treeblog Set D: Fagus sylvatica & Fagus sylvatica ‘Aspleniifolia’ nuts planted

On the left: a tray full of cut-leaved beech nuts. On the right: a tray full of Wigtwizzle beech nuts. (Photo: today)

Good news treeblog fans! The first part of Set D was planted today – Wednesday the 30th of September, 2009 – in a twofold break with tradition. The last three sets were planted in the spring; this time it’s autumn. All the tree species in the last three sets were planted on the same day; this time, each species will be planted on a different day. Shocker. The three species that will make up Set D are European beech (Fagus sylvatica), sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), plus a European beech cultivar: cut- or fern-leaved beech (F. sylvatica ‘Aspleniifolia’).

The cut-leaved beech nuts, just prior to planting this evening.

“Here we go again. Didn’t you already plant beechnuts, like, two years ago?”

Why, yes I did, Negative Voice. For treeblog Set B, on the 14th of March 2008 I planted a small number of beechnuts collected from the same tree that I collected the Set D beechnuts from, as well as a smaller number of nuts collected from a weeping beech (Fagus sylvatica f. pendula) in Edinburgh.

NV: “Right. And just exactly how many of those nuts germinated?”

Precisely zero, which is why I am trying again. And this time I will succeed.

NV: “Your track record isn’t exactly filling me with confidence.”

Aah, but y’see, I’ve learnt from my mistakes. Last time I did it all wrong. I collected the nuts in the summer and kept them in the house all winter before planting them in the spring… by which time they would’ve been well and truly desiccated. Non-viable. Dead. (And the fact that I collected them in the summer meant I was probably collecting the previous year’s nuts – recipe for disaster or what?) This time around I planted my beechnuts just a few days after collection, and in the time between collection and plantage I kept the nuts from dehydrating by storing them in a couple of small bags of moist compost in the garden. I’ve got numbers on my side this time round too; I must have planted at least ten times as many beechnuts for Set D than I planted for Set B. Foolproof!

The Wigtwizzle beech nuts, immediately before planting this evening.

NV: “What about the rowans and sweet chestnuts? Haven’t you planted those before and weren’t those fail---“

All in good time, sir! All in good time. I’ve got foolproof plans for my rowans and sweet chestnuts too, but they’re best saved for future posts. Dudes, Set D is going to be immense.

Branches of the cut-leaved beech. (Photo: Saturday)

I went for a sweet little walk in the sun on Saturday (the 26th) afternoon. Yew Trees Lane Wood was really good, and by a certain bridge in a certain valley I found what I sought: a local oddity, the cut-leaved beech tree. I couldn’t see any on the tree, but the ground below the canopy was littered with fresh beechnuts, some still attached to their open cupules. I collected a fair amount...

A pair of beechnuts sitting in their open cupule, resting on the leaf litter below the cut-leaved beech. (Photo: Saturday)

My next port of call was just up the road, but I just didn’t have the time on Saturday to pay a visit. I returned on Monday (the 28th), to Wigtwizzle! where there doth grow one very ancient and venerable veteran sweet chestnut, and adjacent, one ancient, towering beech. Nuts were collected from both trees in 2007 for Set B and from just the chestnut in 2008 for Set C; neither set managed to produce a single tree. This year will be different! On Monday the sweet chestnut still wasn’t quite ready to relinquish its spike-protected fruits, but the beech was in full flow. The ground beneath the two trees was covered with thousands of beechnuts, all easy, luscious and ripe for the picking...

The beech at Wigtwizzle. (Photo: Saturday 7th July 2007 – the day I collected the Set B beechnuts)

A cut-leaved beech leaf. Nothing like an ordinary European beech leaf, eh? (Photo: Saturday)

This cut-leaved beech then. What’s it all about? I think a future post may warrant a deeper delve into the mysteries of this unusual tree, but until then here’s what the trusty Collins Tree Guide (Johnson, 2004) has to say:

Fern-leaved Beech, ‘Aspleniifolia’ (‘Heterophylla’), is only locally frequent as a tree of great distinctiveness and beauty, to 28 m, generating interest and sometimes bewilderment. The depth of the [leaf] lobbing varies from clone to clone. In the commonest and most feathery form (seldom grafted), the shoot-tip leaves are narrower or even linear [a few of the leaves on my local tree are very linear, reminiscent of the white willow, Salix alba], and the crown is distinctively pale, matt and fluffy even when seen at a distance; it colours early in autumn. This tree is a ‘chimaera’, with inner tissues of typical Beech enveloped by cells of the sport, so that sprouts with normal leaves will often grow from the trunk and branches, especially after an injury; unlike ordinary reversions, these seldom or never take over the whole crown. In winter, the tree is typically broad with a skirt of fine branches almost sweeping the ground, and has very dense, fine, horizontal or slightly rising shoot-systems; the distinctive leaves are very slow to rot.

My local tree fits all of these characteristics. I suppose it must have been planted by human hand, probably when the bridge was built (early- to mid-1930s). But by who and for what reason?

Slow-rotting leaf litter beneath the cut-leaved beech. (Photo: Saturday)


* * * * *

…To be planted as soon as the nuts are ripe: the Set D sweet chestnuts! …To be planted after a few months of pretreatment: the Set D rowans!


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