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April 2010



An early spring wander (21st March 2010) (Part Two)

A dead and rotting birch (Betula). I think the little bracket fungi you may be able to make out are birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus), but they’re pretty poor attempts at fruiting bodies.

This picture is classic Millstones Wood through and through: all rocks and twisty beeches.

This particular beech (Fagus sylvatica) has a splendidly green trunk thanks to a coating of enthusiastic leprose lichen.

I rediscovered this larch (Larix, probs decidua) wound. It hasn’t changed much since the last time I remember seeing it, on the 3rd of January 2008. I first saw the wound on the 4th of April 2007 when it was still very fresh.

Blue sky, shadows, Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris), rocks, and bilberry. What more could you want?

This dead branch reminded me of the chair in ‘Jacob’s’ cabin…

I suppose that to most people this is just a photo of a dirt floor - or more precisely, a photo of a woodland floor covered in old pine needles and bits of pine cone. But I hold a sort of weird fascination for this shining gold-silver pattern.

At one end of Millstones Wood, before it peters out into a grassy, trig-point-topped Salter hill, there grow a few stunted Scots pines and larches. Over the stone wall on the right of this photo there is a field full of gorse (Ulex europaeus) that has recently been completely burned, presumably with a view to control / eradicate it. Whether purposefully or accidentally, the fire spread over the wall where it destroyed several of the stunted pines and seriously singed a few more.

This poor pine is like one giant piece of charcoal now.

Pine cone. Victim.


* * * * *

Early this morning, under the cover of fog, treeblog history was made: grey alders Nos. 2 & 3 were released into the wild in a special covert op! Parts 3 & 4 of Operation Alder shall commence next weekend, all being well, and after that I shall produce a post detailing the daring exploits of these guerrilla plantings!


* * * * *

The April 2010 edition – #46 – of the Festival of the Trees is now up at Vanessa’s Trees and Shrubs Blog. Go and drink your fill of this monthly pleasure!


Posted in Gone for a walk + The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 1102): cider gums. Set C(r) rowans are sprouting!

On parade today are all fifteen Set A cider gums, lined up and ready to be inspected for the first time since August! These poor young eucalypts have been ravaged by the harshest winter for many a year, and it looks as though six of our comrades have fallen (and most of the survivors have frost-damaged tips) – yet there may be still be hope. The previous winter (2008-2009) looked to have dealt fatal blows to cider gums Nos. 3 and 15, but they somehow managed to crawl back from the precipice of the grave. Hardy buggers. Can this miracle be repeated in 2010? (Photographs taken yesterday, 1102 days since I planted Set A.)

Cider gum No. 1 – looking very dead. Has it fallen into the endless abyss?

Cider gum No. 2 – one of the tall Class I gums.

Cider gum No. 3 - one of the three Class III runty gums. The dead upper part of No. 3 was killed off by the previous winter, but the winter-just-gone looks to have put paid to its recovery efforts.

Cider gum No. 4.

Cider gum No. 5 – another one of those that may now be At Rest.

Cider gum No. 6 – another Class III, another cadaver?

Cider gum No. 7 – the tallest of all the cider gums. A real Class I über-gum. It now shares its pot with a brassy young sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) that has recently sprouted.

Cider gum No. 7’s new roomie.

Cider gum No. 8.

Cider gum No. 9 also has a new roomie: a wee clump of what look to be rushes.

I hope it’s Juncus effusus!

Cider gum No. 10.

Cider gum No. 11 – another victim of winter.

Cider gum No. 12 - Class I.

Cider gum No. 13 – the only treeblog tree still on crutches. Some of the other gums are looking a bit leany or loose in the soil, so support canes will probably be making a comeback.

Cider gum No. 14 - Class I.

Cider gum No. 15 - Class III. Has this winter managed what the previous one couldn’t? Poor things looks dead as a door-post.


* * * * *

Set C news: There are Set C(r) rowans sprouting by the bucketload! These beauties will be the subject of the next post, but I’ll tell you right here and now that yesterday I counted thirty-three seedlings in the Whitwell Moor section and two in the Upper Midhope section. I photographed them this afternoon, along with the Set C birches, which are just beginning to put out their first leaves of the new year. treeblog is in a good place!


Posted in The treeblog trees





A potted history of the Set C(r) rowans to date. treeblog update (Set C(r), Day 327).

Excellent news! The rowans (Sorbus aucuparia) that I planted 328 days ago are sprouting in droves! This afternoon I counted around forty seedlings growing where I planted seeds from the Whitwell Moor rowan and two seedlings growing where I planted seeds from the Upper Midhope rowan. That’s a lot of seedlings, and treeblog can really only follow so many – so I’ve picked twenty of the Whitwell Moor seedlings to follow, along with as many Upper Midhope seedlings that germinate (up to twenty). That’s still a lot of rowans, and I’ve yet to even plant the Set D rowan seeds I collected last year (which I’m going to go ahead and plant anyway to see which of the three methods of pre-treatment used worked best).

There are photos of the chosen twenty-two seedlings later in this post (taken yesterday – Day 327). But first here’s a potted history of the Set C / Set C(r) rowans, starting right from the beginning…

On the 15th of August 2008 I went to collect berries for treeblog Set C (to be planted spring 2009) from this rowan near the hamlet of Upper Midhope:

The skeletal Upper Midhope rowan, seen here on the 24th of August 2006.

But when I reached the spot where the rowan grew, it had sadly fallen over!


It must have collapsed fairly recently as, luckily for both me and the tree, there were a few clusters of ripe berries hanging in the canopy. These berries I collected, and they were last fruits this amazing tree every produced, for it was cleared away sometime between mid-February and late May 2009.

On the 26th of September 2008 I collected berries from this rowan growing on Whitwell Moor:

The Whitwell Moor rowan on the day of berry collection.

Along with some downy birch seeds and some sweet chestnuts, I planted both lots of rowan berries as treeblog Set C on the 11th of March 2009. I mistakenly planted the berries whole – but apparently you’re supposed to remove the seeds from the berries before planting.

On the day of planting. The Upper Midhope berries occupy the upper third of the top-left tray; the Whitwell Moor berries occupy the bottom-right tray.

After realising my mistake, I exhumed the berries and removed the seeds on the 10th & 11th of May 2009 - what a messy procedure! I replanted the cleaned-up seeds on the 12th of May, calling them Set C(r) (r for rowan) to distinguish them from the rest of Set C, which didn’t need replanting. [11th March 2009 = Set C Day 0 / 12th May 2009 = Set C(r) Day 0.]

The Whitwell Moor seeds after cleaning, prior to replanting.

A month later, in mid-June, several seedlings appeared in the Set C(r) seed tray, but they turned out to be self-set willows, not rowans. (Some of the willows are now dead; the rest I tried to kill by ‘coppicing’ them so that they wouldn’t compete with any future-sprouting rowans - I couldn’t just pull them up because their roots were so extensive I’d have messed up the whole seed tray. Of course, these tiny willow stumps survived and are now budding up!)

So no rowans germinated in 2009, but the long wait has turned out to have been well worth it! Just look at these bad boys (notice how some of the seedlings still have their seed coat attached):

The two Upper Midhope seedlings (designated by ‘U’): U1 & U2.

…And the twenty Whitwell Moor seedlings (designated by ‘W’):

W1 to W5.

W6 to W10.

W11 to W15.

W16 to W20.

Fantastic!


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set C, Day 389): the downy birches

Grand news tree fans! Most of the Set C downy birches (Betula pubescens) have made it through the harsh winter and are now beginning to unfurl their first leaves of the year. The last time I posted a Set C birch update, in September, there were twenty-two seedlings left to follow. Today, that number is down to seventeen. Seventeen tiny birches, and you can see photos of each of them below. But first, a little bit of clarification on the current status of each seedling:

Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 & 30 - These are the seventeen seedlings that are alive and well today, all nicely labelled up in little plant pots, and all on display below for your inspection.
Nos. 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 16, 17 & 23 - These eight seedlings are all dead – but just in case you are morbidly curious as to what dead one-year old downy birch seedlings look like, there are photos of most these below as well. Sick. (No. 7 died sometime between the 25th of May 2009 / Day 75 and the 14th of June 2009 / Day 95; Nos. 6 and 17 died sometime between the 9th of July 2009 / Day 120 and the 19th of September / Day 192; Nos. 3, 9, 11, 16 and 23 all died sometime between Day 192 and Day 389.)
Nos. 8, 18, 19 & 20 - As I’ve decided that treeblog will only follow the first twenty Upper Midhope and Whitwell Moor rowans in Set C(r), so I decided that treeblog would only follow the first thirty birches that had germinated in Set C. When I came to transplant the lucky thirty (marked with little flags) from the horde of anonymous seedlings in the seed tray, some of the thirty (Nos. 8, 15, 19, & 20) could no longer be distinguished from their anonymous brethren. They were… left behind.
No. 29 - When I transplanted the rest of the thirty from the seed tray to plant pots, I left No. 29 behind because it was special and I was fearful of killing it by transplanting it at such an early stage. It was special because it was a rare genetic mutant: a tricotyledonous downy birch, i.e. instead of having two cotyledons it had three. Unfortunately, while it was easy to spot as a tricot when it only had cotyledons, it wasn’t as easy to tell it apart from the rest when it grew its first real leaves. And then it too was lost in the raging horde, sometime between Day 120 and Day 192: perhaps my biggest treeblog regret. Like the other seedlings left behind in the seed tray, it may since have died. Or it could still be alive and well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this year it will once again stand out from the horde and claim its rightful place by my side!

Now for le photos – taken on Sunday (Day 389).

Who’s this, then? It’s downy birch No. 1!

Downy birches Nos. 2 and 4.

Downy birches Nos. 5 and 10.

Downy birches Nos. 12 to 15.

Downy birches Nos. 21 and 22.

Downy birches Nos. 24 to 26 and No. 30.

Downy birches Nos. 27 and 28 - disappointingly prostrate.

And now for the dead ones. At least, they certainly have the appearance of being dead. But you never know… Maybe one or two of them will stage an unlikely comeback? Trust no-one!

Dead downy birches Nos. 3, 11, 16 and 23.

Dead downy birch No. 6.

Dead downy birch No. 9 – photographed yesterday (Day 392), a few days after its fellow cadavers. I, uh, missed it the first time around or something. The blue slug pellets should tell you two things. 1) No. 9 is exceedingly tiny; and 2) Now that winter is over, the slugs and the snails are oot and aboot again so I’m getting Vietnam flashbacks to June 2007, when the Set A seedlings where mullered by slugs. You ain’t getting your 27,000 teeth on my seedlings this time, you malevolent molluscs!


* * * * *

Set C(r) news: On Tuesday (Day 329), three new Upper Midhope rowan seedlings appeared: U3, U4 and U5. Yesterday, (Day 330), a further two Upper Midhope rowan seedlings appeared: U6 and U7. I think I’ll have to transplant the Set C(r) seedlings from the seed tray into plant pots rather soon…


Posted in The treeblog trees





Set C(r) rowans transplanted. Six rowan tricots. Set D rowans planted. The fate of the Set D beeches and sweet chestnuts.

The transplanted Set C(r) rowans (Sorbus aucuparia) yesterday, minus the tricots.

Yesterday was a busy day for treeblog

1. Set C(r) rowans transplanted

(Set C(r), Day 334) I transplanted forty of the Set C(r) rowan seedlings - U1 to U20 (the progeny of the Upper Midhope rowan) and W1 to W20 (the progeny of the Whitwell Moor rowan) - from the unordered, overcrowded seed tray to a regimented ‘plug’ tray, where each seedling gets its own little space to breathe. There they all are in the photo above, happy as Larry.

The first five Upper Midhope rowan seedlings, U1 to U5, en route to the plug tray.

The plug tray as a bird would see it. May they live long and prosper.


2. Six rowan tricots

Set C(r) has produced six tricots so far! They are all progeny of the Whitwell Moor rowan. The sixth one I only discovered today, but the other five were transplanted into a plug tray just like their cohorts. I’ve labelled them as ‘WTn’, where WT stands for Whitwell Moor tricot. This is an exciting development for treeblog! I’ve previously found two tricot sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) seedlings; both died. I’ve also grown a tricot downy birch seedling (Betula pendula) in Set C; I lost it. Not a good track record then, but how can I lose with six rowan tricots?

The first five tricots, WT1 to WT5, en route to their plug tray.

A closer look at WT1…

…and WT2 and WT3 and WT4 and WT5. Marvellous.


3. Set D rowans planted

I collected more rowan berries last September, again from the Whitwell Moor tree, but also from a gigantic, ancient, collapsed rowan growing up on the moors near a tiny valley going by the name of Oaken Clough. Once I’d extracted the seeds from the berries, I pretreated them over the winter before planting them yesterday - (Set D(r), Day 0). I planned to use three different methods of pretreatment, outlined in this post from October, but I ended up only following one of the methods accurately: the easy one, where all you do is bung your seeds in a pot of soil and leave them outside over the winter.

So yesterday I gathered up all of the Set D rowan seeds to check for any germination. Sure enough, several of the seeds pretreated the easy way had germinated. I planted them into the same plug tray as the Set C(r) tricots. After a couple of casualties injured when extracting the germinated seedlings from the pretreatment plant pot, there remained nine Oaken Clough seedlings and twenty-two Whitwell Moor seedlings. I planted all of the ungerminated seeds in a couple of seed trays.

The germinated Oaken Clough seedlings, freshly removed from the pretreatment plant pot and ready for planting.


4. The fate of the Set D beeches and sweet chestnuts

(Set D(b), Day 193 / Set D(c), Day 183) I had a feeling that none of the beechnuts I planted in September or the sweet chestnuts I planted in October were going to germinate, so I went on a major rummage. I emptied fifty percent of the sweet chestnut seed trays (actually plug trays – to make room for the rowans!) and found that fully one hundred percent of the chestnuts were dead. I have yet to check the remaining half, but I am resolutely pessimistic with regards to the outcome.

I also rummaged through both of the beech seed trays – one containing standard European beech (Fagus sylvatica) nuts, the other containing cut- or fern-leaved beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Aspleniifolia’) nuts – and this is what I found:

F1: one germinating cut-leaved beech nut. Yes!!!
F2: a second germinating cut-leaved beech nut, trapped inside its rock-hard cupule. How the hell is it ever going to get out of there?
W1: how’s this for a total tragedy. Out of the all the standard beechnuts I planted, only one germinated and I bloody accidentally snapped its root off when I was looking through the seed tray. How crushingly depressing is that? I feel really, really terrible about it. What an idiotic mistake to make.

These three germinated beechnuts I planted in pots. The damaged beech will just shrivel and die; it has expended all of its energy on a root that is now not there. The cut-leaved beech trapped in the cupule will probably die from being unable to escape its prison. Now all of treeblog’s beech hopes and dreams rest on the shoulders of one cut-leaved beech. No pressure or anything.


Posted in The treeblog trees





Set A grey alders released into the wild! (Operation Alder)

It’s been over three years since I planted the Set A grey alders as seeds, and in that time they’ve outgrown the garden where I’ve been keeping them in giant plant pots – the smallest (No. 2) is almost as tall as me; the tallest (No. 1) is a foot or so taller! Something had to be done before the 2010 growing season began – who knows how big they will be by the end of the summer – but what? How do you transport four man-sized trees, and where do you plant them if you don’t own a wood?

It turns out that the alders could just fit inside my car, and when they were taken out of their pots and most of the soil was removed from their roots they were light enough to carry reasonably comfortably. And I got around the whole not-owning-a-wood problem by hatching an audacious plan to plant them in the wilderness under the cover of darkness.

Introducing Operation Alder- a series of covert night missions carried out by a pair of crack treemandos!

Part One
Close to midnight on the first of April, the treemandos bundled grey alder No. 2 into my car and sped off towards their secret destination. Arriving in the pitch black, No. 2 was taken from the vehicle and hidden in a dip in the ground, behind a Scots pine. The treemandos returned home to collect No. 3 and dropped it off at the Scots pine next to No. 2.

Part Two
At the crack of dawn (or not long after), the treemandos were back to collect the two alders and carry them off on a back-breaking trek into the wilderness. Arriving at the pre-determined final destination, the alders were set down and digging implements were made ready. A hole was dug in a suitable spot and grey alder No. 3 was planted at around 0700 hours on the second of April (Day 1101). A second hole was dug close-by and grey alder No. 2 was planted at around 0730, a stone’s throw from its sibling. The planting was carried out under the cover of a fortuitous heavy fog.

Grey alder No. 3 in its new spot. Notice how there is no disturbance around the base? Thanks to careful soil-management and bracken-placement, you wouldn’t be able to tell from a glance that this tree had been planted only minutes previously. Those treemandos were pro-style.

Grey alder No. 2.

Part Three
A week and a half later, on the night of the thirteenth of April, the two alders remaining in the garden were transported to a different location. The treemandos then carried the two young trees, grey alders Nos. 1 and 4, on another arduous trek out into the wilderness in the dead of night. The trees were hidden in a wee dyke and the treemandos headed back to base.

Part Four
The treemandos returned to the trees late in the morning of the fourteenth of April (Day 1113) and collected them in daringly bold daytime mission. They carried the alders even further into the wilderness to another pre-determined destination. Upon arrival, a hole was dug and grey alder No. 4 was planted at 1315; a second hole was dug nearby and grey alder No. 1 was planted at 1340. The treemandos were successful in planting all four grey alders far from Man’s prying hands.

Grey alder No. 4

No. 4 was covered in tiny leaves!

Grey alder No. 1.

(I apologise for the lack of clarity and definition in the photos of the alders, but it isn’t easy to capture a small, leafless tree against a busy natural background!)

Now the alders have been released into the wild without mishap, I can breathe a big sigh of relief. They can now go mental expanding their roots and grow as big as they want. The only trouble may come from things that might want to eat them: voles, rabbits, hares, sheep, etc. There are a lot of browsing mammals out there and the treeblog alders are young, tasty and defenceless. Until they develop some nice thick bark and grow plenty of branches above the reach of grazers, they are very vulnerable. They have also got to adapt to their new physical environment.

Will they survive out there in the real world?


Posted in The treeblog trees





Loch Tay and the Falls of Acharn

The beautiful, beautiful Loch Tay, seen through my sunglasses. Seven of us stopped in a log cabin up there for three nights last weekend (April 15–18). On the Friday we hired a couple of boats and spent the day motoring around and fishing. It was a good time, even if our trawling wasn’t successful.

The harbour at Milton Morenish. The mountain in the background is Beinn Ghlas, a Munro in the Ben Lawers Range.

The big tree in the centre of the foreground is the famous Mother Beech - a tree with a special place in my heart.

This mahoosive Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) stands by the road between Milton Morenish and Killin. What a tree.

Not far away was this curiosity: a perfect ring of tree stumps. Who planted a ring of trees and why? Who cut them down? I do love being intrigued by these little mysteries.

On the Saturday we had a walk up to the Falls of Acharn, a series of small waterfalls and pools around one giant waterfall. This photo shows one of the pools. As you can see, there wasn’t much water coming down the falls, so all the interesting rock formations were revealed.

This is the same pool on the 4th of August 2009, the last time I was up at Loch Tay. What a difference!

Another section of the falls in low flow…

…and the same view in August. Back then it was a noisy, scary, raging beast of a river; now it’s a gentle trickle!

And here’s the main waterfall, seen from across the gorge. More rock than water...

…but a totally different animal in spate!


Posted in Holidays and field trips





Set D(b) cut-leaved beech update (Days 206-209). Set A grey alders update (Day 1123).

The Set D(b) cut-leaved beech has appeared above ground! Here it is on Saturday (Day 206), the first time I’d seen it poking up through the soil. A couple of Saturdays previously I was searching through the Set D beech seed trays when I noticed that this wee tree had sprouted a long root – that was Day 193.

Beech seedlings don’t hang around. Here it is a day later, on Sunday….

…here it is yesterday…

…and here it is this evening. Its cotyledons should open up over the next few days. This is the first beech I’ve ever managed to grow!


* * * * *

As well as discovering this young beech, Saturday also saw me off on a long walk to check up on the recently released Set A grey alders – 1123 days after I planted them as seeds. The good news is that they are all still in situ and doing well. The bad news is that three of them have been munched on by sheep! (I planted Nos. 2 and 3 out in the wild on the 2nd of April (Day 1101); Nos. 1 and 4 were planted out on the 14th of April (Day 1113) – see this post for the details.)

Grey alder No. 1 – this one lives next door to No. 4. Some of the lower branches have been cut back by browsing sheep – I know who the culprits are because they left some wool behind. Nevermind. Those lower branches wouldn’t be kept by the tree for long anyway, and I’d already given thought to pruning them off.

Grey alder No. 2 – this one lives next door to No. 3. No. 2 is the only one of the alders to remain unscathed by sheep.

Here’re some of No. 2’s brand spanking new leaves (all of the alders have them now!). They’re perfect.

Grey alder No. 3. (Sorry about the photos of the alders – I couldn’t get any good ones with their superb camouflage for blending in with the background).

Here’s the tip of one of No. 3’s branches after being nibbled down to size by an ovine fiend. Disgraceful.

Grey alder No. 4 – leading the competition in the leaf department.

Taken back home in the garden on Saturday evening, this photo shows how another Set A tree – Scots pine Alpha – has begun expanding its buds. These little brown columns are lengthening noticeably with each passing day; soon they will be great, long candles. Then it won’t be long until they blast out 2010’s needles!


Posted in The treeblog trees





Spring and decay (24th April 2010)

A European larch (Larix decidua) female flower. The larch roses have arrived later than they did last year, but they were out in force last weekend when I went to check on the progress of the Set A grey alders.

A mature birch polypore a.k.a. razor strop (Piptoporus betulinus) bracket on a fallen downy birch (Betula pubescens). Razor strop fruiting bodies are annual; this is one of 2009’s.

Wee mushrooms growing on another fallen birch.

A gnarly, lichen-encrusted rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) twig with unfurling leaves.

A pair of sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) seedlings growing in the fork of a mature sycamore.


Posted in Gone for a walk












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