All posts from

May 2009

Raising trees from seed: treeblog vs the Forestry Commission, or Set C mistakes

Before we get stuck in to the main course, would Reader like a starter? Another two seedlings were observed in the birch tray yesterday (Day 50), bringing the total to twenty-six. On top of that, a Set C first: two seedlings were discovered in sweet chestnut territory! But are they really sweet chestnut seedlings or just weed impostors? I’ve never seen a sweet chestnut seedling before, but I had a mental image of them being, uh, beefier. At least they’re not nettles

Anyhoo, I was browsing the internet the other day when I came across a Forestry Commission Practice Guide entitled Raising trees and shrubs from seed (Gosling, 2007). “This could be relevant,” I thought, and relevant it is. As hoped, the guide provides advice on raising all three of treeblog Set C’s species from seed. It would seem I’ve not been going about things in quite the right fashion.

The Set C birch seeds. I collected them from an impressive tree on Whitwell Moor. Those catkins (more correctly “strobiles”) were chock-a-block full of seeds too.

According to the guide, birches are fairly easy to germinate. As “orthodox seeds”, birch seeds can be dried and stored for a long period of time. One of the recommended methods of storing birch seed (for no more than one winter) is to “Store in a loosely-tied polythene bag in the main compartment of a refrigerator (approximately +4°C)”. I kept my seeds in a plastic sandwich bag in my bedroom, which is obviously warmer than a fridge. The guide recommends either sowing in Jan-Feb to pretreat naturally or sowing in spring with or without artificial pretreatment. The recommended pretreatment here is to keep the seeds cold (about 4°C) for three to nine weeks (isn’t that just keeping them in the fridge a bit longer?). The guide classes this pretreatment of birch seeds as “Generally effective: a significant proportion of live seeds should germinate

I pretreated my birch seeds by moving them into the shed for a few weeks before planting, and things seem to be going well. Twenty-six seedlings so far, a number I’d be very happy with if I knew for certain they were all birches. I actually sowed several hundred birch seeds, so only twenty-six seedlings looks like a poor rate of germination - but I don’t have anywhere to keep hundreds of birch seedlings!

The Set C sweet chestnuts. I collected them from a magnificent old tree at Wigtwizzle.

Sweet chestnut:
The guide devotes a paragraph to the curious phenomenon of “suicidal” seeds:

…some very small seeds, such as willow and poplar, and some very large fruits, such as oak, sycamore, sweet chestnut and horse chestnut, die quite soon after being shed from the tree – one of the last properties you would normally associate with seeds. The fruits are killed if they dry out and at present there is no known method of doing anything more than slowing down their rate of deterioration. It is therefore only worth collecting seeds of these species if you can sow them fairly quickly, or are prepared to suffer significant losses over, for example, one winter’s storage.

Great. It goes on to describe chestnuts as recalcitrant – highly perishable. One thing you can’t do is to let these things dry out: “if they are frozen or dried, they die”. I didn’t have anywhere humid to store my chestnuts, so I stuck them in the shed all winter. The air in the shed is certainly not as dry as that in the house, but I wouldn’t exactly call it humid. At least I didn’t put them in the freezer.

Still, there is some hope. According to the guide, if you store your freshly-collected chestnuts at low temperatures (3°C to 5°C) – to slow seed deterioration and minimise fungal growth – and high humidity – to retard drying – then you’ll only suffer 60-70% losses over a couple of years. Well, my nuts mightn’t have been kept humid, but they were kept cold (hopefully not too cold) and were only in storage for one winter, so at least some of them ought to still be viable. Later on, the guide warns that “sweet chestnut… will typically decline from 90% to 50% germination over the 10-24 weeks between collection in October/November to spring sowing in March/April”.

The good news is that while they are a pain in the backside to store, sweet chestnut, along with poplars, willows, oaks and horse chestnut, are the “easiest to germinate of all tree species”. No pretreatment is required.

If Set C, like Set B before it, fails to bear treeblog any young sweet chestnuts, then Set D will have to succeed! If it comes to that, then in the autumn, as soon as a new horde is collected, they shall be buried in compost and kept cool and moist all winter.

I collected these, the majority of the Set C rowan berries, from a tree on Whitwell Moor. A further eighty or so berries were collected from a tree near Upper Midhope.

So far it looks like I did okay with the birches, and I might yet scrape through with some sweet chestnuts, but how did I do with the rowans? Ha! terrible!

Rowan berries tend to contain two seeds, although they may hold more. I did not know this when I planted my rowans still in berry form - I thought they only had the one! Something I did think about but failed to act upon is this: rowan berries are eaten by birds; birds digest the berries; birds excrete the undigested seeds; the seeds then grow. How I wished for caged birds to eat my berries in a sort of controlled berry-digesting, seed-cleaning sweatshop. Alas! this just wasn’t practical and I didn’t fancy doing the birds’ job myself (what if I digested both berries and seeds?). In the end I simply planted the berries whole, which was a bit silly:

Fleshy fruits are also some of the most awkward and certainly the messiest to process. …very occasionally a little fermentation can help. However, for seeds such as hawthorn, holly and rowan, fermentation can be significantly harmful or even fatal and is therefore to be avoided. Subsequently, most seeds will need repeated washing not only to remove the clinging remnants of sticky flesh, but also as a means of removing chemicals that have the potential to inhibit germination.

Germination-inhibiting chemicals? Oh no! (At least rowan seeds, like birch seeds, are “orthodox” so can be dried and frozen for storage. My berries experienced the same storage conditions as my birch seeds.) Anyway, once your rowan seeds are nice and clean with no tarrying trace of berry, they can enter pretreatment hell. The guide describes pretreatment as “Only partially effective: even with the longest pretreatment durations and/or several pretreatment cycles”! Still, it recommends 2-4 warm (about 15°C) weeks and 16-30 cold (about 4°C) weeks of pretreatment. Awesome.

I think I’m going to have to exhume my rowan berries, release the seeds from their fleshy prisons, and replant. No time for pretreatment though. Maybe the next winter can be contracted to perform that job if nothing germinates before then?

Level of shame = high.

* * * * *

Raising trees and shrubs from seed is a great little guide. It provides a host of advice on collecting, preparing, storing and planting seed. You can download it free from here:$FILE/fcpg018.pdf

Posted in The treeblog trees

Bur oak seedling time-lapse photography

This video by Arbor Aesthetics (on YouTube) shows a bur or mossycup oak (Quercus macrocarpa) seedling growing over three days*. I think it’s just incredible the way you can see the leaves growing and bending around for the light! Here’s another amazing bit of time-lapse photography:

That one was titled “Hitchcock Nature Center: time lapse walk through the woods”, and it was also done by Arbor Aesthetics. From their website:

Arbor Aesthetics is the vision of Jeffrey Grewe… Jeffrey is the meticulous hand and artistic eye of each project.

* I heard about the first video from Twitter.

Posted in Miscellany

Set C: the story so far (Days 50 to 59) & a tricotyledonous birch

Birches Nos. 29, 32, 46 and 53 this afternoon (Day 59).

Exciting tidings! One of the birch seedlings has turned out to be a tricot! Birch No. 29 (in the above photo) has three cotyledons, not the normal amount of two. I have previously found two tricotyledonous seedlings (both sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus): one near Edinburgh in spring 2005 and another in the Ewden Valley in spring 2007. The first one died a couple of days after I collected it because I had nowhere to plant it as I was staying away from home. The second one (which appeared on treeblog back in the day) died mysteriously a month or so after I collected it. That was a bit upsetting so I hope it’ll be third time lucky with my birch tricot, the first one I have seen.

Set C: the story so far… (contd)
I was away from Monday to Friday so news from Days 54 to 58 comes courtesy of my father.

Day 50 / 30th Apr. ‘09 - Birches Nos. 25 and 26 appear; also the first non-birch germinations - two seedlings in sweet chestnut territory. These look so much like the birch seedlings, however, that I wonder if they’ve sprouted from self-sown birch seed.

Day 51 / 1st May ‘09 - Thirteen more birches (Nos. 27 to 39), as well as a third seedling in the sweet chestnut zone.

Day 52 / 2nd May ‘09 - A further eight birches (Nos. 40 to 47).

Day 53 / 3rd May ‘09 - Another two birch seedlings (Nos. 48 and 49).

Day 54 / 4th May ‘09 - Birch No. 50.

Day 55 / 5th May ‘09 - Birch No. 51.

Day 56 / 6th May ‘09 - Four more birches (Nos. 52 to 55) and a fourth “sweet chestnut” seedling.

Day 57 / 7th May ‘09 - Another five birches (Nos. 56 to 60).

Day 58 / 8th May ‘09 - At least seven more birches (unflagged) and the first seedling in the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan tray. It also looks just like a birch seedling.

Day 59 / 9th May ‘09 - The first seedling in the ‘Upper Midhope’ rowan section; this one actually differs from the birches. But is it a rowan or a self-seeded weed? Only time will tell. On the birch front, I don’t have any exact figures, but there were a lot of unflagged new seedlings in the tray today. The total number of birches must be close to a hundred now, and with so many of them growing close together, and new ones popping up at the base of existing flag-poles, it’s become impossible to keep track of them all. That’s why there hasn’t been any new flags for two days now.

Tomorrow I plan on doing a bit of treeblog work. I want to transplant as many as possible of the earlier-germinating birches into pots to free up some room in the seed tray. I also want to exhume the rowan berries, strip out and clean all of the seeds, then replant them. The Scots pines and most (if not all) of the cider gums would benefit from being repotted, as would the post-Set A unknown seedling (PSAUS). The alders could also do with new pots, but they’d have to be pretty big!

In case you were wondering, this is what a birch (either Betula pendula or Betula pubescens) looks like when it is a few years old. This one was found growing in the garden a couple of years ago by my father.

Any idea what these are? I found a few of them lying on top of the soil in the Set C seed trays today. At first I thought I was seeing some new kind of seedling because of their similarity to a pair of unopened cotyledons, but I was wrong. They also look a bit like anthers, so perhaps they have blown in off some flowering plant. Then again, they don’t appear to have any pollen on them. Another treeblog mystery!

Posted in The treeblog trees

Set C: 25 birches are transplanted & rowan berries are exhumed

I spent some time yesterday transplanting twenty-five birch seedlings out of the seed tray and into small plant pots, two per pot. Which twenty-five? All of the birches from No. 1 to No 30 except No. 29 – the tricot – and Nos. 8, 18, 19 and 20. Why those twenty-five? I decided to transplant just the first thirty birches for reasons of time, space, and their delicate nature. I’m not sure transplanting them at so an early stage is such a good idea, which is why I’ve left tricotyledonous No. 29 in situ for now – I don’t dare risk disturbing it. Nos. 8, 18, 19 and 20 I can no longer tell apart from each other and surrounding seedlings, so they’ve been left behind in the seed tray, lost in their own tiny forest. All the other seedlings in the birch tray, for the time being, will be left to their own devices.

Birches Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 7, mid-transplant (all to the same scale). These four had particularly long roots which were fairly free of soil.

I also sifted through the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan tray and removed all of the berries (sixty days after I planted them on the 11th of March), a course of action explained in this post from a week and a half ago. Before doing this I had to transplant the only seedling in the tray into a pot. It was very tiny and I’m quite sure it wasn’t a rowan. Still, it might be interesting finding out what it is.

Once I’d exhumed all of the berries, I rinsed them in a bowl of water and embarked on the long and tedious task of squishing them between my fingers and removing the seeds. Some of these decaying berries held no seeds; a couple held five seeds; most contained two or three seeds. Once all of the seeds were removed, I gave them another rinse. They have now been dried off and later on today I intend to give them a good cleaning to remove any clinging traces of berry. Then they’ll be replanted! The whole process needs repeating for the ‘Upper Midhope’ rowan berries, but there aren’t nearly so many of those.

A handful of exhumed berries before rinsing. There were way more than the few seen here!

The fruits of my labour, or maybe the labour of my fruits: the rowan seeds in submerged. Not one had germinated so far as I could tell.

The waste product heap. This handful of slimy rowan berry mush went in the compost bin.

This big grub or maggot, about four centimetres long, was lurking in the rowan tray’s soil along with a smaller grub, several small earthworms, and a long orange centipede. The surface of each seed tray is also home to numerous springtails.

Posted in The treeblog trees

Set C rowan seeds replanted. Some Set A trees repotted.

The ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan seeds after cleaning.

After exhuming the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan berries and extracting the seeds on Sunday, I did the same for the ‘Upper Midhope’ rowan berries yesterday. I also removed any trace of berry from all of the seeds, then today I replanted them. FYI kiddo, today is Set C(r) Day 0 / Set C Day 62 / Set A Day 776. It’s hard to keep track sometimes, isn’t it?

The ‘Upper Midhope’ rowan seeds after cleaning.

Set A also saw some replanting, or rather repotting. Both Scots pines received a much-needed pot upgrade, as did the larger cider gums: Nos. 2, 7, 12, 13 and 14. All were repotted in a two-parts compost, one-part sand mixture. The rest of the Set A characters need repotting too but they’ll have to wait a bit: I’m all out of compost and sand now. Looks like a trip to a garden centre or the B&Q is on the cards then, where I’ll also be looking to procure four super-large pots for the grey alders.

The newly potted treelings. From left to right (in the big pots), cider gums Nos. 14, 2, 13, 7 and 12, then Scots pine Beta and Scots pine Alpha on the end. Cider gum No. 10, still in one of the old pots, is included for scale. The rowan seed tray is there too!

treeblog updates for all the trees coming soon!

Posted in The treeblog trees

Grey alder No. 4 grievously harmed. A moral dilemma.

Grey alder No. 4 earlier today.

Admire its rain-spattered leaves…

…and the base of its trunk, as thick as a strong thumb.

A sunny interval after days of near-incessant rain saw me out in the garden this afternoon looking to take enough photos for a treeblog update. Unfortunately yet predictably the sun didn’t stay out long enough for that, but I did get some photos of grey alder No. 4. Then I noticed that the treeblog flagship has once more come under attack. Last year it was caterpillars; this year it’s much more serious. Those caterpillars were only interested in leaves, and leaves are easy come, easy go. But whatever is attacking the Beast this year is taking big chunks out of stems. And not just any stems, but specifically new ones at the top of the tree. The very leader is amongst those stems damaged.

Damage to one of grey alder No. 4’s upper stems.

Damage to the actual leader, just a few centimetres below the very top of the tree. Outrageous!

More damage.

Even more damage: a near-severed section of stem.

Who is causing the damage? Almost certainly some form of insect. But what? Aphids? There are a few on the tree, but surely greenfly can’t devour stems in this manner. Wasps? My father suggested that they could be to blame. I’ve read that they can chew through succulent stems, apparently to access water.

So far the other three alders don’t appear to have been damaged, but I am worried that the harm done to the leading shoot may cause grey alder No. 4 to fork, stopping it from becoming a great standard tree. I don’t want to see further damage inflicted, but I’m faced with a moral dilemma:

To use pesticide or not to use pesticide, that is the question.

I don’t agree with the use of pesticides. They are generally harmful to the environment; they are inherently unnatural; they are cheating. But. My alder means a lot to me. I have put a lot of effort into raising and documenting it; I have grown very fond of it; I want to prevent further harm from befalling it. Ten, twenty, fifty years down the line, I want grey alder No. 4 to be a great tree.

Dear reader, what stance would you take on this dilemma?

* * * * *

Set C news - Day 67 (today)
A further five seedlings (Nos. 5 to 9) found in sweet chestnut territory, but I have serious doubts over their authenticity.

Set C(r) news - Day 5 (today)
A seedling is discovered in the newly replanted rowan tray (‘Whitwell Moor’ zone). Again, I am suspicious over its authenticity - would a rowan have sprouted in so short a time, and without any pretreatment? Still, I’ve flagged it as Whitwell Moor rowan No. 2 (WM2). WM1 was found on the 8th of May (Set C Day 58) pre-replanting.

Posted in The treeblog trees

treeblog update (Set A, Day 782): grey alders & Scots pines

Yesterday (Set A, Day 782), and another break in the rain, I got outside and photographed grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3, both Scots pines, and the post-Set A unknown seedling (PSAUS). And the potted birch seedlings from Set C, but that’s a different post.

Scots pine Alpha in its new pot. Since Alpha’s last appearance on treeblog in the Day 754 update almost a month ago, it has grown a fine set of candles. The leading candle is the tallest by far – the close-up view below allows the young needles to be made out.

This candle performs a clever little trick daily: it leans over, and then straightens itself up again. One may expect it to grow towards the sun, in whose direction it sometimes does lean; but mostly the candle leans away from the sun towards a dark wall of conifer. Perhaps the candle is showing a tendency to grow towards warmth. The dark, flat surface of the conifer hedge will probably radiate a fair bit of thermal energy when warmed by direct sunlight.

Scots pine Gamma: not as developed as Scots pine Alpha in the candle stakes.

Grey alder No. 1. Whilst the grey alders are much bigger trees than the Scots pines, they are still stuck in the same-sized pots. I’ve got my eye on some 30-litre pots to rectify this unacceptable situation.

Grey alder No. 2, the smallest of the four.

Root nodules at the base of No. 2 (at least I assume that’s what they are). A photograph of these same nodules appeared in the Day 702 update when they were dull orange, not crimson. It might just be the angle of the photographs, but they seem to have grown a bit bigger since then. They contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria of the genus Frankia that take nitrogen from the atmosphere, where it is unusable by the tree, and ‘fix’ it into compounds that are used by the tree.

Grey alder No. 3.

No. 3 has a large-cotyledoned seedling growing at its feet, probably either an ash (Fraxinus excelsior) or a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus).

The PSAUS, although perhaps it ought to be henceforth known as the PSAW for it has now been recognised as a willow. What flavour of willow it is remains to be seen, however. Candidate species are goat willow (Salix caprea) – a clump grow locally – and white willow (Salix alba) – a large specimen grows quite close by.

The willow’s blackened old leader remains, even though it died off last autumn.

* * * * *

Set C(r) news - Day 68 (yesterday)
Two more seedlings in the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan zone: WM3 & WM4.

Posted in The treeblog trees

treeblog update (Set A, Day 785): cider gums (Part 1)

Yesterday (Set A, Day 785) was the first day in what seems like forever to have a decent sunny spell. After on-off rain in the morning and early afternoon, by three o’clock the sun had come out and the rest of the day was dry. After the old proverb, I made hay while the sun shone. I not only photographed the whole cider gum ensemble, but I also repotted Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 15, and the PSAUS. That’s a lot of repotting!

The five cider gums repotted ten days ago (Nos. 2, 7, 12, 13 and 14) all moved up to big orange pots. I only had one of those left today, and that went to lucky No. 9. Nos. 5, 8 and 10, which along with No. 9 were the best cider gums left in the small orange pots, also made it into big pots – big black ones (the same type are currently holding the Scots pines and grey alders). These big black pots are shallower than the big orange pots, but they have a greater width. That was me all out of big pots, so Nos. 1, 4 and 11 were repotted into black pots of a size midway between the big pots and the small orange pots they were calling home. Nos. 6 and 15 I repotted from their super-small square black pots, which they had occupied since the 23rd of June and the 9th of July 2007 respectively, into just-vacated small orange pots. I also repotted the PSAUS into one of the small orange pots, although it wasn’t much of an upgrade from its previous quarters. On account of its apparent death, cider gum No. 3 didn’t warrant a repot. It stays in the super-small square black pot it has occupied since the 5th of June 2007.

Have all those pots confused you? Don’t worry about it. Best crack on with this treeblog update.

In large orange pots (repotted ten days ago):

Cider gum No. 2.

Cider gum No. 7. The tallest of the gums.

Cider gum No. 12.

Cider gum No. 13.

Cider gum No. 14.

In medium-sized black pots (repotted yesterday):

Cider gum No. 1. A bit of a spindly mess.

Cider gum No. 4, the Kinkster. Check out that kink halfway up the stem! The soil surface in its old pot was rank with mosses.

Cider gum No. 11. Another spindly mess.

This update continues in Part 2. Still half of the gums to go!

Posted in The treeblog trees

treeblog update (Set A, Day 785): cider gums (Part 2)

Continuing on from yesterday’s Part 1, let us now review the seven cider gums that remain. All of the Set A cider gums and Scots pines, with the exception of cider gum No. 3, have now been repotted. The new muck in which they now find themselves is composed roughly of two parts compost, one part sand. All of the repottings were carried out with regular peat-free compost, apart from those of cider gums Nos. 5, 8, 9 and 10. After running out of the ordinary stuff, for these four I used a different kind of compost, a new compost, a compost different to what I’ve ever seen before… It’s really light and springy and full of little bits of wood, or what the manufacturers call ‘west+’. From the bag:

West+ is a sustainable high performance peat replacement ingredient which delivers exceptional growing results. It is unique and is a patented technology which is produced from natural wood fibre taken from trees grown in forests managed in accordance with the FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] scheme.

West+ Multi-Purpose Compost is a mix of 50% peat/compost with 50% west+, a first in growing media. This mix produces a unique look and texture when compared to standard multi-purpose composts. It offers a consistently high quality growing medium that helps reduce the impact on the environment.

Look at all that wood fibre (I mean west+). But enough about compost, let’s see some eucalypts, specifically Eucalyptus gunnii !

In large pots (repotted with west+ the day before yesterday):

Cider gum No. 5.

Cider gum No. 8.

Cider gum No. 9.

Cider gum No. 10.

In small orange pots (repotted the day before yesterday):

Cider gum No. 6, one of the three runts. The blackened parts of its leaves were damaged by frost. The top couple of leaf pairs are this year’s new growth.

Cider gum No. 15. Also a runt, and also severely damaged by frost last winter. It may not look pretty, but there is new growth spouting from several leaf axils. The prognosis is good.

Prior to rehoming, this is what No. 15 had to share a pot with: a mass of moss. No. 6 had a pot full of moss too.

The unrepotted one:

No. 3 has the most interesting story of all the cider gums. It was marked to be a special one early doors and was affectionately nicknamed the Freak. Later it looked to have abandoned its freakish ways, only to be stuck down by winter’s fiercest frost (or perhaps the snow of February):

Cider gum No. 3 in the grip of the hoar frost on New Year’s Eve 2008.

The winter had no ill-effect on the Scots pines or grey alders, but it damaged almost all of the cider gums; I thought it had killed the Freak and its fellow runt No. 15. I was clearly wrong about the latter, which was showing new buds by early April, but was I wrong about the former? I think I might have been. Look at the photos below, which show a tiny branch low down No. 3’s main stem as it was on the 20th of April (Day 754) and the 21st of May (Day 785).

I think there is new growth around the branch axil and its corresponding point on the opposite side of the main stem!

Posted in The treeblog trees

Out on the bike: around Langsett and back (Part 1 of 4)

Sunday was a real stunner, and after the dire weather of May so far it was even nicer than usual to get out into the countryside. I took the pushbike for a ride over to Langsett, going clockwise around the reservoir via North America before coming through Upper Midhope and heading for home.

The spring to summer transition is virtually complete, with the ashes (Fraxinus excelsior) being the last of the trees coming into leaf. With it being so long since we’ve had such a nice day, and with summer now practically fully upon us, I was almost overwhelmed by the slightly surreal vividity of the ubiquitous greenery. The moors in particular, brown and desolate for so long, are now punctuated with patches of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) bright green with new growth. The heather is not yet in flower, and so there was no sea of purple surrounding these verdant isles, but myriad other plants and trees were in bloom: rowans (Sorbus aucuparia), pines (Pinus spp.), bluebells (Hyacinthoides sp.), cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), oaks (Quercus robur), hawthorns (Crataegus sp.), sycamores (Acer pseudoplatanus), buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), and white dead-nettles (Lamium album) to name but a few.

To say my camera was mostly in my pocket or rucksack as I was on the bike, I landed quite the catch of photos. Here be the first batch:

Clusters of male catkins dangling from an English oak. The English or pedunculate oak is a monoecious species so individuals produce flowers of both sexes.

This particular oak had pea-sized galls attached to some of the catkins. I’m fairly sure that they are the sexual galls, known as currant galls, of the currant gall wasp (Neuroterus quercusbaccarum). Common spangle galls found on the underside of oak leaves are the agamic galls of the same wasp.

An old friend: the rowan on Whitwell Moor from under which I collected half of my berries for Set C (replanted as Set C(r) a fortnight ago). Rowans are in full bloom at the moment, and this one was no exception. It was absolutely covered with infloresences!

A bit of lovely lichen growing on the rowan.

Get a close-up look at one of the inflorescences.

This young ash grows on the aptly named Long Lane and I’ve developed a habit of taking its picture every time I pass by, which allows for some interesting seasonal juxtapositions. Here it can be seen in the thick of a blizzard on the 2nd of February and also just coming into leaf in happier weather on Sunday. (See the same ash with and without leaves last October and November respectively in this post!)

The other rowan whose seeds comprise Set C(r). This unique and arresting rowan unfortunately blew over last year. It was still lying where it had fallen on the wall the last time I visited on the 14th of February, but since then it has been cleared away.

The only extant trace is this stump. The fallen tree was still alive too – I noticed live buds during my February visit. It must still have been connected to the root system. I hope that the roots continue to live and send up new sprouts, but given the stump’s situation in a field oft home to a herd of cattle it may never be able to re-establish anyway. I really hope that the seeds I took from it last year germinate to allow me the pleasure of raising the offspring of a remarkable ex-tree.

I took this photo looking south up-valley while standing on the bridge over Thickwoods Brook where that stream enters Langsett Reservoir. The brook gathers in the wee pond you can see in the bottom right of the photograph before rushing down a little weir into the reservoir.

Still on the bridge, but looking east towards Thickwoods, a coniferous plantation owned (as is the reservoir and much of the surrounding land) by Yorkshire Water. See what I mean about the bilberry being vivid? It’s almost glowing!

Posted in Gone for a walk

treeblog update (Set C, Day 75): twenty-six birches

I mentioned a few posts back that I’d photographed the potted Set C birches. A lot of those pictures were out of focus so I tried again on Monday and met with rather more success. There are twenty-six Set C birch seedlings I’m keeping track of for treeblog at the moment: Nos. 1 to 7, 9 to 17, and 21 to 30. No. 29 - the tricot - is still in the seed tray along with about a hundred more or less anonymous other birch seedlings; the rest were plucked out and popped into pots on the 10th of May (two to a pot, except No. 21 which is on its own). Take a look at these lovely little seedlings, most of which are now progressing well with the development of their first true leaves:

Birch No. 1...

…and birch No. 4 – two of the best specimens so far.

Birches Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6.

Birches Nos. 7, 9, 10 and 11.

Birches Nos. 12 to 15.

Birches Nos. 16, 17, 21 and 22.

Birches Nos. 23 to 26.

Birches Nos. 27 to 30. It’s an honour to have a tricot on board!

Recent Set C / Set C(r) news

Day 74 / 24th May ‘09 - Sweet chestnuts Nos. 10 to 14 make an appearance.

Day 75 / 26th May ‘09 - Sweet chestnut No. 15 appears.

Day 77 / 27th May ‘09 - Sweet chestnuts Nos. 16 and 17 appear – No. 17 has three cotyledons – another tricot! - plus WM5 (‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan No. 5).

I’m not excited by any of this because I can’t see them being actual sweet chestnuts or rowans; they’re probably weeds or other birch seedlings germinated from self-sown seed. There are quite a few seedlings popping up in the Set C seed trays and Set A pots that look very similar to those in the birch tray – those in the birch tray are almost certainly birches, something I deduce from the high density of seedlings in that tray alone. So are these similar-to-birch seedlings really birches? If they are, then they are self-sown, probably from the very close-by mature trees. I’m not bothered if there are birch seedlings in the non-birch seed trays and pots as they will eventually get sussed out. But what if some of the Set C birch seedlings that I thought I had planted are actually self-sown? I may be being fooled, but there’s be no way of telling!

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It is my pleasure to call your attention to a brand new website from the people behind and An excellent coppice resource, provides information on sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) and hazel (Corylus avellana) as well as the products of coppicing and the biodiversity of woodlands managed for coppice. There is also a coppicing forum, and I’m sure new content will be added in the future.

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I have moved grey alder No. 4 - who has been so cruelly savaged by some invertebrate fiends of late, despite numerous applications of pesticide – to a different part of the garden in an apparently failed bid to hide it from its attackers. Whatever it / they are that are chewing through No. 4’s stems and petioles (wasps?) still seems to be at it, while the rest of the alders remain bizarrely unscathed. I keep searching the alder but I’ve yet to glimpse one of the perpetrators. So infuriating!

Posted in The treeblog trees

Out on the bike: around Langsett and back (Part 2 of 4)

The Porter or Little Don river just above Brookhouse (or Brook House) Bridge. This little section looks nice in the photo but I tell you it’s ten times better when you see it in the flesh on a sunny day. Every time I’ve been there on such a day, as last Sunday was, there’ve been people sunbathing on the flat grassy area and kids playing in the river. I sat myself down on a large, flat stone poking above the water and let the river cool my feet. The babbling of the burn and the beautiful surrounds were highly relaxing and I reposed for almost an hour. The presence of all the people playing and chilling out (there were more than in the photo when I arrived, and there were many more behind me) added to the carefree, summery atmosphere, whereas normally I’d rather be away from the general public while enjoying the countryside.

A lovely, pebbly bit of riverbed next to my rock.

A large sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) – just right of centre in the first picture – and Brookhouse Bridge. All the stones in the lower right have built up behind a large weir, built to prevent such sediment from entering Langsett Reservoir, which isn’t much farther downstream. The bridge takes its name from Brook House farm, which had to be abandoned to prevent its livestock polluting the reservoir – Langsett was built to supply the rapidly-growing population of Sheffield with drinking water. There are old books and magazines describing the farm’s unusual rent, payable to the lord of the manor (a modern book has it being paid in 1588, but the older books imply it was a annual arrangement over several years):

BROOK HOUSE, Yorkshire.--A farm at Langsett, in the parish of Peniston and county of York, pays yearly to Godfrey Bosville, Esqre., a snowball at Midsummer, and a red rose at Christmas.

[ - from A righte Merrie Christmasse!!! The Story of Christ-tide by John Ashton (1894).]

Estates have often been held by the tenure of a rose – a red one – at times being stipulated for, and these floral tributes generally had to be paid on St. John the Baptist’s Day… For Brook House, Langsett, Yorkshire, it is said that a rose had to be provided at Christmas, and a snowball at Midsummer, and as evidently there would often thus be much difficulty in paying the rent, we are probably correct in surmising that in this case a money fine was the alternative.

[ - from Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip: An Illustrated Medium Of Interchange And Gossip For Students And Lovers Of Nature, Volume XVII, edited by John Eller Taylor (1881).]

The weir and the sycamore.

A wych elm (Ulmus glabra) leaf backlit by the sun. Wych elm is the only elm that is undisputedly native to Britain.

A cluster of unripe wych elm samaras (a type of winged fruit). Each samara has a seed centred between two symmetrical wings.

These leaves belong to a field maple (Acer campestre), another tree native to Britain. They always make me think of extra-large hawthorn leaves.

Bluebells are a classic British wildflower, the kind of plant that almost everyone can recognise. But there isn’t just one species in Britain anymore; there are two species and a hybrid. Our native bluebell is the common or English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), but there is an alien species about too: the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), popular with gardeners and introduced around 1680. Both species hybridise to give the hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana a.k.a. Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta) which was first noticed growing wild in 1963. The genetics of our native bluebell are therefore threatened by dilution, and a lot of ecologists aren’t happy about that at all. According to Plantlife International, a recent study conducted by their volunteers found one in six British broadleaved woodlands surveyed contained hybrid or Spanish bluebells.

I think that these are hybrid bluebells. Why? Our native species have their bells all on one side of the stem, which droops over with the concentrated weight. Spanish bluebells have a thicker, straight stem with bells all around. The hybrid has bells around a slightly drooping stem - which is an accurate description of the bluebells in this photo.

In case you missed it, here is a link to Part 1 of this four-part series of posts. And here is a link to Bluebells for Britain: A report on the 2003 Bluebells for Britain survey, a leaflet in .pdf format by Plantlife that sheds more light on the subject and gives some simple advice to gardeners.

Posted in Gone for a walk

PSAW (formerly PSAUS) scrutinised

Here by request, photographs of the delectable post-Set A willow (PSAW (previously PSAUS)), with a view to finally ascertaining precisely to which species it belongs. As always, larger photos (1024 x 768 px) are available by clicking on an image, then clicking the ALL SIZES button on the Flickr page. All of the photos were taken on Thursday, apart from the one showing the underside of a leaf, which was taken yesterday.

The upper surface of a typical leaf.

The underside of a typical leaf.

That was Salix ???. Now take a look at Eucalyptus gunnii No. 3:

Cider gum No. 3 (Set A, Day 792) is most definitely alive – look at that new growth! Great joy!

In other treeblog news, yesterday (Set C, Day 79 / Set C(r), Day 17) saw the appearance of three seedlings in the sweet chestnut seed trays (Nos. 18 to 20) and three seedlings in the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan tray (Nos. 6 to 8). There is some bad news regarding the grey alders: the previously untouched alder No. 2 has now had one stem bitten through – this injury is the same as those myriad afflictions of alder No. 4, who now looks rather terrible. Many of its stems and petioles have been severed, and now many of its leaves are covered with brown dead patches (perhaps caused by repeated applications of pesticide aimed to prevent further damage – wouldn’t that be ironic? Either way, seeing as how it appears to have had no effect, I’ve stopped the spraying of pesticide.) Alders Nos. 1 and 3 are still untouched, thankfully, and are the very picture of health. I have also taken delivery of four very large (35 litre) pots, so I’ll be repotting the grey alders very soon.

Posted in The treeblog trees

An oak in a flower-pot

You talk of her mind being unsettled. How the devil could it be otherwise in her frightful isolation? And that insipid, paltry creature attending her from duty and humanity ! From pity and charity ! He might as well plant an oak in a flower-pot, and expect it to thrive, as imagine he can restore her to vigour in the soil of his shallow cares!

From Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

Posted in Quotes

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