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March 2010

Birch catkins. FotT #45.

Closed male catkins on a leafless birch yesterday.

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The forty-fifth edition of the Festival of the Trees, Voice, is now online at The Voltage Gate. Go and enjoy it!

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treeblog has been included in a list of ‘50 Amazing Nature Photography Bloggers’. If that sort of thing floats your boat, go and check it out.

Posted in Miscellany

Exploded larch

On the 28th of February 2009 – over a year ago! – I went for a walk around the Derwent and Howden Reservoirs. I saw something in a plantation on the hillside: it was an exploded larch.


Treeoxyribonucleic acid.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Urban umbrella: how trees stem flash-flooding

This post was written by Stephen Gray, Press Coordinator for Trees for Cities, an independent registered charity. -Ash

As the Xynthia storm starts to move away from western Europe and England, recent studies compiled by the urban tree charity Trees for Cities have been finding that even the familiar London plane is protecting us from flooding more than previously thought.

The urban umbrella

Trees work to protect urban areas in two simple ways: by intercepting water at the canopy, and by absorbing surface water through their roots. Water is drawn up through the tree in the process of transpiration and it is eventually lost to the atmosphere through stomata on the underside of the leaves.

By slowing the rate of sudden, heavy rainfall, trees reduce the peak volume of water needing to be displaced during the storm, and so avoid the need for expensive man-made floodwater containment systems, and the risk of sudden flooding.

The average cost to a UK resident of a flooded home is between £20,000 and £30,000 i.


In England, a study in Northumberland calculated the value of woodland areas around a river, in terms of the offset engineering costs of flood control, at £1,200 per hectare. In our changing climate, woods around urban areas and the trees within them are in especial need of protection for them to carry on providing these benefits ii.

In the city of Atlanta, USA the American Forests organisation calculated that if trees were removed, the cost of building containment facilities for the floodwater runoff would be $2 billion.

This means that for every $1 spent on trees, $5 can be recouped in money saved iii.

Trees for Cities

Trees for Cities, a UK charity which undertakes projects nationally to improve green urban spaces, has been campaigning for and planting new trees in cities since the charity was launched in 1993. In London, the mayor, Boris Johnson, recently announced a new target for the city of an increase in canopy cover from 20 to 25% by 2025 iv - which would make a quarter of the city green from above.

Sharon Johnson, Chief Executive said: "Over recent years we have seen a real difference in the attitude taken to trees in UK cities. They're becoming much more valued as an asset to the community, providing a wealth of financial and cultural benefits.

"As a charity, we're committed to increasing awareness of these benefits: our streets are community spaces, and so many are an untapped resource for the people who live on them. We've been proud to be planting trees across the country, through individual donations and tree planting schemes, so that residents can enjoy their benefits for hundreds of years to come."

Other benefits

Protection from storms is not the only reason for increased interest in urban vegetation: A house sheltered by street trees can have its heating and air-conditioning costs reduced by up to 10%, as the trees insulate the area and reduce wind speed in winter, as well as providing shade and reflecting heat away from the ground during warm summers.

Trees also provide a natural aesthetic benefit to streets, and when a suitable mix of species is chosen, should pose little threat to the integrity of surrounding buildings.



Posted in Miscellany

Fairholmes – Derwent & Howden Reservoirs – Alport Castles – Fairholmes (13th February 2010)

The imposing Derwent Dam. When the reservoir is full, as it was on Saturday, water pours from between the two towers to cascade foamily down the mighty stone wall.

A spot of super weather was forecast for Saturday so in the morning I headed off to Fairholmes, the visitor hub for the Derwent Valley. The weather didn’t live up to my high expectations, but it wasn’t too bad. At least it’s spring now; winter seems to have been abruptly switched off on the 28th of Feb. From Fairholmes I headed north along the western shores of Derwent and Howden reservoirs, before turning west and climbing up onto the moors to reach the spectacular Alport Castles. Following the high ground south-east, I eventually ended up back at Fairholmes. (Have a go at sussing it out on Google Maps!)

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) buds are amazingly sticky. This one has glued itself to a few stray conifer needles.

This brave young alder (Alnus glutinosa) was growing part-submerged in the reservoir.

The road running up the side of the reservoir is bordered for a few hundred metres by a hawthorn hedge. It has been recently savaged along most of its length, probably by rabbits. They have stripped the bark from most of the stems an inch or less in diameter; anything larger was left unharmed.

Illuminated fruticose lichens (and unilluminated foliose lichens) growing on sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) bark on the site of Tin Town. (For the fascinating history of Tin Town, or Birchinlee, see here and here.)

A fine beech (Fagus sylvatica) growing on the site of Tin Town – so it can’t be any older than a hundred years.

This is another beech, but instead of having the lovely, smooth, silver bark typical of its species, this tree was all over disfigured by cankers.

This is the tip of the westwards-pointing spur of Howden Reservoir where it is joined by the River Westend – and look! There is still ice on the surface in the middle of March!

Looking back at Howden, having attained the lofty heights of the moors. There were still plenty of snow pockets around up on the tops. It hasn’t snowed for weeks!

Almost back at Fairholmes – this is the view across the northern tip of Ladybower Reservoir.

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Next month’s edition of the Festival of the Trees will be hosted by Vanessa of Vannessa’s Trees and Shrubs Blog. Send in your submissions to treesandshrubs [dot] guide [at] about [dot] com. The deadline is the 29th of March. (The optional theme, in honour of April’s Fools Day, is humourous trees.)

Posted in Gone for a walk

Exploded larch 2010

On Saturday I returned to Derwent Dam to check on the state of the exploded larch I discovered a year ago. Not a lot has changed.

Only fifty metres or so away up the hill was another toppled larch that I didn’t notice last year. This one didn’t look as if its demise was as explosive as the other; more of a folding than an exploding. Both prostrate trees are aligned in more or less the same direction: pointing uphill (south-east, I think). I reckon it most likely that they were just blown over in strong winds, perhaps even on the same day.

Posted in Gone for a walk

BudWatch (21st March 2010)

I went out for a wander on Sunday and was slightly disappointed to see such little springly progress from the buds on the locally-growing deciduous trees.

Hazel (Corylus avellana) buds and catkins. The catkins – some folks know them as lambs’ tails – are made up of male flowers. A female flower is hiding in the upper-centre of this photo.

Birch (probably downy birch, Betula pubescens).

English oak (Quercus robur). I’ve noticed that the terminal buds are often flanked by a pair of smaller buds, although the terminal bud in this photo has lost one of its two buddies. (It’s the Lonely Oak!)

Larch (probably European larch, Larix decidua) pegs and a ‘bud’ of some sort – maybe a flower very early on in development? I was very disappointed to find that there were no larch roses on this tree at all; this time last year they were out in force!

Goat willow (Salix caprea). On some of the trees catkins were already forming! I noticed that the buds on the trees with catkins were a light green while the trees without catkins had reddish buds (as in the above photo). Is this a way to tell the male trees from the female trees?

Common alder (Alnus glutinosa). Distinctively purply-velvety buds.

Hawthorn (probably the common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna).

Here’s a wee hawthorn story: I was at college today, being taught how to use Tirfor winches in the context of stump removal. It is an agricultural college, and someone in the equestrian section pointlessly wanted a small section of hawthorn hedge, about five metres long, removing from a little patch of grass next to the stables. It was the remnant of a hedgerow that was mostly destroyed when the stables were built – a hedgerow probably laid down hundreds of years ago. Our instructor, an arboricultural legend (who shares my view that it is a great shame to get rid of something planted so long ago), reckoned it probably dated from the mid-eighteenth century, perhaps from medieval times; possibly, if it was Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), it may have dated from as far back as the tenth century! The roots were certainly grand old things.

European beech (Fagus sylvatica). The buds are easily identified with their long and pointy ways. ‘Cigar-shaped’, some say.

Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). Unassuming, eh?

And of the buds of other locally-growing tree species that I saw up close but are MIA from this post… Common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) buds showed no signs of opening yet, sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) buds were green and swelling, and elder (Sambucus nigra) – I saw a couple of elders with closed buds but one growing on a south-facing slope was covered in tiny green leaves, yippee!

Posted in Gone for a walk

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

A twin-stemmed beech (Fagus sylvatica).

A proliferation of small fungal brackets on a dead Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). They look like turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) - or at least something in that genus - but my encyclopaedia of fungi says that T. versicolor is only found on broad-leaved species. Is that right? Can anyone set us straight in the comments?

The first wood on Whitwell Moor, home to the twin-stemmed beech and rotting Scots pine.

A weak sun shines through the peeling, papery bark of a young downy birch (Betula pubescens).

Goat willows (Salix caprea) are currently putting out their furry catkins. They are dioecious trees – individuals are either male or female – and both sexes produce catkins. At this early stage in their development, I’m not sure whether these catkins are ♀ or ♂.

Alder (Alnus glutinosa) catkins. The long ones in the centre of the photo are the males; these will extend and become golden in colour before they shed their pollen, at which point they will resemble male hazel catkins. The ruby-red, rugby ball-shaped immature female catkins (above the males in this photo) will develop into hard, woody, seed-bearing ‘cones’.

Here they are: the mature female catkins. The three in this photograph would have been at the same stage as those in the previous photo at this time last spring. The cones persist on the tree through winter, lending the leafless alder a distinctive silhouette.

A female hazel (Corylus avellana) flower peeking between two pairs of male catkins.

Just look at all those catkins! There’s even another female flower at the top of the photo! Hazels are amazing at this time of year.

How’s this for a spot of genius? An ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) seen above and below ground simultaneously!

Posted in Gone for a walk

Third Anniversary of the planting of treeblog's Set A. treeblog update (Set A, Day 1096): Scots pines & grey alders.

That’s right! A whole three years have passed since I first planted the Set A seeds. I started it all off with a packet of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) seeds that I was given at a careers fair, a packet of cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) seeds that I borrowed from uni, and a handful of grey alder (Alnus incana) seeds that I collected on a field trip. To demonstrate just how much the Set A trees have changed since I planted them on the 28th of March 2007, I’ve assembled three mini-timelines. The Scots pine and grey alder assemblages of are followed by normal-sized contemporary photographs, taken this afternoon. I haven’t photographed the cider gums yet, but I expect to get them later in the week. I’ll give them a separate treeblog update of their own.

To represent Pinus sylvestris, here’s Scots pine Alpha:

Day 0 - 28 March 2007

Day 47 - 14 May 2007

Day 55 - 22 May 2007

Day 62 - 29 May 2007

Day 95 - 1 July 2007

Day 154 - 29 August 2007

Day 409 - 10 May 2008

Day 432 - 2 June 2008

Day 458 - 28 June 2008

Day 515 - 24 August 2008

Day 605 - 22 Nov 2008

Day 731 - 28 March 2009

Day 782 - 18 May 2009

Day 822 - 27 June 2009

Day 1096 - 28 March 2010

…and here’s the other Scots pine, Gamma. The buds on the Scots pines haven’t started swelling yet, but I’m anticipating another massive growth spurt in May.

To represent Alnus incana, here’s grey alder No. 4:

Day 0 - 28 March 2007

Day 47 - 14 May 2007 (unknown g.a.)

Day 62 - 29 May 2007 (unknown g.a.)

Day 74 - 10 June 2007

Day 95 - 1 July 2007

Day 154 - 29 August 2007

Day 196 - 10 October 2007

Day 264 - 17 December 2007

Day 409 - 10 May 2008

Day 432 - 2 June 2008

Day 515 - 24 August 2008

Day 731 - 28 March 2009

Day 754 - 28 April 2009

Day 781 - 17 May 2009

Day 822 - 27 June 2009

Day 875 - 19 August 2009

Day 1096 - 28 March 2010

… and here are the rest of the grey alders. This is No. 1 - the tallest of the bunch. The black bar is to mark the maximum height of the tree, as the leading twig doesn’t really stand out very well from the background. I apologise for the miserable colours (I upped the brightness and contrast), but it was the only available plain(ish) backdrop big enough to do the job!

Grey alder No. 2 – the shortest alder.

Grey alder No. 3. The buds on Nos. 3 and 4 are just beginning to open.

This is one of the very first leaves to make an appearance on alder No. 4.

And here’s a look at the bark on No. 4’s trunk. It’s awesome, isn’t it, the way the outer layer of bark peels back from around the lenticels to form all those little diamonds?

To represent Eucalyptus gunnii, here’s cider gum No. 7 (with some of his cohorts):

Day 0 - 28 March 2007

Day 47 - 14 May 2007 (unknown c.g.)

Day 62 - 29 May 2007 (unknown c.g.)

Day 81 - 17 June 2007 (c.g. No. 1)

Day 130 - 5 August 2007

Day 196 - 10 October 2007

Day 397 - 28 April 2008

Day 432 - 2 June 2008

Day 480 - 20 July 2008

Day 497 - 6 August 2008

Day 558 - 6 October 2008

Day 731 - 28 March 2009

Day 785 - 21 May 2009

Day 876 - 20 August 2009

(More on the cider gums in the forthcoming update.)

These have been the first photos of the Set A trees on treeblog since August last year! That is a pretty poor show on my part, but to be honest the growing season had near enough ended by then so the trees have changed little in the intervening period. Well, the alders lost their leaves, but deciduous trees have a habit of doing that.

The Scots pines are doing well. So are the alders, but they have outgrown the garden and need to be planted somewhere asap before the growing season is upon us. Where though? Some of the cider gums have been damaged by frost, and some of them need larger pots. Nos. 6 and 15 look to have been killed off by the frost, but I said that about Nos. 3 and 15 last year but they bounced back. And the post-Set A unknown seedling, now thought to be a goat willow? How’s that doing?

The Artist Formerly Known As PSAUS.
It’s doing just fine.

Posted in The treeblog trees

The Bernhard Langer Tree Shot

A couple of Mondays ago I was at Fulford Golf Club (near York) for a stumpgrinding course with a legendary forester. As we arrived at the course, he told us a brilliant story about a famous golfer who was playing a tournament there a few years ago. On one of the holes his ball got stuck in a tree, so he climbed up the tree, took his shot, and went on to place second!

Here’s a photo and the story in Langer’s own words, lifted directly from his autobiography (Bernhard Langer: My Autobiography, 2003).

Langer calls it an oak tree, but you can see from the leaves and bark that it’s actually an ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Whatever, it’s still a fantastic, almost iconic, image.

In 1981 I became a world-famous golfer in a rather amusing way. I was playing in the Benson and Hedges International at Fulford. On the seventeenth hole I hit a nine iron to the green, pulled it left and it hit a big oak tree, to the left of the green. I heard the ball hit two or three times but did not see it come down. Seconds later the spectators started laughing and, sure enough, the ball was lodged in a little indentation in a branch about fifteen feet up!

I was in contention – finishing second in the end. My only concern was how to play the hole best… The worst option was to go back and take a ‘stroke and distance’ penalty. Dropping a ball at the green side was a better option, but still with a penalty. The best option, if it were possible, was clearly to play the ball from where it lay. I considered the options, looked where the ball was and decided that I might be able to hit it onto the green.

The hardest part was getting up the tree, getting a stance, and especially not falling out of the tree as I hit the ball! I managed to succeed in hitting the ball onto the green, leaving myself a putt for par. The crowd went absolutely crazy. Unfortunately I missed it, but at least it was only one dropped shot.

My only concern was to get the best score on the hole, and it was a bonus that there was a TV camera behind the hole – remember, in those days they only covered the last few holes. It was shown on TV around the world and, as I was pretty much at the beginning of my career, I was in some places better known for climbing the tree than for my golf!

I had my first experience of playing in the USA in 1981 when I was invited to play in the World Series. I was leading with six holes to play but could not quite sustain it. It was a good experience and boosted my confidence. That was shortly after the Benson and Hedges tournament and the tree incident.

I was amused to overhear this conversation between two people in the gallery:

‘Who is that?’
‘Isn’t he the man who climbs trees?’
‘What’s his name?’
‘I think it’s Bernard-something.’
‘No, it’s not. That’s Tarzan!’

Langer also recounts a different time when he hit a ball into a tree:

In fact my ball has stuck up a tree three times in my career. The second and third times were both in California, most recently at the end of 2001, and both Peter Coleman (my caddie) and I were in the tree, though Peter went higher. As I definitely could not play the ball this time, there was no point in my climbing up. It was a three wood that struck the ball high up in the tree, where it stuck maybe sixty feet up. You could see the ball from underneath but you could not get to it.

The next problem in this situation is that, under the rules, I have to be able to identify my ball. I could see it was a Titleist but every tournament player marks his ball in a particular way. I put two dots by the number. The referee said, ‘ If you are not sure that is your ball, you have to go back and replay the shot.’
I said, ‘I know it is my ball. I saw it go there and get stuck.’
He said, ‘Can you identify it?’
I said, ‘No, but I know it is my ball.’

So we got binoculars from someone in the crowd and with them we could see the two dots on the ball, and so I was allowed to drop it under the tree. After I declared it unplayable, we shook the tree and the ball fell.

Bernhard Langer: what a guy!

Posted in Miscellany

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