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December 2011



Britain’s widest conifer, a giant redwood, at Cluny House Gardens

Britain’s widest conifer.

After I’d been around the Birks o’ Aberfeldy, I drove to the nearby Cluny House Gardens because I’d recently heard that Britain’s biggest-girthed conifer grows there…

…and I wasn’t disappointed. What an impressive tree it is! Not only is the trunk massively massive, it also reaches some pretty lofty heights. This champion tree is, surprise surprise, a giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) a.k.a. a Sierra redwood or giant sequoia or Wellingtonia. An information board in front of the tree informs the eager tourist:

A Perthshire plant collector, John D Matthew, introduced Giant Sequoias into the country from California, in 1853. The two Cluny trees were planted around this time possibly from the original seed collection. This magnificent specimen stands at around 45 m (135 feet) in height, has a girth of 11 m (35 feet) and is the widest conifer in Britain.

Giant Sequoias are very fast growing averaging 0.75 m (2 feet) per year in height until they reach a height of about 60 m (200 feet). Vertical growth then slows down but growth of the trunk continues at a rate of 50-70 mm (2-3 inches) a year sometimes as much as 150 mm (6 inches) annually.

The woody cones are 50-100 mm (2-4 inches) long and roughly spherical reaching full-size in the first year but maturing in their second. They can remain on the tree for over 20 years. In their native woodlands in California, forest fires are necessary to open the cones while they remain on the tree. The heat releases the seed which falls and germinates in the ash. The trees themselves are protected from fire by a very thick fissured layer of soft bark up to 300 mm (12 inches) thick.

A bit of zoom to peer into the canopy.

This is the massive tree at ground level with a human scale. It’s much more impressive in real life. The Tree Register’s excellent handbook, Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland by Owen Johnson, lists the tree as having a diameter at breast height (1.4 m) (dbh) of 360 cm and a height of 41 m in 2009. By comparison, the largest tree in the world (by stem volume) is the giant redwood General Sherman in California – Wikipedia records it as being 83.8 m tall with a maximum basal diameter of 1,110 cm and a dbh of 770 cm – therefore it is more than twice as tall and twice as thick as the British girth champ. There are even taller sequoias - the tallest is 95 m! - and even wider sequoias - General Grant has a dbh of 880 cm! (Wikipedia’s Sequoiadendron page has all the stats.)

A visitor to Cluny House Gardens is bound to see red squirrels. There is a feeder beside the redwood, and while I was marvelling at the tree one of the little fellas was eating its fill. This was my first opportunity to observe red squirrels up close – although I couldn’t class them as ‘being in the wild’. The info board next to the tree says that they have been seen just 2 metres from the top!

The Gardens have a relaxed vibe to them. Mind you, I was the only visitor in there! You can borrow a walking stick as you enter (free entry when I visited, but there’s a donation box), and one of the first things you see is a sign asking you to PLEASE WALK ON THE LAWN - I knew straight away this was a cool place.

There is a second giant redwood, although it isn’t quite as big as its buddy. My Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland gives its height as 33 m and its dbh as 331 cm (although it seemed to me there wasn’t much between the two redwoods’ heights).

This is where the second giant meets the grounds. Incredible.

Looking up at the No. 2 redwood. What a fantastic tree!

Here’s one of the cones. I’d love to collect some seed one day and grow my own redwoods.

Under the second redwood, a delicate mushroom: could it be a pink waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis)? But then wouldn’t it have a split cap, or is this just a young specimen?


Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees





Caledonian pinewood in Ryvoan Pass, Glenmore (Part One) – including a brief history of Glenmore

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in the Ryvoan Pass, near Glenmore.

At Glenmore, near Aviemore, there is a remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest. Today, only 180 km² of the Caledonian Forest remain – a pathetic 1% of its estimated maximum extent. As is usually the way, Homo sapiens is to blame for the loss. If you’d like to find out more about the Caledonian Forest, let me point you in the direction of Trees For Life, an inspirational organisation ambitiously dedicated to restoring a 2,300 km² area of the Forest. This description of the Caledonian Forest is taken from their website:

The Caledonian Forest originally covered much of the Highlands of Scotland… the native pinewoods, which formed the westernmost outpost of the boreal forest in Europe, are estimated, at their maximum extent, to have covered 1.5 million hectares as a vast primeval wilderness of Scots pines, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper and other trees. On the west coast, oak and birch trees predominated in a temperate rainforest ecosystem rich in ferns, mosses and lichens. Many species of wildlife flourished in the forest, including the European beaver, wild boar, lynx, moose, brown bear and the wolf, as well as several notable species of birds - the capercaillie, the crested tit, and the endemic Scottish crossbill, which occurs nowhere else in the world apart from the pinewoods.

However, there has been a long history of deforestation in Scotland, and clearance of the land began in Neolithic times. Trees were cut for fuel and timber, and to convert the land to agriculture. Over the centuries, the forest shrank as the human population grew, and some parts were deliberately burned to eradicate 'vermin' such as the wolf. More recently, large areas were felled to satisfy the needs of industry, particularly after the timber supply in England had been exhausted. The widespread introduction of sheep and a large increase in the numbers of red deer ensured that once the forest was cleared, it did not return.

Today only a tiny percentage of the original forests survive, and the native pinewoods have been reduced to 35 isolated remnants. Gone with the trees are all the large mammals, with the exception of the deer. Species such as the brown bear and the wild boar had become extinct by the 10th and 17th centuries respectively, while the last to disappear was the wolf, when the final individual was shot in 1743.

A large witch’s broom on a large downy birch (Betula pubescens) – a common abnormal growth caused by the fungus Taphrina betulina.

After staying at Fearnan by Loch Tay for a couple of nights, from where I visited the Birks of Aberfeldy and Britain’s widest conifer at Cluny House Gardens, I drove north to Glenmore (climbing Schiehallion – Munro no. 5 - en route) and checked into Cairngorm Lodge, a SYHA hosel, for four nights. The next day (Nov. 20th) I meandered (really meandered) part-way up the Ryvoan Pass to An Lochan Uaine – the Green Lochan. I’d walked down the pass and past the Lochan to camp near Glenmore three years previously with two friends, towards the end of a hike from Blair Atholl to Aviemore, but that’s another story.

Looking up at one of the giant Scots pines of the Caledonian Forest.

To provide you with a very brief history of Glenmore during the past century, I’ve just skimmed through the excellent little book I bought from the Glenmore Forest Shop during my stay. The book is called ‘No rivalry but different’; Glenmore and Rothiemurchus in the 20th Century, the third publication in the Touchwood History series. It was written by Mairi Stewart and first published in 2010.

Pine foliage against a clear, blue sky – it was a lovely day for late November in the Highlands!

One hundred years ago, the estate of Glenmore was owned by the Dukes of Richmond, who used it as a hunting ground. Between 1916 and 1918, during the First World War, just over a hundred thousand trees on the estate were felled to provide timber for the war effort – to make pit props, trench supports, crates, etc. Thankfully, the 7th Duke, Charles Gordon-Lennox, is said to have stipulated that some trees were retained to allow the forest to naturally regenerate – trees to be spared had the Duke’s stamp burned onto them. In 1923, the Duke sold the 12,474 acre estate to the newly-created Forestry Commission. Although the Commission decided that three-quarters of the estate were unsuitable for forestry, it had planted around 1,300 acres by 1934 – favouring the faster-growing but non-native Sitka spruce, Norway spruce and European larch over Scots pine.

Looking up at an absolute monster of a Caledonian pine. I have never seen Scots pines like these – they really are jaw-droppingly, breathtakingly, heart-stoppingly awesome.

Glenmore escaped the forester’s axe during the Second World War because it was considered more important for training soldiers than for supplying timber (although neighbouring remnants of the Caledonian Forest, at Abernethy and Rothiemurchus, were not so lucky).

A large fragment of scaly pine bark.

Glenmore was run as both a sporting and forestry estate until 1947, when it was designated a Forest Park. This re-branding officially recognised the popularity of parts of the estate with outdoor activities enthusiasts. Extensive planting continued throughout the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, however. In the 1960s recreation at Glenmore, particularly skiing, really took off, and a lot of new infrastructure was built. By the early Eighties the campsite at Glenmore was accommodating a thousand people at its busiest, and the main focus had shifted from forestry to recreation.

In the foreground – juniper (Juniperus communis). I have never seen so much juniper! In many places it formed an almost continuous shrub layer beneath the pine trees. Very pretty, very necessary for gin, but very prickly when wading through a waist-deep sea of the stuff to get to the next big pine.

During the 1990s the Forestry Commission underwent a significant change in its outlook and policies, with the old approach of “create as much timber as possible” replaced with a more responsible approach to forest stewardship. At Glenmore this meant felling the non-native trees planted in earlier decades, resulting in the decimation of two-thirds of the forest. These areas are being replanted with the native Scots pine.

Huge. Beautiful. Ancient.


Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips + Notable trees












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