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Posted on February 2, 2015 by Ash
Grey alder No. 3 on the 5th of January 2015.
It’s now been just over a year since I last wrote an update on the Treeblog trees. That post reported on a visit my father and I made to the grey alders on the 28th of December 2013. The next time either of us saw the alders was a year later on the 5th of January 2015 (Set A Day 2,840) – nearly eight years since I planted them as seeds with my own hands. This post has the photos and measurements we took on that most recent visit, plus three tables and two graphs which gather together for the first time ever all of the height and stem circumference data we’ve recorded over the years.
For comparison, this is the same tree a year ago on the 28th of December 2013. Perhaps it’s just the different angles the two photographs were taken from, but doesn’t there appear to have been a significant improvement in form over the last year?
It’s not all good news for No. 3, however. Just when all the old stem wounds had about sealed over, fresh damage has been dealt by those troublesome herbivores. Whether the culprit was a sheep, rabbit, or something else, I don’t ken.
A perfect branch-bark ridge and branch collar. I’ve grown some real trees!
Here’s grey alder No. 2 on the 5th of January, the second-tallest of the alders at approximately 4.6 metres. Like No. 3, which grows but a stone’s throw away, it too is thriving and has fine form. Its stem has a girth of 23 cm at the base, and a girth of 15 cm at 1.5 m.
And to compare – this is No. 2 on the 28th of December 2013 (sorry about the dark picture).
No. 2 currently sports a mixture of male and (both mature and immature) female catkins, just like it did the previous winter.
Unlike the rest of the grey alders, No. 2 had managed to avoid any stem damage… until now. This fresh wound near the base of the stem has ended its lucky streak, but it’s nothing serious.
Last and I’m afraid least, this terrible photo shows grey alder No. 1 on the 5th of January. The poor devil is easily the lowest quality alder these days. It is in quite a different location to its two old nursery-mates, and the elements appear to be giving it a far harder time of things. Not only is it the shortest alder at 3.8 metres tall (although the stem is longer than that if we disregard the tree’s pronounced lean), it also has a significantly thinner stem than the other two. I measured the stem circumference as 18 cm at its base and 10 cm at 1.5 m. This winter I only counted mature female catkins on No. 1, but last year it had both male and (mature and immature) female catkins.
For comparison, grey alder No. 1 on the 28th of December 2013 with my father for scale – a much brighter picture!
As evident in this photo, No. 1 has the most wounded lower stem. It is also much slower in ‘healing’ these wounds than the other two alders, simply because it is growing that much more slowly and not laying down as much new wood – its annual rings will be closer together.
Graph 1. The heights of Treeblog’s Set A grey alders.
The graph illustrates that No. 1 was actually the tallest alder in early 2010, when I transplanted them all into the wild – its poor location has clearly had an adverse affect on its growth, allowing it to be overtaken by both Nos. 2 & 3. No. 3 itself actually suffered a major setback in April 2011 when it somehow had its top broken off, allowing No. 2 to reign briefly as the tallest alder. It didn’t take long for No. 3 to recover, but a kink half-way up its stem (noticeable in the first photo in this update) still marks this breakage today. Graph 1 also shows the sorry end of No. 4, which gradually shrinks as it is destroyed by sheep.
Graph 2. The girths of Treeblog’s Set A grey alders.
This graph shows two sets of data for each alder; the larger girths are the measurements taken at the base of the stem, and the smaller girths are the measurements taken at a height of 1.5 m from the ground (about breast height). The story is similar to the heights – Nos. 2 & 3 are performing well but No. 1 is lagging behind. No. 3 is pulling away from No. 2 in basal girth, but both are performing more or less equally in girth at 1.5 m.
Posted on February 9, 2014 by Ash
I recently came across an interesting passage on a tree that groaned in a dusty tome called Old England: A Pictorial Museum (published by Charles Knight in 1845). The author recounts William Gilpin’s sketch of a rather singular elm from his older and dustier tome Remarks on Forest Scenery; and other Woodland Views (first published in 1791). Here is Gilpin’s original description:
The next tree I shall exhibit from New-forest, is the groaning-tree of Badesley; a village about two miles from Lymington. The history of the groaning-tree is this. About forty years ago, a cottager, who lived near the centre of the village, heard frequently a strange noise, behind his house, like that of a person in extreme agony. Soon after, it caught the attention of his wife, who was then confined to her bed. She was a timorous woman, and being greatly alarmed, her husband endeavoured to persuade her, that the noise she heard, was only the bellowing of the stags in the forest. By degrees, however, the neighbours, on all sides heard it; and the thing began to be much talked of. It was by this time plainly discovered, that the groaning noise proceeded from an elm, which grew at the end of the garden. It was a young, vigorous tree; and to all appearance perfectly sound.
Posted on January 8, 2014 by Ash
While I was back down in Yorkshire for Christmas my father and I went off to check up on the Treeblog Set A grey alders, which have now been fending for themselves in the wild since April 2010. I am pleased to report that on the day of our visit - the 28th of December (Set A Day 2467) - all three trees were alive and looking as healthy as they possibly could be for deciduous trees in the middle of winter. I last visited my alders in June with a couple of friends, when we filmed this video outlining their story so far…
Grey alder No. 1 on the 28th of December with my father for scale. Despite being solidly stuck into the ground, No. 1 leans significantly to the north. I think this lean has become more pronounced since my last visit, presumably because of the lack of shelter from wind funnelling down the wee valley No. 1 calls home.
I’m not particularly bothered by the lean. Who knows? Perhaps it will correct itself. The neighbouring rowans hardly seem to have been bothered too much by the wind.
Mature female catkins on grey alder No. 1.
On this visit I counted two clusters of mixed immature male and female catkins and five clusters of mature female catkins, or ‘cones’. I first noticed catkins on No. 1 in March 2012 – back then it was a single cluster of immature female catkins (with the attached remains of a solitary flowering male catkin). On a visit in October 2012 these female catkins had progressed to near-enough full size but were still green; I also noticed a couple of clusters of immature male catkins (preparing to flower in spring 2013). On my last visit, in June 2013, I saw a few clusters of immature female catkins – these are now matured into the woody cones I saw a couple of weeks ago.
The nasty grazing wounds inflicted on No. 1’s lower stem soon after planting out are continuing to close up as more woundwood is laid down. It looks like a rabbit has left droppings here too, although why it needed to leave them so close up against my tree is unclear.
You may or may not know this but alder No. 1 stands about 2 km away from Nos. 2 & 3. A fortnight after planting Nos. 2 & 3, my father and I planted Nos. 1 & 4* on the 14th of April 2010 and afterwards, for whatever reason, we left a record of our passing by on my preferred route between the two spots. We scrawled a message on a piece of papery downy birch bark and hid it in a nook beside an ancient stream crossing point. Rather surprisingly, that piece of bark remains in a remarkably well-preserved state in that very nook to this day! Here it is on the 28th of December…
* Grey alder No. 4 was sadly eaten to death by sheep within a year of being planted out.
…and here it is on the day we left it there, almost four years ago!
Grey alder No. 2 on the 28th of December. Still the best of the alders - it has the straightest stem, no stem damage from sheep, and by far the most catkins.
Silhouetted against the sky at twilight, three woody cones (2013’s female catkins) take centre stage while multiple clusters of immature male catkins hang in the background, biding their time until spring arrives.* Besides the three cones in this photo there was another one on its own, three clusters of female-only immature catkins, and 18 clusters of mixed male/female immature catkins. No. 2 had no catkins at all in 2012, but on my visit in June 2013 I counted at least six clusters of immature female catkins (no male catkins though).
* Interestingly, while walking around Drummond Hill up near Loch Tay on the 3rd of January I noticed an alder (probably common alder, Alnus glutinosa) and a couple of hazels (Corylus avellana) that were already unfurling their male catkins into spring mode! A bit early, surely? And yesterday, in Edinburgh, I noticed a couple of hazels by the Water of Leith that were doing exactly the same thing. Is this because of an unusually mild winter? Back in Sheffield I wouldn’t expect to see alder or hazel catkins flowering until February.
This bark on the stem of alder No. 2 caught my eye – there’s something snakeish about it.
Grey alder No. 3 – very tall and sturdy.
No. 3 had its top broken out in April 2011. I don’t know what happened to cause that, but it recovered quickly and all that remains to tell of that distant event is a slight kink in the stem, plus a fragment of the old broken leader. The kink is apparent in the full-tree photo above and shows that No. 3 has roughly doubled in height over the last two-and-a-half years.
I couldn’t find any cones or catkins on No. 3 on this visit, nor could I find any in June 2012. In October 2011 however, I spotted at least six clusters of immature male catkins.
As you can see by this shot of its base, No. 3 is now almost totally ‘recovered’ from the early sheep damage. Hopefully 2014 will see all of the stem wounds nicely sealed up.
Now then, if you’re desperate for some stats I’m afraid I don’t have any up-to-date height measurements… but please feast your eyes on these stem girth measurements taken at both ground level and 1.5 metres from the ground:
No. 3 is doing well for itself, isn’t it? I’ll be back to visit the alders again in the summer, when I’ll try to get some height measurements. Will we be seeing a five metre tall Treeblog tree in 2014?
Posted on December 9, 2013 by Ash
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.
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.
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.
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 on November 28, 2013 by Ash
I recently came across a report entitled The Plantations on the Estate of Wentworth, Yorkshire in Volume 12 of the Transactions of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society, published by that Society in 1888. (You can find a full copy of the book at archive.org.) The report provides a fascinating first-hand account of estate forestry at the end of the nineteenth century - and the proximity of Wentworth to my hometown makes this of especial personal interest. The devastating effects of industrial pollution are given prominence, and the innocuous line that “For underwood and game cover we find… none take so freely to the soil as the Rhododendron” should ring ominously for every conservationist.
The Plantations on the estate of Wentworth, Yorkshire. By George Dodds, Forester, Wentworth, Rotherham, Yorkshire.
Beginning with the Home Park, which extends to about 2000 acres, we estimate the area under wood, including some plantations that lie contiguous to the Park, at 1000 acres, of various ages. … Some of the trees in the Park have attained to large dimensions, chiefly oak, and it is currently reported here that some of the older and larger specimens are the remnants of the ancient natural forest, which I have no doubt once stretched across from Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire to this part of the country.
The earliest planting here of any note was done by the first Marquis of Rockingham [Thomas Watson-Wentworth, b. 1693 d. 1750], who lived about 180 years ago. It is rather a curious fact that even the trees that appear to be about 100 years’ growth, have not the least appearance of the older trees, as they are now showing symptoms of premature decay, by the stunted and sickly appearance of the foliage that they put on every season. This I attribute in a large degree to the prevalence of smoke and noxious fumes, which have arisen in this locality within the last hundred years or so.
This wood may be said to be one of the Home plantations, as it lies immediately outside of the Park, and extends to 200 acres, varying in age from 6 to 150 years. …
It is about 80 years old… Some very promising specimens of beech and Spanish chestnut are growing here. …
This plantation extends to 180 acres, and is about 150 years old. … This wood has suffered severely from being in the neighbourhood of iron-works, which, however, are now done away with. I have advised to clear the greater portion of the present crop away and replant the ground with the most suitable kinds of trees.
This district comprises a parish and township lying at a high elevation, and is consequently much exposed. The highest part is about 600 feet above sea-level, and lies very exposed to the west wind. The woodlands extend to about 600 acres, and the trees vary in age from 10 to 70 years. … The younger woods have been planted in narrow belts, and mostly on land which has been occupied by old pit workings… This is also a smoke infested district, one of the largest iron-works in Yorkshire being upon the land, and also an extensive colliery. We are kept continually felling dead trees, and I am of the opinion that, if the smoke continues, very few live trees will be found in the course of a few years.
The woodlands in this district extend to about 300 acres. The trees are chiefly oak. …
This is a large wood extending about 450 acres, and lies to the south-east of the town of Sheffield. Portions of it have already been taken up for building sites, and in a few years hence, I have no doubt it will be extensively used for that purpose, lying as it does within easy reach of such an important and progressive town.
This wood lies intermediate between the towns of Rotherham and Sheffield, and receives the full effect of the smoke, sulphur, and other fumes, no matter from which direction the wind may blow.
This wood extends to 510 acres… This is one of the most valuable woods upon the estate, and is no doubt a part of the remains of the Nottinghamshire Forests, as it is situate close to the borders of the counties of York and Nottingham. Some yews in the centre of the wood are of immense size and great age. The are still growing, and very healthy, and may at one time supplied Robin Hood and his merry men with bows and arrows.
An extensive tract of moorland extending to about 1800 acres. This district lies at an altitude of about 900 feet above sea-level… A ravine traverses a great portion of the wood, and upon the slopes, on both of its sides, the trees have done well.
I cannot say that the woods upon this estate have been managed upon the most scientific principles, still they will compare favourably with most other extensive woodlands in the district.
Posted on August 6, 2013 by Ash
A couple of panthercaps (Amanita pantherina) in Millstones Wood.
I went for a walk with my camera through Millstones Wood at the weekend to get some shots of the panthercaps which are presently abundant beneath the beeches (Fagus sylvatica) in the north-eastern part of the wood. I’d walked through the wood earlier in the week and seen all of the mushrooms but I didn’t have my camera on me, so a repeat visit was called for!
A very young mushroom – an ‘Amanita egg’. At this stage the developing mushroom is still completely contained within the unbroken veil.
This young mushroom has fully emerged from its veil, but the cap has yet to open completely. Fragments of the veil remain attached to the cap forming the distinctive ‘warts’ which are a defining feature of many Amanita species.
According to my copy of Roger Phillips’ Mushrooms, the panthercap’s habitat is “in coniferous or deciduous woodland, especially with beech; summer to autumn. Occasional to frequent.” My mushrooms were found in an area of almost exclusively beech woodland with the occasional oak thrown in. Indeed, I saw one panthercap growing right at the very foot of a mature oak, but all the others were growing from the ground litter typical of beech woodland: old rotten beechnut cupules, old rotten beech leaves, beech twigs – and precious little else. The beech and the panthercap are obviously in mycorrhizal cahoots.
The cap is “finely striate at the margin”...
The panthercap is poisonous, by the way; “may be deadly” according to Phillips.
Exiting Millstones Wood onto the grassy hilltop that commands views of the Little Don and Ewden valleys, marked on the map as The Height, another sort of fungus was common. I counted well over a dozen of these small puffballs dotted about – perhaps the mosaic puffball (Handkea utriformis)? I’m not really sure!
Posted on July 7, 2013 by Ash
I have been very lax for a while now in keeping Treeblog updated with the development of the Treeblog trees. I intend to make amends in the coming weeks by posting updates on all the grey alders, Scots pines, downy birches, rowans and beeches in the Treeblog stable – starting now with the Set A grey alders, which last appeared on these pages over fifteen months ago in this update from March 2012. But before I go into an standard update, please take a couple of moments to watch Treeblog’s first ever video which provides a brief overview of the life of my grey alders so far!
This is grey alder No. 1 on the 9th of June 2013 (Set A Day 2265), the same day as we filmed the video. The tree is alive and well; the sheep haven’t been back to finish it off.
This is grey alder No. 1 a few months earlier on the 19th of October 2012 (Set A Day 2032), back when I made a pre-winter tour of the alders with my father.
This is No. 1 on the 9th of June again, taken from a similar angle.
When I visited in October I noticed that alder No. 1 had a cluster of maturing female catkins…
…as well as a couple of clusters of immature male catkins, ready to open up and release pollen in spring.
I also visited the alders on the 30th of December 2012, minus my camera. My notes from that day record No. 1 having some mature female catkins and a few male catkins, No. 3 having many male catkins but no female catkins, and No. 2 having no catkins at all.
On my June visit, No. 1 again had two or three clusters of immature female catkins. I didn’t see any sign of last year’s catkins.
This is grey alder No. 2 in October with yours truly for scale...
…and here’s No. 2 again on the 9th of June. It is still the best of the three grey alders in my opinion.
No. 2 had no catkins at all last year, but on my June visit I counted at least six clusters of immature female catkins (but no male catkins).
Here’s grey alder No. 3 in October…
…and here it is again in June.
In October, No. 3 had at least six clusters of male catkins but I didn’t notice any catkins at all on my June visit.
Now for some tree stats. I made measurements of height, stem circumference at base, and stem circumference at breast height (approx. 1.5 m) on my October and June visits, but made no measurements in December. Previously I estimated height by hanging a tape measure off a stick held up to the height of the trees, but (as seen in the video!) in June I took my bespoke measuring stick, fashioned by my father in 2008 and originally used during my dissertation fieldwork! Heights are approximate to the nearest 0.1 m and circumferences are approximate to the nearest centimetre.
* This only goes to show the potential errors hidden in these measurements!
And here is the base of alder No. 1. It has a much more slender stem than Nos. 2 and 3 and still shows severe wounding caused by grazing sheep. The tree seems to be struggling to compartmentalise this damage by growing ‘wound’ wood.
In stark contrast, the base of alder No. 2 is in pristine condition!
The base of No. 3 still shows sign of sheep damage but the wounds are rapidly being covered over with new wood and should hopefully be undetectable in a few years.
Posted on June 15, 2013 by Ash
…Continuing from Part Two, in which I visited the Glen Lyon Ash.
I don’t think I have ever seen Loch Tay looking so beautiful as it appeared on my 27th birthday – the whole scene was absolutely breath-taking. This is the view west towards the Killin end of the loch…
…and this is the view east. The town of Kenmore (which I had just driven through on my way from Fearnan) can be made out at the point where the River Tay, the longest river in Scotland, exits the loch en route to Perth and Dundee.
Blue skies, snowy mountains, and reflections in a still loch… lovely!
This monster sycamore grows close to the hamlet of Ardeonaig, beside the road which runs just to the south of Loch Tay along its full length between Killin and Kenmore. I’m calling it the Ardeonaig Sycamore, although a more fitting (but probably misleading) name may be the Ardeonaig Plane Tree, as that was the common name for Acer pseudoplatanus once in common usage in Scotland. I discovered this tree last June, being immediately struck by its immense size as I walked by on the Rob Roy Way with a couple of friends (although I had driven along this road at least a couple of times previously without spotting it).
The trunk – and these photos don’t do it justice – really is enormous. It’s just a solid wall of wood. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a measuring tape with me and so can’t provide an accurate size. As you can see, before long the trunk branches into three major stems. Each one would be a respectable sycamore on its own!
When the trunk is examined from the lane, as in the above photo, or when the whole tree is admired from down the lane in either direction, the Ardeonaig Sycamore appears to be in exceptional health. The crown is full and healthy and the stem is flawless – for a tree of such outstanding stature, the expected depredations of age are surprisingly absent.
However… This time I climbed up the little banking / decrepit wall to get a look at the back side of the tree, only to be equally surprised at the amount of decay visible back there! The back half of the tree tells a completely different story to the front half. It appears as though the Ardeonaig Sycamore once had four massive stems, but at some point the back stem broke off completely, probably falling harmlessly into the field behind. In the photograph above, taken looking up at one of the remaining stems, the bottom half of the picture is almost all decaying wood and the associated new growth (the fourth wall of CODIT). The presence of this significant amount of decayed wood right at the base of this huge stem has worrying implications for the tree. I cannot envisage this stem remaining upright for long. In fact, with this amount of decay where all three major stems join the main bole, I would say that in all likelihood this tree is close to disintegrating, with one, two, or all three of the remaining stems falling outwards.
This photograph of the eastern side of the tree shows part of the old wound created when the fourth stem snapped out. Presumably decay was already present to cause that stem to fall, unless it was broken by entirely mechanical forces; however, a wound of this size has undoubtedly promoted further decay, and now the enormous bole is actually mostly hollow at ground level. This is a massive shame. When I came across the Ardeonaig Sycamore last year I thought I had discovered something really special: an enormous veteran tree enjoying the good health of youth. Now I know that it was only putting on a brave face.
And here is one more view of Loch Tay – I can’t resist!
Having left behind the Ardeonaig Sycamore (and Glen Lyon Ash and Fortingall Yew), I made my way to Killin and stopped for refreshment at the Falls of Dochart Inn. The Falls themselves were in low flow and very tame. Unfortunately, before long I had to tear myself away from this enchanting part of the country and make a start on the drive back to Edinburgh… Still, I trust it shan’t be too long before I’m back up at Loch Tay. I am well and truly under its spell!
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