mathematical instruments and light machinery components; it has even been dyed black and used as a substitute for ebony piano keys. Slender, pliable branches of coppiced holly were formerly used in great quantities for horse whips.

9. In Britain and many other western cultures Ilex aquifolium is closely associated with Christmas, featuring in cards and traditional carols, as well as being widely used as a decoration. The tradition pre-dates Christianity and probably began with the early pagans of Europe, who brought holly inside in the winter to keep evil spirits away. The Romans sent holly branches with presents during the December festival of Saturnalia, practices which were later adopted and adapted into Christian tradition.

10. Many of the beliefs about Ilex aquifolium, even comparatively modern ones, relate directly to Christianity, such as:

 Jesus’ cross was supposedly made from the timber.

 The fruit apparently appeared after a nativity lamb was caught in a holly bush.

 The fruit was thought to represent the drops of blood caused by Christ’s crown of thorns.

 The robin apparently obtained its red breast while eating the fruit from the crown of thorns.

Resources

Plant Names Simplified (Johnson & Smith)

RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

Collins Tree Guide

A Concise Guide to Trees (Jenny Linford)

Kew’s A-Z guide of Plants and Fungi (website)

Plant of the Week – Laburnum anagyroides

First written and posted on 19th November, 2013. Please click here if you would like to read the original post on This and That.

This week’s plant is Laburnum anagyroides, the common laburnum tree. I chose it because there is a beautiful archway of laburnum at Ashridge, which is currently being given a winter prune. I love the long, flowing recemes (chains) of fragrant flowers, I can’t wait to see the arch in full bloom next summer! I hope you find the information interesting. 🙂

Laburnum arch at Bodnant Garden

Genus: Laburnum

Species: anagyroides

Family: Fabaceae

Common name: Common laburnum

Type of plant: Tree

Origin: Native to central Europe

Technical details

The ideal growing conditions for Laburnum anagyroides are in full sun, in an exposed or sheltered position with well-drained soil.

Soil: Laburnum anagyroides thrives in most soil types and pHs, including: acid, alkaline and neutral: and chalk, clay, sand and loam.

Resilience: Very hardy.

Propagation: Propagation is easiest by grafting.

Cultivation: Laburnum anagyroides is a small deciduous tree, growing no more than seven metres in height. It is a popular ornamental tree in parks and gardens, known for its bright yellow pea-like flowers that are densely packed in pendulous racemes, blooming in late spring and summer.

Laburnum racemes

Pest and disease problemsLaburnum anagyroides is prone to aphids and leaf-mining moths and flies. Powdery mildew and silver leaf can sometimes be a problem too.

Interesting Facts

1. The seeds of Laburnum anagyroides are legumes with large numbers of black seeds that contain cytisine, an alkaloid extremely poisonous to humans but also goats and horses, especially when not ripe.

2. The cytisine is present primarily in the flowers, seeds and roots. Initial symptoms of poisoning appear thirty minutes to an hour after ingestion, and include: burning mouth, nausea and vomiting. Subsequent symptoms are intense stomach and intestinal cramps, sweating, headaches and muscle spasms. Fatal poisonings are manifested as whole-body paralysis with death from lung paralysis in one to several hours.

3. During World War I experiments were conducted aimed at using Laburnum anagyroides to replace tobacco because the principal psychoactive chemical cytisine has similar effects to nicotine.

4. In earlier times the seeds and leaves of Laburnum anagyroides were used as a psycho-pharmaceutical agent to treat excessive irritability, psychoneurotic illnesses, migraines, chronic arsenic poisoning and liver ailments.

5. Most poisonings of Laburnum anagyroides occur in children, because they are attracted to the seed pods.

6. The hard, dark greenish timber of Laburnum anagyroides is valued in cabinet-making.

7. The English poet Francis Thompson described Laburnum anagyroides in one of his poems “Sister Songs” (1895):

“Mark yonder, how the long laburnum drips

its jocund spilth of fire, its honey of wild flame!”

8Bodnant Garden in Wales is famous for its magnificent Laburnum arch which is fifty five metres long.

9. There are two species of laburnum, Laburnum anagyroides and Laburnum alpinum. Most garden specimens are a hybrid between these species, which is Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ commonly known as Voss’s Laburnum.

10. Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, meaning it is a plant of outstanding excellence.

Laburnum drawing

Resources

RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs

Collins Tree Guide