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April 2009

Photos from a brief walk (even more goat willow, larch and alder)

Friday was another of summer’s outriders – a beautiful blue sky and warm enough for shorts and t-shirts, even in the wind on top of a hill. I fitted in a little trip to those goat willows I have under observation (my third in a fortnight) before heading off for the first barbeque of the year, on a sixth floor balcony no less. I took plenty of photos of larch roses on the way, but there has already been plenty of those on treeblog recently. In comparison, the male flowers have been underrepresented on these pages, so let’s start off with some.

A line of male European larch (Larix decidua) flowers. They look like tiny little birds’ nests or baskets full of tiny little eggs to me.

And on the same tree, brand new needles are emerging from a particularly knobbly bit of branch.

The Lonely Oak. Seen from ‘behind’, it doesn’t appear anywhere near as iconic (or lonely) as it does in the classic view.

The eastern Salter Hill, whose summit is home to the ruins of a WWII-era enemy plane spotting post. The branches hanging overhead belong to an ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior). I haven’t seen any ashes showing signs of flushing so far this spring, but they always are one of the later ones to come into leaf.

Three female goat willow (Salix caprea) catkins…

…and a pair of male goat willow catkins in different stages of flowering. At the moment, the male goat willows closer to Sheffield appear pale yellow from a distance because they are already covered with catkins at the same stage as the one on the left above. However, the males in this particular group, halfway up the Ewden valley, still have most of their catkins at the same stage as the one on the right above: this isn’t the right word, but they aren’t quite ripe yet. There are exceptions though, as evidenced by the above photograph. How far those stamens extend!

By the way, I tried the experiment I proposed in the previous post (If the bark is stripped from a two-year [grey willow] shoot, it reveals fine ridges absent in S. caprea). The result: no fine ridges. The conclusion: these really are goat willows and not grey willows.

Incidentally, I had a sniff of the debarked twigs and they smelled a lot like a freshly cut tomato does. I know that willows contain a lot of salicylic acid. Was this what I could smell? Does this mean that tomatoes contain a lot of salicylic acid too? A quick Google gave several faux health sites stating that they do.

Female common alder (Alnus glutinosa) flowers (and to the right, some of the male flowers). These will ripen into the little woody cones that are one of the alder’s distinguishing features: they are retained throughout the winter, and the old cones are very prominent on leafless alders.

A big ash. Backed up by old maps, I believe that a century or so ago this area would have been fields, probably rough grassland type. In time they were left to go wild, as you can see, with birch and goat willow and alder and bracken (among others) successionally muscling in. The 1894 map has tree symbols along the field boundaries. Are these supposed to symbolise hedgerows or individual large trees? This ash is one of the largest trees here today, but is it old enough to have been one of those large individuals a century ago? I digress. There is an old hawthorn standing right next to the ash (obscured in the above photo) that is split open and all charred inside. I reckon it must have been struck by a bolt of lightning that also damaged the ash, which has had much of the bark at its base removed. Both trees are still alive and new growth is starting to close over the wounds.

Posted in Gone for a walk

treeblog on Twitter

You can now follow treeblog on Twitter. I’ll be treating it as an extension of treeblog, not as a personal here’s-what-I’m-doing-and-thinking-right-now yo-I’m-at-the-cinema now-I’m-on-a-train-next-to-a-really-sweaty-guy thing. It’ll allow me to publish micro-posts to treeblog by text from anywhere and at anytime (as long as I have a signal), which opens up possibilities for portable treeblogging. I’m not sure how interesting it’ll be, or how many of you will even care, but I’m going to give it a trial run of a few weeks. The last five tweets will be in a box to the right, just below the Google ads.

So, you can follow me, or you could let me know if you’re using Twitter for something similar and I might end up following you.

Here’s a happy frog.

A common frog (Rana temporaria).

Posted in Miscellany

treeblog update (Set A, Day 741): grey alders & Scots pines

Spring is doing things to the treeblog trees. It’s making buds open and leaves come out. Although to be honest, spring hasn’t brought any noticeable change in the appearance of the Scots pines and cider gums, but after months of having them look like bare twigs the re-emergence of greenery on the grey alders and the unknown seedling is a sight to gladden the heart. The cider gum update will be here in a couple of days; until then, enjoy the rest of the gang.

Photos taken yesterday.

Grey alder No. 4, the mightiest of all the treeblog trees.

Check out some of the Beast’s fresh new leaves. Once all these super-efficient solar panels have been deployed, the alders are going to rocket up. This is causing me all kinds of anxieties and palpitations because this tree needs to be in the ground somewhere, not in a pot, yet I don’t have anywhere to plant it!

Grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3. It’s not just No. 4 that needs to be found a home, these three urgently need one too!

Scots pine Alpha.

Scots pine Gamma. I hope these two put on a spurt this year and get some branches on the go.

The pointy terminal bud of Scots pine Gamma.

The post-Set A unknown seedling. Will 2009 be the year it gets identified so its present unwieldy moniker can be done away with? There’s a rumour that it could be a goat willow…

What do you think? Do you put stock in this rumour? On the left we have a section of the Unknown One. On the right (not to scale), we have the newly emerging leaves of an actual goat willow (Salix caprea), photographed on April the 3rd. Similar buds, similar leaves with stipules*… and the difference in the colour of the shoots may be explained by the trusty Collins Tree Guide (by Johnson, 2004): Shoots red in sun, grey/green in shade. Please be a goat willow. Please.

* Stipule definition (from the same book): Appendage, usually leafy, at the base of a leaf- or flower-stalk.

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Set C update – Day 28 (today): Still no sign of germination.

Posted in The treeblog trees

treeblog update (Set A, Day 741): cider gums

Grey alders: check. Scots pines: check. Cider gums: coming right up sir. Two by two sir, just like Noah’s menagerie.

The last cider gum update (2nd March - Day 704) was ordered so that gums of a similar size were displayed in pairs. For this update, I’ve paired the cider gums in numerical order (excepting the three runts, Nos. 3, 6 and 15, which appear on their own). Thus Nos. 1 & 2, Nos. 4 & 5, Nos. 7 & 8, Nos. 9 & 10, Nos. 11 & 12, and Nos. 13 & 14. This arbitrary* arrangement makes for some interesting height discrepancies that I think give a better impression of the actual range of sizes within the cider gums.

* Not entirely. Nos. 1 - 3 germinated before Nos. 4 - 9 which germinated before Nos. 10 - 15 (the first, second and third wave respectively).

Next time I’ll just get a tape measure on the job. Photos taken on Tuesday (741 days since planting).

Cider gums Nos. 1 and 2.

Cider gums Nos. 4 and 5. No. 4 has several frost-damaged leaves, which can just be made out in the photo (for higher-res versions of any photo on treeblog, click it and then the ‘ALL SIZES’ button). Check out all that moss!

Cider gums Nos. 7 and 8. No. 7 is the tallest of them all. Look how it dwarfs the rather nice No. 8.

Cider gums Nos. 9 and 10.

Cider gums Nos. 11 and 12. No. 11 looks a mess: small, frost-bitten, and bent over to one side so. Poor thing.

Cider gums Nos. 13 and 14: the Branching Duo.

Gut, ja? Well, things aren’t looking so well with the runts…

Cadaverous cider gum No. 3. By all appearances, deceased. That damned hoar frost over New Year’s did it in! But can the Freak really be an ex-cider gum? So long as that bit of stem around its fork remains green, I’ll keep some small hope aflame. Can No. 3 rise from the dead?

Cider gum No. 6. The only one of the runts that I can say is fine with any conviction.

Cider gum No. 15. It’s bad, very bad… but it might not be fatal. While the top has definitely kicked the bucket, some mid-section leaves retain some greenery. And could those red blobs be buds? Can No. 15 pull through? That damned hoar frost.

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Set C update – Day 30 (today): Still no sign of germination. Two years ago, the first Set A seedlings had germinated by Day 30. Still, Set A was planted two and a half weeks later in the year than Set C, so Set A’s Day 30 was at the end of April. If there aren’t any Set C seedlings by the end of this April, I shall be getting worried. I can’t handle another Set B.

Posted in The treeblog trees

Where do treeblog visitors come from?

I’ve been using Google Analytics with treeblog for a couple of months now, and while I’m not sure how accurate it is, it certainly collects a lot of data. I particularly like the “where are visitors coming from” aspect, which is still a novelty for me.

Visitors by continent (March 2009). More than half of all visitors came from Europe, and almost 95% of visitors came from Europe and the Americas. Google classed 0.44% of visitors as “not set”.

Visitors by country (March 2009). Two fifths of all visitors came from the UK, and a third came from the United States. Canadian visitors make up 5%. As well as the top eleven countries on the graph (Poland and Spain rank joint eleventh), visitors also came from approximately another seventy countries and territories (represented by the white segment).

Unsurprisingly, the majority of treeblog’s visitors hail from the English speaking world: from just the top ten, the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Ireland together accounted for over four fifths of all visitors. Cities-wise, 14.64% of all visitors came from London! That’s more than all visitors from Canada, Germany, Australia, France, Italy, Finland, Ireland, Poland and Spain combined! Other cities in the top ten include Manchester (England) (1.75%), Edinburgh (Scotland) (1.59%), Birmingham (England) and New York (USA) (both 1.35%), Glasgow (Scotland) (1.03%), and Sheffield (England) (0.83%). Dublin (Ireland) and Sydney (Australia) are joint twelfth (0.63%). Once more for the record, I’m not sure how accurate these stats are.

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Set C update – Day 35 (today): No seedlings have appeared yet. BUT Yesterday as I was rehydrating the seed trays the sprinkler fell off the watering can and a powerful torrent of water, surging forth, gouged a trench through the soil, exposing three Whitwell Moor rowan berries. Before repairing the damage, I took the opportunity to examine the excavated fruits: two were brownish in colour; the third, still red, had a root protruding. Deep joy! Rowan seedlings cannot be far away now!

Set A news too: Scots pine Alpha’s buds have swollen!

Posted in Miscellany

Peter Hyde’s crab apple

Yesterday afternoon was nice, I had an hour to wait, and I was fairly close by something I wanted a look at: a crab apple tree. My father knew there was one in a particular graveyard, right in front of my great-grandparents’ grave, so I paid a visit. Now I don’t think this tree is a wild crab apple (Malus sylvestris), but it is definitely a Malus and there are plenty to choose from. The Collins Tree Guide (Johnson, 2004) says there are “about 30 species and several thousand hybrid cultivars…”

The tree was well in leaf and covered in these pinky-red flower buds which may open into flowers of a different colour.

The lawn under the tree was covered in small, red crab apples in various states of decay. One or two were still attached to the tree.

Near the bottom of the trunk was this band. I wondered if it was where a scion has been grafted onto a rootstock, but it’s probably just scarring caused by having formerly been tightly strapped to a support.

The crab apple in leaf, in front of a larger, leafless tree. As you can see, this crab is quite a small tree – I reckon it about ten foot tall.

Leaf. Note the small, rounded teeth and the glossy surface. Studying it now I’ve noticed a tiny lobe on the top margin a third of the way in from the right, and a fold at the opposite point on the bottom margin. Typical that I didn’t notice if this was typical to all the leaves! The Tree Guide tells me that a number of Malus species have lobed leaves and at least one, the Japanese crab (Malus floribunda), normally having smooth-margined leaves, has “the odd big lobe on strong growths”.

I said the tree was in a graveyard; at it’s base was this small plaque.


Posted in

Young sycamore leaves

Tree leaves: are there any so inherently beautiful as a sunlit young sycamore leaf? I resent Acer pseudoplatanus, a British non-native, for being naturalised across the whole country; but those luscious young leaves, goldenly illuminated by the sun; how appealing a token of spring!

Posted in Gone for a walk

A few developments from Sets A & C

I was out in the sunny garden on Monday photographing and measuring the grey alders and Scots pines for a Set A update, which I’ll post tomorrow. Here are five miscellaneous photos that shouldn’t mind being left out of an update:

So on Monday, or Day 40, while undertaking my daily scrutinisation of the Set C seed trays, I noticed sommat in the birch tray. Not bethinking it to be a seedling, as it was lying on the soil surface, I gently hoisted it upon a fingernail. Lo! twas a birch seed with a root! After a photo I put it back under a light cover of soil, or more accurately, compost. Will it carry on growing and develop into a bona fide seedling? Or will it wither away before ever amounting to aught? Nothing more has been seen or heard of the rooted rowan berry accidentally excavated on the 14th…

From Set C to Set A: the uppermost buds of Scots pine Alpha (there are a pair much further down the stem). Any time now I expect the large terminal bud, swollen with spring, to erupt into new needles.

One of grey alder No. 4’s leaves. The leaves of all four alders currently don’t look like normal grey alder leaves, either because they are the first leaves of spring or because they aren’t yet fully developed.

Cider gum No. 15, scarred survivor of the New Year’s hoar frost. It’s not dead, it’s got buds! Little red ones!

Cider gum No. 3, not just scarred, but killed off by that same frost. But was it? Low down on its stem, this tiny branch. It was there before the frost – I’m not saying it has grown since then. But I do say it looks like the old freak may still have life in it yet!

And in other news, my father and I completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge yesterday.

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The next edition of the Festival of the Trees will be hosted by Orchards Forever from the 1st of May; the theme is trees in bloom. Don’t forget to submit.

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Saturday 25th April – Monday 4th May
The sculptures of three fine art students – Elizabeth Green, Fran Morris and Lizzie Latham – will be on display at the Cradle outdoor art exhibition in Bournemouth Lower Gardens. Their work has the common theme of using trees as the setting for their sculptures. Click here for more information.

Posted in The treeblog trees

treeblog update (Set A, Day 754): grey alders & Scots pines

Say a big hello to the latest treeblog update, this time around updating you on the progress of the grey alders, the Scots pines, and of course, the post-Set A unknown seedling (PSAUS). I took these photographs on Monday (the 20th), 754 days after Set A was planted; while I was at it I took a tape measure to each of the treelings to measure their height before their growth explodes.

The PSAUS, looking rather lovely in the sunshine. It’s leafing out and branching out. 13 cm tall (from the base to the tip of the stem).

Grey alder No. 4. The tallest of all the treeblog trees at a whopping 91 cm. Primo!

Grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3. 75 cm, 55 cm and 65 cm high respectively.

Scots pine Alpha. 17 cm tall.

Scots pine Gamma. At 12 cm tall, this one’s the shortest in this update.

How will the heights have changed by the end of the summer? Will grey alder No. 4 still be the big daddy? Will PSAUS finally get a positive ID???

Posted in The treeblog trees

First Set C seedlings appear! (Day 44)

Great joy! Checking the Set C seed trays yesterday (Day 44) I found what I have long waited for: the first proper seedling! A pair of little green leaves was poking above the soil in the birch seed tray, and upon closer inspection a further two seedlings were partially covered up just an inch away, right at the edge of the tray. And then I noticed a fourth seedling just beginning to poke through an inch from the first. What’s more, when I checked the trays today, I saw what looks like a fifth birch seedling coming through!

Aaw, isn’t it cute? I might be jumping the gun a little (what if it dies / gets eaten / isn’t a birch), but this can be birch No. 1. By the way, I’ll keep these photos labelled as “Betula sp.” until I ID the parent as a silver (B. pendula) or downy (B. pubescens) birch. [Update (5 July 2009): These seedlings are all downy birches!]

And these can be Nos. 2 and 3. No. 1 is just in frame on the right.

Birch No. 4. No 1 is in the photo again, this time in the bottom left.

Now for a bit of history to put the timings of these germinations into perspective. In 2007 Set A was planted on the 28th of March and we had seedlings sprouting in force thirty days later, Day 30 being the 27th of April. In 2008 Set B was planted on the 14th of March but it only produced one seedling, also a birch, which unfortunately died within a couple of months; that seedling was first noticed on the 10th of May, fifty-seven days after planting. So now for 2009: Set C was planted on the 11th of March, and the first seedlings were noticed forty-four days later on the 24th of April. A rooted rowan berry with no stem or leaves has been seen (one and a half weeks ago) – so rowan seedlings shouldn’t be too far away. As for the third Set C species, sweet chestnut, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that they grow. Sweet chestnut was also a failed Set B species.

Posted in The treeblog trees

Flowers of the ash, the wild cherry, and the sycamore

Spring is in the air and flowers are everywhere. So far this year treeblog has carried posts on the flowers of the hazel, the alder, the larch, and the goat willow; also last week, a crab apple on the verge of flowering; and if I may whet your appetite for posts to come, have a sniff of these soon-to-be-flowering trees: the rowan, the horse chestnut, the birch, and the hawthorn. What a bounty! What a feast! In today’s post: the flowers of the ash, the wild cherry, and the sycamore.

Cherry blossom.

The wild cherry or gean (Prunus avium) is a spectacular sight at this time of year as whole trees are covered with white flowers - the magnificent cherry blossom. All wild cherry flowers are hermaphrodite, each flower having a single style (♀) surrounded by several stamens with orange anthers (♂). By mid-summer, the bee-pollinated flowers will have developed into small red then red-black fruits; they are eaten by birds.

Cherry blossom at sunset.

These three wild cherry photos were taken yesterday evening in the Ewden Valley.

Ash flowers.

On the flowering front, the wind-pollinated ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is a bewildering, polygamous mess. From my Trees of Britain & Northern Europe (Mitchell, 1974):

Total sexual confusion: some trees all male, some all female, some male with one or more female branches, some vice versa, some branches male one year, female the next, some with perfect [hermaphrodite] flowers. Male flowers in dense globular bunches along shoots of previous year, purplish then dark red in bud, open yellow with slender anthers in early April well before leaf-buds; female flowers similar but open more widely into a filigree of purple then pale green.

and from my Trees of Britain & Europe (Aas & Reidmiller, 1994):

Flowers: Apr-May, before the leaves open, trees may be monoecious or dioecious, and the flowers hermaphrodite or unisexual, arranged in many-flowered panicles, at first upright, but later drooping, at the tips of the previous year’s growth. Individual flowers are inconspicuous and lack petals [and sepals]. Stamens 2(3), are brownish-red to violet; ovary has 2-lobed stigma.

Ash flowers.

I’m having difficulty discerning whether the ash flowers in my photos are male, female, or perfect, a problem possibly compounded by the flowers perhaps being past their best. With help from this this excellent page by Eva Wallander, I’m fairly sure the pinkish-red-headed parts are anthers (♂), but I’m not at all sure whether the black-headed parts are stigmas (♀) or just anthers that have already lost their pollen. If you can help me out, please email or leave a comment.

These three ash photos were taken on Friday.

Sycamore flowers seen yesterday on a tree in the Ewden Valley. Most local sycamores hereabouts are a little behind it with their inflorescences.

Figuring out which parts of a sycamore inflorescence are male and which are female sounds like another pain in the ass! From a paper by Binggeli (1990):

In Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus L., all flowers are functionally unisexual and appear sequentially on a single inflorescence… In a single inflorescence the sex of sequentially opening flowers may differ more than once in time, and de Jong… described eleven different modes of sex expression within an inflorescence…

and from Rusanen & Myking (2003):

The reproductive system is complex. The majority of flowers are morphologically hermaphrodite, but all flowers are functionally unisexual. In each inflorescence there are both male and female flowers – but the number of male flowers is higher, and the duration of the male flowering sequence is always much longer than that of the female sequence. At the tree level, half of the individuals function predominantly as male or female, but there may be some annual variation in sex expression. Flowers are a vital source of pollen and nectar for bees and bumble bees, which are the primary vectors for pollination. A small proportion of the flowers are also pollinated by the wind.

Sycamore leaves illuminated against the sky yesterday afternoon.


Aas, G. and Riedmiller, A. Translated by Walters, M. (1994). Trees of Britain & Europe. HarperCollins Publishers. – A Collins Nature Guide.

Binggeli, P. (1990). Detection of protandry and protogyny in Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus L.) from infructescences. Watsonia, 18, 17-20.

Mitchell, A. (1974). Trees of Britain & Northern Europe. HarperCollinsPublishers. – A Collins Field Guide.

Rusanen, M. and Myking, T. (2003). EUFORGEN Technical Guidelines for genetic conservation and use for sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). International Plant Genetic Resources [Rome]. Available from: [Accessed 26th April 2009].

Posted in Dendrology

Twenty-four birches in Set C (Day 49)

At the last count, at half five this afternoon, there were twenty-four seedlings in the birch tray. I think it’s reasonable to assume that at least the majority of these seedlings really are birch, as opposed to self-seeded weeds, considering that there isn’t a thing growing in either of the other three trays (which contain sweet chestnuts, rowan berries, and half sweet chestnuts, half rowan berries respectively). Innovation! I’m keeping track of the seedlings by planting a little numbered flag next to each one; this will allow the future trees to be photographically tracked back to their very earliest days of germination. This might seem (be) pointless or anally retentive, but I regret having not done the same thing with the Set A seedlings. I have photos of cider gum and grey alder seedlings from the early days, and I don’t know whether those seedlings were eaten by slugs/snails* or are still in the treeblog stables today. Which slightly irritates me.

The flags are made of cocktail sticks and Sellotape. I wrote identifying numbers on the sticky sides of lengths of tape then folded the lengths back on themselves around the tops of cocktail sticks, thus sticking the two halves together - with the ID numbers safely weather-proofed between twin layers of tape.

* No seedling massacre this time! Set C is safe within a fortress built of slug pellets!

The birch tray earlier today: lots of flags, lots of blue slug pellets, and lots of birch seedlings (only a few of which are visible).

Set C’s birches: the story so far…

26th Sep. ‘08 - I collected seed from a tree on Whitwell Moor.

Day 0 / 11th Mar. ‘09 - Set C is planted.

Day 40 / 20th Apr. ‘09 - A rooted seedling is discovered lying on top of the soil.

Day 44 / 24th Apr. ‘09 - The first seedlings proper appear – four of them!

Day 45 / 25th Apr. ‘09 - A fifth seedling appears.

Day 47 / 27th Apr. ‘09 - Another five seedlings appear.

Day 48 / 28th Apr. ‘09 - A further eleven seedlings appear! No. 5 is rescued and relocated; it had been growing right at the edge of the tray and had fallen down the gap between the soil and the plastic edge.

Day 49 / 29th Apr. ‘09 - Three more seedlings appear, bringing the grand total to twenty-four.

treeblog’s most pointless image ever? I said I thought it would be good to have photos of all the seedlings from their earliest days, but really? I can make out bugger all from here, and the large version isn’t much cop either.

Nevermind. Here’s a nice big close-up to make it all better again:

Birch No. 1. That red spot between the cotyledons looks like more leaves are on the way!

Posted in The treeblog trees

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