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October 2007

Set A treeblog seedling update (Day 186)

As I have already mentioned, I am back in Edinburgh all winter for university. But, all the treeblog seedlings are home in Sheffield. Yesterday, my father kindly provided a sort of status report for all the seedlings. Yet there are no photographs for the time being since his camera was stolen on holiday! Please bear with us.

The Report

The grey alders:
1. 3.7 cm. Well proportioned. 6 leaves.
2. 1.8 cm. Very weak looking. 6 very tiny leaves.
3. 3.3 cm. Similar to No. 1. 9 leaves with a new pair ready to open
4. 11 cm. PRIZE specimen. Sturdy trunk, many leaves. 4 actual branches with growing tips.

The cider gums:
1. 6.5 cm. Well established, but spindly. 6 leaf pairs, 2 new ones.
2. 7.5 cm. Spindly. 10 leaf pairs.
3. 4 cm. Strange specimen. Extra spindly, very small leaves & 2 branches – needs photo.
4. 7 cm. 5 leaves, but only in top 2 cm.
5. 8.5 cm. 8 leaves in pairs – all in top half.
6. 3.3 cm. Very sickly specimen – 8 leaves.
7. 10.5 cm. Very healthy. 14 leaves.
8. 8.5 cm. Spindly but healthy – 10 leaves.
9. 11.5 cm. Healthy. 10 leaves.
10. 10.5 cm. Healthy. 12 leaves.
11. 6.5 cm. Spindly but healthy. 8 leaves.
12. 9.5 cm. Very spindly. 12 leaves.
13. Spindly & over-tall. 8 leaves.
14. 9.5 cm. Very spindly. 8 leaves.
15. 3 cm. Small but healthy. 6 leaves.

The Scots pines:
Alpha: 5.5 cm to top of needles – looks well.
Gamma: 4 cm – very thin stem, but looks fine.

Posted in The treeblog trees

Autumn photos from the Innocent Railway

I went for a little stroll down by the Innocent Railway in Edinburgh this afternoon. Next to Holyrood Park, nowadays the railway is just a footpath / cycle path. But it’s still a nice wee place for a wander.

Yellow beech (Fagus sylvatica) leaves. Most of the rest of the leaves on this tree were still green.

A yellowing wych elm (Ulmus glabra) leaf.

A silver birch (Betula pendula). This one had lost about half of its leaves, with the remainder mostly yellow. Other silver birches in the area were almost completely bare.

Flowering ivy (Hedera helix) with part of Arthur's Seat in the background.

The ivy was abuzz with honey bees, flies and wasps. They must have been loving all the flowers.

Crack willow (Salix fragilis) leaves.

I don’t know what kind of tree these red leaves belong to, but they were very nice from a distance.

Fraxinus excelsior) is staying nice and green. Perhaps this is a consequence of the weird weather we had this year: a red hot spring and a soaking wet summer.

This alder also seems determined to remain green a while longer!

Posted in Gone for a walk

Set A treeblog seedling update (Day 193)

The photographs in this post were taken on Sunday, or Set A Day 193. And what progress! My father took them (thankee) with an ancient 1.3 megapixel digital camera hailing from Christmas 2001, the legendary Fuji FinePix 1300. The old girl still has a use, it seems.

Check out grey alder No. 1! Although not a patch on its sibling, No. 4, it is the second biggest alder seedling and is making good progress. Look how healthy that leaf looks!

Grey alder No. 2: the runt of the bunch. Very small, but perfectly formed.

Grey alder No. 3: third by name, third by nature.

Alas! I hear that all photographs of grey alder No. 4 were really out of focus. As were the cider gum photographs, which is disappointing since the word on the street is that cider gum No. 3 is doing some pretty freakish things these days. But ne’ermind. I hope we’ll be seeing some new photos for another update soon.

The beautiful, beautiful alpha Scots pine. Feast your eyeballs upon all those needles! They are as numerous as Legion. (Apologies for the out-of-focusness…ness – same with the next one.)

The (as always) charming and delightful gamma Scots pine. My, how the little fella has grown! Hot on the heels of its elder sibling, this one.

And finally: behold the grand vista of all four grey alder seedlings (at the back) plus cider gum seedlings 1 through 11! Marvel at the towering behemoth that is grey alder No. 4! Astounding! Breathtaking! Feel the awe (so much awe, it’ll make you sore). Cider gum No. 3 can be seen just in front of the imposing alder No. 4.

Posted in The treeblog trees

Giant Yorkshire oak trees (1829)

What follows is taken from John Wainwright’s Yorkshire (published in Sheffield in the year 1829), or to give the tome its full title, Yorkshire. An Historical and Topographical Introduction to a Knowledge of the Ancient State of the Wapentake of Strafford and Tickhill; with Ample Accounts of Doncaster and Conisbrough: and of the Villages, Hamlets, Churches, Antiquities, and Other Matters connected therewith.

In the Introduction (from page liv onwards), Wainwright writes of the area of Hatfield-chase, which at the time of his writing seems to have been a boggy wasteland, but upon which there once stood a forest. The author theorises that the Romans (when they occupied parts of Britain) annihilated the forest and flooded the land, in order to render it unusable by the natives, with whom the Romans were warring.

That the plot was not originally in that drowned condition, is sufficiently manifest from the large quantity of wood which everywhere lies buried under the surface of this fenny tract, and which has been deemed a strongly corroborating proof of an universal deluge; while the celebrated Dugdale supposes the fall to have arisen through the humidity of the soil. That this was not the case with these levels is, however, plainly evident to the most superficial observer; for the trees did not decay by parts, as would have been the case, had they fallen by a gradually operating cause; but fell in the full vigour of vegetable life, as would appear from the circumstance of acorns, nuts, fir-cones, &c. being frequently found attached to the parent tree. Marks of the axe are also borne on the face of some, while others manifest their fall to have been through the agency of fire.

Wainwright writes further of stupendous trees, relics of the ancient forest, which had been dug up from the ‘fenny tract’ (notes within square brackets are my own):

The trees which covered this valley in the British era, had in several instances attained to a gigantic stature; so large, indeed, that the revolution of several centuries alone could produce them. Oaks have been found, twenty, thirty, and even thirty-five yards [32 metres] long, all of which had lost much of their top. Pryme informs us, that about one hundred and eighty years ago, was found, under a very large tree in the parish of Hatfield, an old-fashioned knife, with a haft of a very hard black sort of wood, which had a cap of copper or brass on one end, and a hoop of the same metal on the other, where the blade went into it. There was also found an oak tree in Mr. Candby’s parcel of moors, “forty yards [36.6 metres] long, four yards [3.7 metres] diametrically thick at the great end, three yards and a foot [3 metres] in the middle, and two yards [1.8 metres] over the small end; so that, on a moderate calculation, the tree must have been nearly twice as long [about 70 metres! – the current tallest tree in Britain is a 61 metre grand fir (Abies grandis) in Argyll].” On another occasion, was found, a fir-tree. “thirty-six yards [32.9 metres] long, exclusively of what it had lost from the small end, which might probably have been fifteen yards [13.7 metres] more [so about 46 metres].” We also have seen trees of more ordinary magnitude taken from the sombre bowels of this waste, but never had an opportunity of measuring them.

In a letter to which we have before alluded, Mr. Bigland gives the dimensions of a tree which he measured, in the following words: “In the beginning of the year 1819, James Brailsford or Belford, a person whom you well know, dug up, about two hundred yards from the west bank of the Torne, and nearly opposite to the bridge, between Akum and Gate-wood, an oak-tree, of which the trunk measured forty yards [36.6 metres] in length, and was twelve feet [3.7 metres] in circumference [1.2 metres in diameter] in the middle. Making a reasonable allowance, for the top, this giant of the forest can scarcely have been less than seventy yards [64 metres!] in height. Had it been now sound and standing, it would have contained by the usual (although somewhat erroneous) mode of measuring, about 1,080 feet, and at the present price of good oak timber, would have been worth about £162.; besides the branches, which might have been worth £15. or £20. more; making the whole value £177. at the least.”

To a tract of land capable of producing trees of so uncommon a size, a moderate degree of dryness in the soil, and a lapse of nearly ten centuries are requisite.

I personally find it hard to believe that oak trees of the dimensions stated by Wainwright have ever grown in Britain (yet I want to believe). The tallest oak in Britain today is a sessile oak (Quercus petraea) at Whitfield, Hereford. It is a whopping 43 metres - a mere shrimp, relatively speaking, compared with the 64 and 70 metre tall beasts described in Yorkshire.

This to-scale diagram displays the relative heights of different trees (and a man): the Mother Beech on the shore of Loch Tay; the Capon Tree at Jedburgh; the tallest oak in Britain at Whitfield, Hereford; and the two gigantic oaks described in Wainwright’s Yorkshire.

Posted in Notable trees

Set A treeblog seedling update (Day 196)

This is another retrospective seedling update: today is Day 202 for treeblog Set A, but the photographs in this post were taken last Wednesday (Day 196). I am grateful to my father, who has once again taken the photographs, since it is not possible for me to be the photographer from my present location in the Scottish capital. Do not be alarmed by the brick in the photos! It is merely there to improve the sharpness and detail of the seedlings by providing a contrasting background.

A long awaited photograph of cider gum No. 3, a.k.a. the Freak. Not only is this specimen all small and runty, it also has tiny, curled leaves and a few shoots branching off from the main stem. The big question: is it a freak for genetic or environmental reasons? Genotype vs phenotype.

Cider gum No. 14. Quite a nice little seedling. According to my father, it is marginally the best of the second wave of cider gums.

Cider gum No. 7. A little bit tall, this one.

Cider gum No. 9. “A fine upright specimen - possibly Top Gum” (dad joke).

Another long awaited photograph. Behold! It is grey alder No. 4 in all its glory! What an absolute, stonking beast!

Posted in The treeblog trees

The origins of treeblog’s Set A alders

Come with me, back through the hazy mists of time, back to the 6th of February 2007. A grey Tuesday afternoon. I was on a field trip with one of my third year classes at university (Evolution and Ecology of Plants) to “study lichens ‘in the wild’ and to collect specimens for study in the lab”. Location? Gowkley Moss, a land reclamation site on a former coal bing not far from Edinburgh. I know the date and location of the field trip from my notes.

I can’t remember much else. Except that I collected a few alder cones. Looking back, I don’t remember collecting them with the intention of planting them as treeblog trees. But that must have been my purpose; treeblog would have been very much on my mind back then, what with the first ever post coming only a little over a week after the field trip. What I do know is that when I got back from the trip, I put the alder cones in a little home-made envelope. I must also have put in what looks to be a larch cone, to which the following photograph will attest, although of this I have no recollection.

Four empty alder cones – the bearers of treeblog seed - and what might be a larch cone.

Anyway, on the 28th of March 2007, the date of treeblog’s inaugural planting, I opened the little envelope and planted the seeds that had fallen from the cones. Along with a packet of Scots pine seeds and a packet of cider gum seeds, they formed treeblog’s Set A. I know for a fact that they are alders - I’m just ever so slightly unsure as to the species of alder. The common or black alder (Alnus glutinosa) is native to most of Britain. But according to my Collins Field Guide Trees of Britain and Northern Europe (Alan Mitchell, 1974) the grey alder (Alnus incana) is often planted on reclaimed tips – i.e. Gowkley Moss. And seeing as how my memory of that field trip is pretty rubbish, I’m not sure what species of alder I was collecting seed from. It was winter, the trees were leafless, I am no alder expert.

The seeds from the envelope that were planted as treeblog’s Set A alders.

As for the larch, none ever germinated, making it likely that I never planted any larch seeds in the first place.

Update (August 2008): they are grey alders!

Posted in The treeblog trees

Sweet chestnuts (finally)

For some time now I have been waiting to get hold of some nuts from a certain venerable sweet chestnut tree. I visited the tree in July and August, but the nuts where nowhere near ripe back then, and it appears that I totally jumped the gun! As I have been up in Edinburgh since the end of August, I have been unable to visit the sweet chestnut myself since then, so I have been sending my father on nut missions in my place. The tree has finally given up its fruits, and my father was there on the 20th of October (last Saturday) to collect a few for treeblog's second set of trees: Set B.

The chestnuts! These will be planted as part of treeblog Set B next year.

I collected these chestnuts from a tree at the University of Edinburgh's King's Buildings on the 15th of October. They will not be planted for treeblog... they will probably be roasted and eaten instead.

A few of my Edinburgh chestnuts, once removed from their spikey cupules. There are three nuts to a cupule, and the cupules tend to hang in pairs.

Posted in The treeblog trees

Traditional Highland uses of birch

The Highlanders of Scotland make everything from it, they build their houses, make their beds, chairs, dishes and spoons; construct their mills; make their carts, plows, harrows, gates and fences; and even manufacture ropes of it. The branches are employed as fuel in the distillation of whisky; the spray is used for smoking hams and herrings, for which last purpose it is preferred to every other kind of wood. The bark is used for tanning leather, and sometimes, when dried and twisted into a rope, instead of candles. The spray is used for thatching houses; and dried in summer, with the leaves on, it makes good bed when heath is scarce.

- J. C. Louden, An Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, being the Arboretum Fruiticetum Britannicum, 1842 (London).

Posted in Miscellany

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