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Autumn at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Autumn is once again a receding memory, growing dimmer everyday as we continue the inexorable slide into the darkest depths of winter… But try hard enough and it’s still possible to cast our minds back to a time when the trees still had leaves; when warm shades of gold, orange and red coloured the landscape; when the mercury didn’t sit so low in the thermometer.

I moved up to Edinburgh from Sheffield at the end of September. (I lived here for the best part of four years previously, while I studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh.) My flat is no more than a ten minute walk from the outstanding botanic gardens, which are one of my favourite things about living here. I paid the gardens three visits with my camera in one week soon after I moved in. How about some autumnal photographs then?

28th September 2013

This towering deodar (Cedrus deodara) grows close to the East Gate. It is a beautiful and imposing tree, one of the finest in the gardens.

Looking up into the hefty crown of the deodar - how many branches? How many growth points? What tonnage of timber?

A neighbouring big, old sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) seems sadly to be in serious decline. The tree was rather sparsely foliated at the time of this visit, but at that point in the autumn natural leaf loss would have been premature. It’s a shame because it’s another fine tree. A major branch has a few old wounds on it, one of which sported a nice bit of fungus. It’ll be interesting to see how the tree looks in spring.

I came across these Pholiota squarrosa mushrooms growing at the base of a big European beech (Fagus sylvatica). They were also growing around the base of a nearby heartnut, a variant of the Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis). P. squarrosa is a parasitic white-rot fungus that attacks a wide range of host trees.

This mushroom was growing under a pine tree… …along with its wee pal.

This dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) in the Chinese Hillside part of the gardens was positively radiant. The needles - here so vibrantly illuminated - are now long gone, this being a deciduous species.

29th September 2013

This oak really stood out from the crowd!

A nice cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) growing in front of the 1960s glasshouses. At least this tree will keep its leaves all winter long.

3rd October 2013

Autumnal maple leaves.

On this visit I was quite keen to get some photos of the mushroom population. There weren’t so many of a big enough size to stand out as I strolled along, but if I just stopped for a moment to study the mulch that surrounds the base of every tree, there were far more mushrooms to be seen than most people would have realised. Perhaps these are waxcaps of some sort?

The distinctive spiny cupules of sweet chestnut. Apparently the nuts can’t attain their full size in the British climate, so the roasting chestnuts that appear in the shops for winter are imported from the continent. I had a bag of roast chestnuts at Edinburgh’s European Christmas Market last week – they were enormous and very tasty!

I’m fairly sure this is a hare’s foot inkcap (Coprinus lagopus). This mushroom is quite interesting; according to Wikipedia, “As the mushroom matures, the shape of the cap becomes more conical or convex, and finally flattens out, with edges curved upward. The veil is initially whitish, then turns to a silvery grey or grey-brown; it eventually splits up, becoming hairy (fibrillose). ... In maturity the gill edges dissolve (deliquesce) into a black liquid. These mushrooms are evanescent, lasting only last a few hours before death…”

Posted in Gone for a walk

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (27th July 2008) Part 2: Assorted photographs

common lime inflorescence

Inflorescence on a common lime a.k.a. European linden (Tilia x europaea). The common lime is a hybrid of the small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) and the large-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos).

cider gum

A cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) tree!

ribbon gum and cider gum

Two eucalypts in front of one of the glasshouses: another cider gum on the right, and in the background a ribbon gum a.k.a. manna gum (Eucalyptus viminalis).

cider gum foliage and seed pods

Cider gum foliage and seed pods. These are the ‘mature form’ leaves, as opposed to the ‘juvenile form’ leaves currently seen on treeblog’s own cider gums.

a grove of six giant sequoias

A grove of six giant sequoias a.k.a. Sierra redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The largest tree in the world, General Sherman, is a giant sequoia.

large sweet chestnut tree

This sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) tree has a massive trunk, which splits into three huge boughs.

looking up a large sweet chestnut bough

Looking up one of the huge boughs. I saw three different sweet chestnuts in the Garden and all were of massive girth. I bet they are easily some of the biggest trees in the collection.

sweet chestnut male flowers and developing cupules

Male sweet chestnut catkins in full bloom. The bright green spiny female parts will develop into the distinctive spiky cupules which each usually contain three chestnuts.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (27th July 2008) Part 1: Sorbus arranensis and Sorbus pseudofennica

Well, I was down at Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens on Sunday (third time that week) and it was a glorious day. I had myself a good time walking around in the sun admiring trees and taking several hundred photographs. My favourite bit of the Gardens is the Highlands area just on the left when you come in at the East Gate. Not because it is particularly well laid out, or that there are any especially interesting specimens in there, but because it is planted with the things that I am most familiar with and fond of: Scots pines, silver and downy birches, gorse, heather, bilberries (blaeberries), rowans, brooms, alders, foxgloves… These kinds of flora are familiar to me from trips to the Highlands, but mainly from living on the edge of the Peak District, where all of the above are abundant.

Anyway, three small trees in the Botanics' Highland bit specially caught hold of my attention after writing this recent post on Arran whitebeams. Two of the trees were Sorbus arranensis (a.k.a. Arran whitebeam); the third was a Sorbus pseudofennica (a.k.a. Arran cut-leaved whitebeam a.k.a. Arran service tree a.k.a. bastard mountain ash). Neither of the two species are found anywhere in the world except the Isle of Arran. Says the Forestry Commission:

Only a few hundred trees of each species exist, clinging perilously to the steep rocky slopes of two remote glens at the north of the island.

The Arran whitebeam was first recorded in 1897...

The other rare hybrid, the Arran cut-leaved whitebeam, was first noted in 1952. [...] Both species were more abundant in the past, but have been forced to retreat to their restricted enclaves as the island was progressively improved for agriculture.

small Sorbus arranensis

This is the smaller of the two S. arranensis trees. As you can see, it is only a young 'un.

leaves on the small Sorbus arranensis

And these are some of the leaves of the small S. arranensis.

larger Sorbus arranensis

This is the larger S. arranensis. A poor photo, but it gives an idea of the form.

 Sorbus arranensis leaves

Leaves from the top...

 Sorbus arranensis leaves

...and some from the bottom.

S. pseudofennica

The S. pseudofennica, squeezed in between a rowan and a birch.

S. pseudofennica leaves

S. pseudofennica leaves...

S. pseudofennica leaves

...more leaves...

S. pseudofennica leaves (undersides)

...and the silvery undersides of even more leaves.

I found a paper by Robertson, Newton and Ennos (my dissertation supervisor and one of my old lecturers) - Multiple hybrid origins, genetic diversity and population genetic structure of two endemic Sorbus taxa on the Isle of Arran, Scotland (Molecular Ecology (2004) 13, 123–134) – that clears up the origins of both of these Arran whitebeams. From the abstract:

In this study, we use an array of genetic markers in a population analysis to elucidate the hybrid origins of the Arran whitebeams Sorbus arranensis and S. pseudofennica, two woody plant taxa endemic to the Isle of Arran, Scotland. It has been proposed that S. arranensis was derived by hybridization between S. aucuparia [rowan] and S. rupicola [rock or cliff whitebeam], and that subsequent hybridization between S. arranensis and S. aucuparia gave rise to S. pseudofennica. Analyses of species-specific isozyme, nuclear intron and chloroplast DNA markers confirm the proposed origin of S. arranensis, and indicate that S. aucuparia was the female parent in the hybridization. Analysis of microsatellite markers suggests that there have been at least three origins of S. arranensis on Arran. Microsatellite markers also support the proposed hypothesis for the origin of S. pseudofennica, and indicate at least five hybrid origins of this taxon.

And from the Introduction, an explanation of the origins of S. rupicola, the subject of the last treeblog post:

...S. rupicola... (rock whitebeam), itself an autotetraploid derivative of S. aria [common whitebeam]. It is most likely that S. aucuparia was the female parent involved in this cross because S. rupicola produces seed apomictically, but has significant pollen fertility of 20%.

Being the kind and generous human being that I am, I have attempted to sum up all of that information in the following simplified graphic:

Arran whitebeams family tree (haha!)

Now, I think I'll end the post here. I have more material for a future post about whitebeams in Holyrood Park (again), but I think regular readers must be sick of Sorbi by now so I'll lay off 'em for awhile!

Bonus picture!


When I was photographing the S. pseudofennica this fly accosted my hand. So I took a photograph and was pleased to see what a big fly looks like from so close.

Posted in Miscellany

Rock whitebeams in Holyrood Park

rock whitebeam leaves

Rock whitebeam leaves; upper surface (left) and silvery lower surface (right).

Rock whitebeam (Sorbus rupicola) is a small tree endemic to north-west Europe. According to ukwildflowers.com, rock whitebeam is

Absent from the south east of England and central and Southern Ireland, the few trees which exist are scarce and slightly more frequent the further north you go.

Not so long ago I stumbled across this .pdf document which provides details of rock whitebeam and its distribution in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park. The document, marked “Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership”, is over eight years old now so I will take the liberty of plagiarising big chunks of its content:

Rock whitebeam is found on steep rocky slopes or cliffs of basic rock at low to moderate altitude. It often grows in inaccessible situations... Mature individuals readily produce flowers and fruit, the latter probably being distributed by birds in order to regenerate the species in new locations.

Rock whitebeam is apomictic, which means that it can produce viable seed without the need for sexual exchange as well as preventing the possibility of any crossing with other related species. Populations are often very small and it is quite common for single trees to exist in isolation.

Regarding Holyrood Park’s population, the document has this to say:

[Rock whitebeam] has probably never been common in Edinburgh, with numbers particularly declining since the turn of the century. Rock Whitebeam has been known from Holyrood Park since 1813…

Only one large ‘mother tree’ and one or two very young saplings remain on Dunsapie Crag with a further two or three on the rock face of Raven’s Crag west of Duddingston Loch. However, it is possible that there are still trees hidden away in one of its former sites or elsewhere.


Fire damage, both accidental and as a management tool, has probably had the single largest impact on the Edinburgh population of rock whitebeam. Rabbits are keen to eat the bark of the closely related rowan, and so it is likely that rock whitebeam has also been targeted. This may be the main reason for its occurence [sic] only in inaccessible places.


Although fire is no longer used as a management tool in Holyrood Park there is always the possibility of accidental fires being started. Indeed, the prevelance [sic] of fire may increase as gorse, which is highly flammable, is likely to extend its range as a consequence of the recent removal of grazing cattle and sheep from the Park and the fact that it is no longer collected for winter fodder.

Hearing that there were rare trees within a short distance of our flat, last Monday (July 21) I went on a mission with my flatmate and fellow ecologist to Dunsapie Crag to see a rock whitebeam up close. We were in luck: there were three of them at the Crag. There was a big one high up the rocky Crag face, which I presume to be the aforementioned ‘mother tree’; a smaller one beneath the ‘mother’ but still on the face; and a smaller one still growing in the grass beneath the Crag.

the ‘mother tree’

The ‘mother tree’.

the youngest rock whitebeam

The youngest rock whitebeam with Dunsapie Loch in the background. The leaves in the photos at the beginning of this post belong to this tree.

all three Dunsapie Crag rock whitebeams

All three Dunsapie Crag rock whitebeams.

We didn’t go and have a look for the rock whitebeams that the “Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership” said were on the face of Raven’s Crag, but on the way back around the west side of Arthur’s Seat we spied a couple of young specimens just below the path.

two new rock whitebeams

Two more Holyrood Park rock whitebeams - new discoveries?

And coming in a future post… more whitebeam wonders at Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens.

Book announcement: Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees, authored by Nalini M. Nadkarni, is a recent release by the University of California Press. Check it out here. UC Press have generously offered to send me a copy to review, so keep your eyes peeled for treeblog’s inaugural book review!

Posted in Miscellany

1 am (25th June 2008)

tree through a window at night

Posted in Miscellany

Squirrels in Britain: the red v. the grey

Grey squirrel in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (25th of June 2008).

As you most likely already know, the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is Britain's native squirrel. But over the last century or so it has been largely superceded by the grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), a native of North America. The greys outcompete the reds, which are then displaced from their territories. According to the Forestry Commission:

Greys can feed more efficiently [than reds] in broadleaved woodlands and can survive at densities of up to 8 per hectare. The density of reds is up to 1 per hectare in broadleaved woodland but can be as low as 0.1 per hectare in coniferous woodland.

The grey squirrel also hosts the ‘squirrel pox’ virus, by which it is rarely affected. But the disease can be passed on to reds to whom it is fatal. The range of red squirrels in Britain is therefore much smaller today than in the good old days before the greys were introduced.

From the point of view of British ecologists and conservationists the reds are the goodies and the greys are the baddies. Of course, individual grey squirrels don't know that they are invasive aliens causing the extinction of a fellow species. They are just doing what comes naturally. But the undesirability of the grey squirrel isn’t limited to its interactions with the reds; greys are predators of bird nests and strip the bark from trees, leading to poorer trees and poorer woodland owners.

Red squirrel at Cluny House Gardens, Aberfeldy (18th of November 2011).

So what is to be done? Land managers with a vested interest in reducing grey squirrel numbers (whether for the benefit of red squirrels, trees, or other wildlife) have a few options. Greys can be trapped, poisoned or shot. The Forestry Commission uses poisoned bait, but doesn’t advocate large-scale culls:

Eradication is not a feasible or desirable option given current methods. Worldwide, the record on eradicating small successful introduced mammals is very poor with research showing that low-level widespread culling has no impact on either grey squirrel numbers or upon damage to trees and priority species. As such it is ineffective and a waste of resources.

Even with new methods and unlimited resources, a successful eradication policy would require the total support of the public. Evidence suggests that a substantial proportion of the public would not support a grey squirrel eradication policy. This policy aims to create a balanced approach to wildlife conservation: controlling grey squirrel populations at a level which does not threaten our native woodlands and priority species.

So, member of the public… would you support a grey squirrel eradication policy? I would. The benefits are greater than one might first suspect: see these stories from the Guardian (quoted) and the BBC!

At Ridley's Fish and Game shop in Corbridge, Northumberland, the owner David Ridley says he has sold 1,000 [grey squirrels] - at £3.50 a squirrel - since he tested the market at the beginning of the year.


Simpson likens the taste to wild boar. Ridley thinks it is more a cross between duck and lamb. 'It's moist and sweet because, basically, its diet has been berries and nuts,' he said.

Both believe its new-found popularity is partly due to its green credentials. 'People like the fact it is wild meat, low in fat and local - so no food miles,' says Simpson. Ridley reckons that patriotism also plays a part: 'Eat a grey and save a red. That's the message.'


'A large squirrel would be enough for one-and-a-half people. The public really are being drawn to it. I think that it's because it is being perceived as a healthy meat. Southern fried squirrel is good. And tandoori style works. It is especially tasty fricasséed with Cornish cream and walnuts. But the one everyone seems to like is the Cornish squirrel pasty.'

Grey squirrel in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (25th of June 2008).

Posted in Invasive species + Pests and diseases

Ash at night, Edinburgh (10th April 2008)

ash tree silhouetted against night sky in Edinburgh

The view from my bedroom window at about half an hour past midnight on the morning of April the 10th. Well, actually all I could see was blackness and a crescent moon, but this was a fifteen-second exposure. The tree in the centre is an ash (Fraxinus excelsior).

Posted in Miscellany

Marcescent oak leaves in Holyrood Park revisited

Back on the 14th of December I had a wee wander in Holyrood Park and bumped into a couple of young oaks. One was standing naked, but the other was covered in marcescent leaves. I wrote in this post "These dead leaves will probably spend the whole winter attached to the tree. I'll see if I can remember to go back and check in a month or two." Well, I did remember. And the leaves are still there.

marcescent oak on 14th December 2007

The marcescent oak as it stood on the 14th of December 2007.

the same oak on the 18th of February 2008

The same oak today, the 18th of February 2008. Most of its leaves still remain.

oak with no leaves

Its buddy is still starkers, obviously. The orangey blur in the centre of the photo is the marcescent oak in the background.

close-up of a marcescent oak leaf

Detail of one of the marcescent leaves.

gorse flowers

A bit of gorse. Gorse can flower at any time of the year!

pine needles and cones

There is a little bit of a pine wood growing right in the middle of Holyrood Park. I'm guessing it's all Scots pine.

alder silhouetted above Arthur's Seat

There were a few juvenile alder trees knocking about near the pines. At least one was old enough to reproduce - notice the seed cones and pollen catkins dangling from this branch silhouetted above Arthur's Seat.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Form: beech, horse chestnut, lime and willow

Look here. I've dug out some photos taken last year on February the 3rd. It was a lovely day with a beautiful clear sky. And some of the leafless trees in the Grange area of Edinburgh looked stunning against the wide blue yonder.

European beech

European beech (Fagus sylvatica). Smooth silver bark and fine, delicate branches.

horse chestnut

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastaneum). Thicker twigs than beech. Notice how the branches droop downwards but have recurved tips.


Lime (Tilia) - whether common, small- or large-leaved I do not know. Notice the dichotomy in size between the main branches and the finer twigs.


Willow (Salix) - I think. I can't remember, but it sure looks like willow.

Posted in Miscellany

Marcescent oak leaves in Holyrood Park

I had a wee wander in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, yesterday. And guess what I saw? Some marcescent leaves, of course.

marcescent oak leaves

Marcescent oak leaves.

dead oak leaves still on the tree

These dead leaves will probably spend the whole winter attached to the tree. I'll see if I can remember to go back and check in a month or two.

completely bare oak tree

But wait! Just a stone's throw away, this oak stands completely devoid of any leaves. Why?

the two oaks - not far between them

See how close the two oaks are? Only about ten metres. The marcescent oak is ringed to help distinguish it from all that gorse. Hunter's Bog can be seen in the centre of the picture.

Posted in Miscellany

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

Blackford Hill gallivanting (3rd May 2007)

young sycamore leaves

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) - flower and new leaves.

young sycamore leaves - backlit

Young sycamore leaves backlit by the Sun.

early elder inflorescence

Early elder (a.k.a. elderberry) (Sambucus nigra) inflorescence.

young sycamore leaves

The young leaves of a small sycamore which was decapitated when a patch of gorse was cleared. The sycamore is a lot quicker off the mark in terms of recovery, by the look of things.

gorse shieldbug

The gorse shieldbug (Piezodorus lituratus). Tenuous tree link: feeds on gorse, which is almost a tree. A wannabe tree.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Wild cherry and gorse (30th April 2007)

wild cherry flowers

Wild cherry (a.k.a. gean) (Prunus avium) flowers in the garden.

wild cherry in blossom

Wild cherry blossom.

gorse with Arthur's Seat in background

Gorse in flower, with Arthur's Seat in the background.

Posted in Gone for a walk

A walk on Blackford Hill (27th April 2007)

horse chestnut inflorescence

Close-up of a horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) inflorescence.

gorse flowers

Vivid gorse (Ulex europaeus) flowers. I know gorse isn't technically a tree, but it can grow fairly big, woody trunks!

elm leaves

Some species of elm of which I am not quite sure - probably wych elm (Ulmus glabra.

elm bark

The bark of a close-by elm of the same species growing on a rocky substrate. Quite a big one; must have avoided Dutch elm disease.

Posted in Gone for a walk

A walk in the Hermitage of Braid (Part 2)

More photos from my Wednesday wander in the Hermitage of Braid. Monochrome!

First up: a stand of trees on a small mound. Some beech and a huge sycamore in there, so I remember. A lot of storm damage though, with plenty of deadwood on the ground and a couple of dead trunks.

trees on a mound

This next photo is a closeup of a nicely decomposing dead standing trunk. Check out the little holes made by woodworm or perhaps some kind of bark beetles.

deadwood close-up

This tall and skinny tree looked like a sycamore. I'm not totally certain it was though - I can't ever remember seeing one so gaunt. But with this being in the bottom of a narrow valley, it would have had to grow tall out of necessity.

tall and skinny sycamore?

Finally, I have a photograph of a fallen branch in the Braid Burn (a burn is the Scots word for a stream or small river).

fallen branch in the burn

Posted in Gone for a walk

A walk in the Hermitage of Braid (Part 1)

Yesterday I took a walk in the Hermitage of Braid, a small valley woodland area in Edinburgh. The trees are mainly broadleaved species, and there are quite a few big old specimens. Take the following, for example:

unidentified tree - maybe a Tilia?

Unfortunately, I didn't pay too much attention to what flavour tree it was. From the photograph the branches look beechey but judging by the bark I'd say this is probably some kind of lime (Tilia) or maybe an oak.

The next photograph shows another tree of the same species with an impressive wound. There was a fair bit of wind damage like this in the Hermitage.

wounded soldier

Even with all the deciduous trees still devoid of leaves, this little sycamore seedling growing on a burn-side rock appeared like a symbol of the impending spring.

sycamore seedling

The beech buds in the next picture might remain closed for another month or so yet. Bring on the summer!

beech buds

Posted in Gone for a walk

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