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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

Where do treeblog visitors come from?

I’ve been using Google Analytics with treeblog for a couple of months now, and while I’m not sure how accurate it is, it certainly collects a lot of data. I particularly like the “where are visitors coming from” aspect, which is still a novelty for me.

Visitors by continent (March 2009). More than half of all visitors came from Europe, and almost 95% of visitors came from Europe and the Americas. Google classed 0.44% of visitors as “not set”.

Visitors by country (March 2009). Two fifths of all visitors came from the UK, and a third came from the United States. Canadian visitors make up 5%. As well as the top eleven countries on the graph (Poland and Spain rank joint eleventh), visitors also came from approximately another seventy countries and territories (represented by the white segment).

Unsurprisingly, the majority of treeblog’s visitors hail from the English speaking world: from just the top ten, the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Ireland together accounted for over four fifths of all visitors. Cities-wise, 14.64% of all visitors came from London! That’s more than all visitors from Canada, Germany, Australia, France, Italy, Finland, Ireland, Poland and Spain combined! Other cities in the top ten include Manchester (England) (1.75%), Edinburgh (Scotland) (1.59%), Birmingham (England) and New York (USA) (both 1.35%), Glasgow (Scotland) (1.03%), and Sheffield (England) (0.83%). Dublin (Ireland) and Sydney (Australia) are joint twelfth (0.63%). Once more for the record, I’m not sure how accurate these stats are.

* * * * *

Set C update – Day 35 (today): No seedlings have appeared yet. BUT Yesterday as I was rehydrating the seed trays the sprinkler fell off the watering can and a powerful torrent of water, surging forth, gouged a trench through the soil, exposing three Whitwell Moor rowan berries. Before repairing the damage, I took the opportunity to examine the excavated fruits: two were brownish in colour; the third, still red, had a root protruding. Deep joy! Rowan seedlings cannot be far away now!

Set A news too: Scots pine Alpha’s buds have swollen!

Posted in Miscellany

treeblog on Twitter

You can now follow treeblog on Twitter. I’ll be treating it as an extension of treeblog, not as a personal here’s-what-I’m-doing-and-thinking-right-now yo-I’m-at-the-cinema now-I’m-on-a-train-next-to-a-really-sweaty-guy thing. It’ll allow me to publish micro-posts to treeblog by text from anywhere and at anytime (as long as I have a signal), which opens up possibilities for portable treeblogging. I’m not sure how interesting it’ll be, or how many of you will even care, but I’m going to give it a trial run of a few weeks. The last five tweets will be in a box to the right, just below the Google ads.

So, you can follow me, or you could let me know if you’re using Twitter for something similar and I might end up following you.

Here’s a happy frog.

A common frog (Rana temporaria).

Posted in Miscellany

treeblog’s Second Anniversary

The crown of a beech (Fagus sylvatica) in winter. This photograph is contemporary with treeblog’s beginnings. It was taken in Edinburgh on the 3rd of February 2007, probably on Oswald Road in the Grange.

Today is a special day for treeblog; two years have passed since the first post here was published. Revisiting that post today, it reads like a manifesto. I laid down my intentions for this blog, and I have stuck by them.

The purpose of treeblog - the point of its existence - is to form a chronology of the development of a group of trees, right from being planted as seeds or nuts. To chart their development from germination to maturity… supposing that they don’t die before they get there.

And that is what I have being doing. Of course there is much more to this blog. I post the occasional sciencey bit, the occasional newsy bit, and more often than not I post sets of photographs I have taken on walks. But the treeblog trees remain the core of this site.

I planted seeds from three species on the 28th of March 2007. This Set A consisted of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii), and grey alder (Alnus incana). It was largely a success; almost two years later, two Scots pines, fifteen cider gums, and four grey alders are still going strong. View their progress via the Photo-timelines, or read all relevant posts here. I haven’t given a proper update on Set A since the end of November, mainly because the trees change so little throughout the winter, but expect something in the near future.

Fifty weeks after Set A was planted, it was Set B’s turn. This time seeds and nuts came from downy birch (Betula pubescens), mountain pine (Pinus mugo), European beech (Fagus sylvatica), weeping beech (F. sylvatica var. pendula), and sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). Unfortunately, Set B was an embarrassing failure. Only one downy birch germinated, and it quickly died.

What will treeblog’s third year hold? The planting of Set C is a certainty. I’m going to have another attempt with sweet chestnuts, which I collected from the same tree as I did the Set B nuts. This time, I collected a lot more. I’m also reattempting birch, but whether or not I’ll be planting downy birch or silver birch (B. pendula) seeds I’m not yet sure. I’m having a bit of trouble deciding on what species the parent tree belongs to, y’see. The last time I saw it (about a fortnight ago), I was leaning towards silver. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) will complete the set. I don’t want to fail this time!

Enough of looking forwards, let’s have a look behind us. Last year, on treeblog’s first anniversary, I listed ten quite good posts from the inaugural annum. This time I’m listing just five fairly interesting posts from the past twelvemonth:

Thetford silver birch provenance trial (Part 1) (4th March 2008), in which I gather data for my dissertation.

Collecting berries from a favourite rowan, Upper Midhope (17th August 2008), in which I am dismayed at the fall of one of my favourite trees.

A wander in Millstones Wood (24th October 2008), in which I show off some very autumnal photos.

Five favourite photos from 2008 (11th January 2009), in which I explain my five favourite treeblog photos from last year.

Festival of the Trees 32 (1st February 2009), in which I have the pleasure of hosting this month’s edition of the FOTT.

And so begins a third year of tree blogging!

Posted in Miscellany + The treeblog trees

Woodland expansion in Scotland between now and 2050

A recent BBC article caught my eye. The headline, rather sensationalist for a forestry story, was Scotland ‘needs a billion trees’. “Wow,” I thought. “What for?” The first paragraph of the article, which is basically just a rehash of this Forestry Commission news release, reads:

Scotland must plant more than a billion trees if it is to meet a target of having 25% woodland cover by 2050, Forestry Commission Scotland has said.

”What is this target for, and who has set it?” I thought, and started digging through strategies and action plans. The target was set in the Scottish Forestry Strategy 1, which is the Scottish Government’s framework for ‘taking forestry through the first part of this century and beyond’. It was laid before the Scottish Parliament in October 2006. From the Strategy’s Executive Summary:

We would like to see Scotland’s woodlands increase from 17.1% of our land area to about 25%. Work done for Forestry Commission Scotland by Macaulay Research Consultancy Services indicates that this is feasible.

According to the Forestry Commission’s Forestry Facts & Figures 2008 2 and Forestry Statistics 2008 3, there were 1,342,000 hectares of woodland in Scotland as of the 31st of March 2008 – approximately 17.2% of the land area. Therefore an increase to 25% woodland cover will require the creation of approximately 610,000 ha of woodland. I’ve no idea where the BBC got their ‘billion trees’ number from, as I’m sure that ‘trees per hectare’ is a highly variable figure.

The Scottish Government’s Rationale For Woodland Expansion 4 - their Woodland Expansion Strategy – lists a number of woodland creation priorities identified in the Scottish Forestry Strategy under the heading ‘Why do we want more woodland?’:

  • Helping to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Restoring lost habitats and adapting to climate change.
  • Helping to manage ecosystem services.
  • Underpinning a sustainable forest products industry.
  • Supporting rural development.
  • Providing community benefits.
  • Enhancing urban areas and improving landscapes.

The first two priorities are by far the most important in my opinion. As everybody knows, trees capture (or sequester) carbon through photosynthesis. By creating more woodlands, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere decreases and the amount of carbon locked up in forest soils and biomass increases, thus contributing towards the mitigation of climate change. Unsurprisingly, woodland creation features in the Scottish Climate Change Action Plan 2009 - 2011 5, which was launched on the 2nd of February 2009 by Scotland’s Minister for Environment, Michael Russell, and makes for very interesting reading. The Action Plan ties in with the Scottish Forestry Strategy. The November 2008 consultation paper, Climate Change and the National Forest Estate: Consultation on forestry provision in the Scottish Climate Change Bill 6, says it best in this passage:

Many types of woodland creation can contribute cost-effectively towards net emissions reduction, and there is potential to increase Scotland’s woodland and forest area in order to take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The Scottish Forestry Strategy includes an aspiration to achieve 25% woodland cover in Scotland by the second half of this century. Achieving this will mean creating about 10,000 ha of new woodlands each year, locking up an additional 0.2 Million tonnes per year (Mt/yr) of carbon by 2020 and an additional 1.2 Mt/yr by 2050.

That’s a fair old increase in carbon sequestration and woodland cover!

1 The Scottish Forestry Strategy is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/sfs.
2 Forestry Facts & Figures 2008 is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-7j5evb.
3 Forestry Statistics 2008 is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-7j5evb.
4 The Scottish Government’s Rationale For Woodland Expansion is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/woodlandexpansion (Woodland Expansion Strategy link).
5 The Scottish Climate Change Action Plan 2009 - 2011 is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/ccapscotland.
6 Climate Change and the National Forest Estate: Consultation on forestry provision in the Scottish Climate Change Bill is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fcsclimateconsultation.

Posted in Miscellany

Festival of the Trees 32

Hello there. Welcome to the February 2009 edition of the Festival of the Trees, hosted with great pride by your humble treeblog. Take my hand, hold it tight; and walk with me through Festival Forest. Over there, do you see them? Photographs! And what’s that by yon grizzled oak? A poem? There, by that pair of silver birches – see those videos? And all about us the branches hang heavy with a fine crop of blog posts, ripe for the reading! Perhaps today I’ll be able to show you a bark rubbing - ah! Sorry for getting your hopes up: a bark rubbing has never been seen in this forest before...

Let us begin with a stunning winter photograph because after all, in Britain at least, we are fast in the grip of winter.

Lonely Frosty Tree by Nikki-ann of Notes of Life

The beautifully wintry Lonely Frosty Tree by Nikki-ann of Notes of Life.

The yew at Strata Florida Abbey is one of Caroline of Coastcard’s favourite trees. The ruined abbey, founded in 1164, is the traditional burial place of the great medieval poet Dafydd ap Gwilym, to whom there is a memorial beneath said yew. Also near the tree, which has been damaged by storms and struck by lightning, stands an unusual headstone marking the grave of a leg. The brilliant poem, Lament for a Leg, by John Ormond elaborates, and as the poem includes the yew – and did I mention it was brilliant? – I shall post it here in full (or rather, copy it from Poem of the Week):

A short service, to be sure,
With scarcely half a hymn they held,
Over my lost limb, suitable curtailment.
Out-of-tune notes a crow cawed
By the yew tree, amd me,
My stump still tourniqued,
Akward on my new crutch,
Being snatched towards the snack
Of a funeral feast they made.
With seldom a dry eye, for laughter,
They jostled me over the ale
I'd cut the casks for, and the mead.
"Catch me falling under a coach",
Every voice jested, save mine,
Henry Hughes, cooper. A tasteless caper!
Soon with my only, my best, foot forward
I fled, quiet, to far America.

Where, with my two tried hands, I plied
My trade and, true, in time made good
Through grieving for Pontrhydfendigaid.
Sometimes, all at once, in my tall cups,
I'd cry in hiraeth for my remembered thigh
Left by the grand yew in Ystrad Fleur's
Bare ground, near the good bard.
Strangers, astonished at my high
Beer-flush, would stare, not guessing,
Above the bad-board, that I, of the starry eye,
Had one foot in the grave; thinking me,
No doubt, a drunken dolt in whom a whim
Warmed to madness, not knowing a tease
Of a Welsh worm was tickling my distant toes.

"So I bequeath my leg", I'd sat and sigh,
Baffling them, "my unexiled part, to Dafydd
The pure poet who, whole, lies near and far
from me, still pining for Morfudd's heart",
Giving him, generous to a fault
With what was no more mine to give,
Out of that curt plot, my quarter grave,
Good help, I hope. What will the great God say
At Dafydd's wild-kicking-climbing extra leg,
Jammed hard in heaven's white doorway
(I'll limp unnimble round the narrow back)
Come the quick trumpet of the Judgment Day?

John Ormond, 1973

One of my own favourite trees is the lonely oak on Whitwell Moor, or as I’ve started to think of it as, the Lonely Oak. Growing happily beside a path, I’ve walked by this stunted English oak (Quercus robur) more times than I can remember, and I always stop to say hello. I suppose I only began taking notice of the lonely one as an individual two or three years ago, but I would have been past it even as a young child ont’ way t’ trig point. It’s a great little windswept tree.

The Lonely Oak at sunset.

The Lonely Oak at sunset (22nd January 2009).

From a favourite tree to a favourite tree-eater. Dave of Via Negativa profiles the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) - replete with video of a porky pine troughing some eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)! I also heartily recommend his poem, Questions for the Porcupine.

Vicky of TGAW celebrates the fifth anniversary of the reloakation of Old Glory, a big old valley oak (Quercus lobata) in California. It’s an incredible story, and I’ll let Vicky have the telling of it; but if you haven’t heard about this before… prepare to be amazed! The Hertford Tree Memorial Park, the subject of another post at TGAW, is a place where trees are planted in the memory of late loved ones.

Four tree species are put under the spotlight in a quartet of spiffing posts: Seabrooke of the Marvellous in Nature handles the eastern white pine (Pinus strobes); Mary of A Neotropical Savanna takes on one of the autograph trees (Clusia pratensis); Zhakee of Sierra Nevada Ramblings addresses the California sycamore (Platanus racemosa); and Jennifer of A Passion for Nature has the eastern hemlock covered – aye, that old porcupine favourite.

Over at local ecologist, Georgia recollects her favourite trees, which range from fruit trees to baobabs. One of Karen of Rurality’s favourite trees is the monkey cigar tree (Catalpa speciosa), a catalpa with interesting seed pods. Karen also asks what the heck is that spongy black fungus?

Visit Drawing the Motmot for an extraordinary view from the canopy of the Amazonian rainforest, and then head over to the South Florida Watershed Journal where Robert shares what is really the opposite perspective of a different flavour of giant trees at Big Cypress Bend - one of only two stands of old growth cypress remaining in southern Florida. Also in the SFWJ: a short video of two pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) pecking a slash pine (Pinus elliottii).

Read about part of Bev of Journey to the Center’s special journey in return to the redwoods – part 2 and meet the totemic Corkscrew Tree.

My Bodhi by KGT of When I Wax

My Bodhi by KGT of When I Wax. A tree often in his dreams.

Here’s another poem, by Dave Lewis of the Welsh Poetry Competition. It is called Hope.

I went to the forest
To see what I could find.
I found a creature in the trees
Writing songs upon the leaves.
And his words were oh so true
And his words were oh so kind.

He told stories of Man's wars
He told stories of Man's greed,
But no one heard his lyrics
No one heard his cries.
The grown-ups wouldn't listen
And they told the children lies.
And all the time the forest
Was dying seed by seed.

Now the wind has blown like wintertime
And they've chopped the forest down.
The warnings and the prophecies
They're lost and dead and gone.
Except for this one precious leaf
Shouting its Autumn song.

The Lonely Oak shrouded in mist.

The Lonely Oak shrouded in mist (29th January 2009).

Susannah of Wanderin’ Weeta asks how do you recognise a healthy forest? One indicator is a large amount of dead and decaying material, which means nutrients are being recycled back into the soil to be made available for other organisms. Go and have a wander through the deadwood – and woodpecker peckings.

Eric of Neighborhood Nature looks to birds and trees for signs of spring. He uses the maple in the post’s photo to track the changes from summer to winter and back.

Gardners’ Tips gives advice on growing birch – especially silver birch (Betula pendula) – in the garden.

Adea amici degli alberi (Adea friends of the trees) shares a tree-lovin’ video, and Praveen of Tao of Simplicity shares a quote attributed to Ricardo Semler:

I once took a physics course, at the end of which the professor had only one question: How far can you go into a forest?

The correct answer was midway. Go beyond that and you are leaving the forest.

The Lonely Oak in summer.

The Lonely Oak in summer (12th August 2007).

That’s it for this month’s edition of the Festival of the Trees. I hope that your time was spent in an enjoyable manner, and that you found something interesting! Next month’s Festival will be hosted by Georgia of local ecologist. Send your submissions to info [at] localecology [dot] org, or use the online submission form. The deadline is the 27th of February.

And as we left the Festival Forest, we spied some thing take flight through the tangled undergrowth. Could it be…?

common alder bark rubbing

Common alder (Alnus glutinosa) bark rubbing (31st January 2009).

Posted in Miscellany

Amang the Trees


  Amang the trees, where humming bees
    At buds and flowers were hinging, O,
  Auld Caledon drew out her drone,
    And to her pipe was singing, O;
  ’Twas pibroch, sang, strathspey, or reels,
    She dirl'd them aff fu' clearly, O,
  When there cam a yell o' foreign squeels,
    That dang her tapsalteerie, O.


  Their capon craws and queer ha ha's,
    They made our lugs grow eerie, O;
  The hungry bike did scrape and pike,
    ’Till we were wae and weary, O;
  But a royal ghaist wha ance was cas'd
    A prisoner aughteen year awa,
  He fir'd a fiddler in the north
    That dang them tapsalteerie, O.

- Robert Burns.


Festival of the Trees 32
Only five days left now for submissions to the next edition of the Festival, the deadline being the 30th of January - the coming Friday!. Please submit your blog posts, photographs, poetry, works of art, articles, news pieces, bark rubbings and anything else tree-related to mail [at] treeblog [dot] co [dot] uk, making sure that Festival of the Trees or FOTT is contained in the subject header. Alternatively, you can use the online submission form at blogcarnival.com. You do not need to be the author or artist of the content you submit. Although there is no theme this month, it would make my day if you submit something pertaining to a particular favourite tree of yours! A big thank-you to everyone who has already submitted; those who have yet to do so... get to it!

Posted in Miscellany

Five favourite photos from 2008

We’re not yet a fortnight into the new year but I’ve already been casting an eye back over 2008, picking out my five favourite treeblog photos from the year that was. For a photograph to qualify for consideration, I must have taken it in the last year and subsequently featured it on this blog. Higher higher-res (1024px by 786px) copies can be found by clicking on the photos. In order of oldest first...

14th May 2008 The Aira Force money tree, with some of my eco-mates in the background. Back in May I stayed for four nights at the Whinfell Forest Center Parcs village with fifteen buddies, all of us finishing the final year of our ecological science degree at the University of Edinburgh. Mid-week, half of us headed into the Lake District to leave behind the Verruca Dome for a day. And what a beautiful summer day it was! Going along the shore of Ullswater, we spotted a car park and decided that there was no point in driving any further when we were already in such a perfect spot. And I’m so glad we did, because a short walk from the car park we discovered a piece of idyllic woodland complete with lovely stream – Aira Beck – an impressive waterfall – Aira Force – an unbelievably ginormous spruce, and this money tree. A perfect day, and it got even better back at our chalets with a roast dinner and plenty of beer pong.

27th July 2008 There was a spell of incredible weather at the end of July, just before I left Edinburgh behind and returned to Sheffield. I spent quite a bit of time at the Royal Botanic Garden, and on one of my visits I took this photograph of a common lime (Tilia x europaea) inflorescence. The common lime is a hybrid of the small- and broad-leaved limes (Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphyllos respectively).

18th September 2008 I stayed over in my friends’ flat the night before I took this photo. They live in the middle of Sheffield, and in the morning I caught a train to Hope. I then spent a brilliant late summer’s day walking home through the Peak District. I crossed over the River Derwent at Slippery Stones using the 17th century packhorse bridge there. The bridge originally stood further downstream, but if it remained in that location today it would now lie beneath the waters of Ladybower Reservoir. When the reservoir was under construction in the first half of the 20th century, this old bridge was carefully dismantled stone by stone, with the position of each recorded, then reconstructed at its present location. This lonely birch stands just a little further along the path, at the bottom of Cranberry Clough.

26th September 2008 A pearl-studded puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum). It’ll not be long before I plant treeblog’s next set of seedlings – birch, rowan, and sweet chestnut. Near the end of September I went on a mish to collect rowan berries and birch seeds – probably downy birch (Betula pubescens), possibly silver birch (Betula pendula): I sometimes cannot make up my mind with these tricky trees. There were a fair few pearl-studded puffballs under my big birch of choice and I was glad to see they were all in tip-top condition. The only time before I’d seen these things – down in Thetford the previous February – they had been old and dry and liable to shoot out a puff of spores if you stepped on one. And you wouldn’t want a lungful of those; Lycoperdon perlatum spores have microscopic spines and will severely irritate lungs if inhaled in sufficient quantity – lycoperdonosis.

6th December 2008 Deadwood at twilight (probably larch or pine), taken within a kilometre of the above photo but later in the day and year. I took a walk with my father in the chilly late-afternoon-turning-evening through my favourite hunting ground and we found ourselves at this picturesque spot with a bright moon and a clear sky. We both took a lot of photos (I can remember how cold my hands got); of mine, this is my favourite.


And if you didn’t catch ‘em, I also picked my five faves of 2007 just before Christmas. Just sayin’.

Posted in Miscellany

Call for submissions for the Festival of the Trees

This is a call. A call for submissions for the next Festival of the Trees – the thirty-second edition - which will be published here at treeblog on the 1st of February! Please submit your blog posts, photographs, poetry, works of art, articles, news pieces, bark rubbings and anything else tree-related to mail [at] treeblog [dot] co [dot] uk, making sure that Festival of the Trees or FOTT is contained in the subject header. Alternatively, you can use the online submission form at blogcarnival.com. You do not need to be the author or artist of the content you submit.

There isn’t a theme as such for this edition of the Festival; more a personal request. I would like to see all you good folks send in material relating to your own particular favourite trees. I’m thinking of individual trees that you have a special affection for. It might be a tree that you see plenty of on a regular walk, or a tree that you remember picnicking under as a wee kiddy-winkle, or… or anything really. There are plenty of ways that bonds are formed.

The deadline for submissions is the 30th of January, so you have a good three weeks to make your mark on the next Festival of the Trees. Get to it!

The current edition is online at Rock Paper Lizard. If you haven't already done so, go and have a read!

Posted in Miscellany

Five favourite photos from 2007

As 2008 draws to a close, I thought it would be nice to look back on some of my favourite photos of the year. Then I realised that I never did this for 2007, so perhaps I ought to cover that year first, and look back on 2008 next week. This is good time to mention that I have been going through the archives and replacing a lot of the old lo-res (500px by 375px) images with higher resolution copies (1024px by 768px). To view the full-size versions, just click on the photo to be taken to its Flickr photo page, and then click on the ALL SIZES button (above the top left-hand corner of the photo).

To be included on this most exclusive of lists, each photograph had to satisfy the criteria of 1) having been taken by myself during 2007 and 2) subsequently featuring on treeblog while 3) being one of my stand-out faves. I limited myself to just five, and I had a hard job on narrowing it down. But here they, are in chronological order!

3rd May 2007 Yes, this photo did feature in the previous post (an unfortunate coincidence), but it originally featured in a post entitled ‘Blackford Hill gallivanting’. It was a sunny day at the end of my third year at Edinburgh when I photographed these new sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) leaves on a walk up Blackford Hill, which was my territory of choice back then as I lived so close by. I love how the sun highlights every detail of the tender young leaves.

16th June 2007 I took this photograph on a visit to Derwent Reservoir - the towers of the stunning dam wall are seen in the background. I love how the sunlight catches some of the hawthorn leaves.

16th August 2007 Just before I started my final year at Edinburgh, one of my classes went on a field trip to the Italian Dolomites, part of the Alps. It was a brilliant trip in every respect, and the scenery was most conducive to photography. In fact, three of these five favourite photos were taken on that trip! This photograph was taken on our first proper day, when Bruno, a local forester or park official, acted as our guide on a walk up a valley. I have never been anywhere so beautiful in all my life, and this photo is a good one in that it gives some sense of the enormity of the mountains.

24th August 2007 We visited this stunning locale twice. Another place so beautiful words or photos cannot do proper justice. I have got to go back one day, and that day can not come soon enough! The lake is called Lago di Calaita, and off this photo to the right is an old rockslide that we climbed up to reach a higher part of forest.

24th August 2007 The sky at night as photographed from our accommodation for the last three nights of the trip: two log cabins in the middle of nowhere perched halfway up a mountainside! It was really pitch black, but a long exposure brought out detail that the human eye couldn’t see. The remoteness from any kind of built-up area meant that the stars were very prominent, lending the sky a quality I haven’t been able to see in Britain. This photo featured in a post entitled Field trip to the Italian Alps (Part One). The previous couple featured in Part Two.

It’s funny how three of those five photos came in the space of eight days in the Dolomites. It might be something to do with associating the positive memories of the field trip with the photographs. No winter photos made it onto the list. I haven’t picked out five favourites from 2008 yet, but I wonder if any wintry pix will make it into those. Regardless, I can’t see the list being dominated by one trip!

Posted in Miscellany

Sycamore in Britain: native or non-native?

Sunny young sycamore leaves from a walk up Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, on the 3rd of May 2007.

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus L.) is a large deciduous tree common throughout the British Isles. It may be known in Scotland as the plane. Foreign readers of this blog should not confuse the British sycamore, with which I am concerned, with different species growing around the world which are also commonly called sycamore or plane.

The popular view is that sycamore is not a native of Britain. However, I recently read an article from a 1987 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Forestry by Esmond Harris 1, who puts forward a case for sycamore being a British native.

Harris begins with a little digression. The English used to call sycamore “the great maple” or the “mock plane tree”, and in fact the taxonomic name means maple (Acer) masquerading (pseudo) as a plane (platanus), as sycamore leaves are similar to those of planes such as the London plane (Platanus x hispanica) and the Oriental plane (Platanus orientalis). Harris writes that the modern common name “seems to have come from monks returning to Europe who saw its similarity to “sycomorus” of the Bible which is the sycamore fig (Figus sycomorus) of the Middle East”.

Back on the topic of sycamore’s provenance, Harris states the popular view is the tree was introduced to Britain by the Romans, but disputes this by arguing that there is no evidence for this “and anyway, why should they introduce a tree for which they would have no apparent use?” The Romans are known to have introduced useful trees, such as the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), which was grown for its nuts.

Harris dismisses the theory that sycamore was introduced from France in the Middle Ages on the grounds that, even though many writers have referred to this, none provided any evidence. Sycamore’s natural distribution in France does not reach the English Channel, a fact, Harris writes, used to support the non-native theory. Further support for this theory comes from the lack of sycamore pollen in ancient deposits, although Harris argues that sycamore pollen being gelatinous, it “could not be expected to preserve well” compared with “the hard pollen grain of most trees and shrubs”.

“However, with no positive evidence for introduction” Harris writes, “my own view is that sycamore may well be a native because it grows so well all over Britain, even in the most inhospitable places, and regenerates so freely.” I think this is a rather shaky foundation on which to base a theory of British nativity, for there are known introduced species that grow well and regenerate freely all over Britain (e.g. Rhododendron ponticum) while there are also known British natives that are confined to certain localities or habitats (e.g. wild service tree, Sorbus torminalis).

Harris provides examples of references to sycamore from the Middle Ages: a fourteenth century carving of a sycamore leaf in St. Frideswide’s shrine in Christchurch, Oxford; a written record in Turner’s Herbal in 1551; and a mention by Chaucer in Canterbury Tales, written about 1380, who was once a forester. But if sycamore was introduced by the Romans or during the Middle Ages, then why shouldn’t it appear in carvings or books from this time?

The next piece of evidence Harris uses to try to support his theory is also rather flimsy. “Unfortunately the wood of sycamore is so like maple that it cannot easily be distinguished in old wooden artefacts, furniture and musical instruments, where it is usually referred to as maple anyway. However the native field maple [Acer campestre] is too small to have been a significant timber tree.” Actually field maple can reach a height of 25 m (~80 ft) and a girth (circumference) of 3 m (~10 ft) at breast height 2. According to Wikipedia, Rushforth’s Trees of Britain and Europe 3 describes field maple wood as hard and strong and used for furniture and flooring.

Harris’ case for sycamore being native to Britain ends with a whimper. “The question needs to be asked, “what is the positive evidence that sycamore is an exotic in Britain?” After all, it is the only supposed non-native for which there is no evidence of introduction. We know how all the other introduced trees came here.” Not knowing how sycamore was introduced is no argument for saying that it wasn’t introduced! The rest of the article is rather interesting and goes on to describe the growth of sycamore in Britain, and its usefulness in terms of timber, amenity, shelter, and biodiversity.

Harris didn’t manage to convince me that sycamore is a British native. I’m sticking with the popular view that it is an introduced species, albeit a fully naturalised one nowadays. From the Royal Forestry Society of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s site:

[Sycamore] is not native to Britain. Its real home is high ground in southern and central Europe extending northwards to Paris and east to the Caucasus.

When and who first introduced sycamore to Britain is uncertain. It may have been the Romans but it was still scarce here in the 16th century and has only really become established over the last 200 years.

As an epilogue to Harris’s article, there was a response by M. P. Denne 4 (of the Department of Forestry and Wood Science, University College of North Wales) published in the next but one issue of the Quarterly Journal of Forestry. Denne writes that she has “not yet found any sycamore amongst the fragments of charcoal that I have been asked to identify from a number of Neolithic sites in North Wales”. The second half of her letter is a good response to Harris, so I’ll give Denne the last say in this matter.

Judging from the uses they seem to have made of the different timbers on these sites, Neolithic people must have had considerable knowledge of the wood properties of different tree species. Since sycamore can produce good quality timber on a wide variety of sites, and the wood is strong and easy to work, one would have expected it to have been in frequent use if it had been widely available at the time. As Esmond Harris points out, sycamore regenerates freely and grows well all over Britain, even on inhospitable sites. So if it was native to Britain, is there any reason why it might have been relatively rare in Neolithic times?

1 Harris, E. (1987) The Case for Sycamore. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 81 (1), 32-36.
3 Mitchell, A. (1978). Trees of Britain & Northern Europe. Collins Field Guide, HarperCollinsPublishers.
4 Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins.
5 Denne, M. P. (1987). Is Sycamore Native to Britain? (Correspondence). Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 81 (2), 201.

Posted in Miscellany

Bark rubbing

So I went for a walk this afternoon armed with sheets of plain white paper and a blue wax crayon, and I did six bark rubbings. Over moor and under wood, it was a cold day with a clear sky. The temperature must have been close to zero as ice lingered on puddles and the ground was frozen at the top of the hill.

The bark rubbings were taken at about breast to head height on main trunks. The approximate DBH (diameter at breast height) of each tree is noted below each rubbing so as to give an idea of size and age.

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). DBH ~ 1.5 ft.

Pedunculate or English oak (Quercus robur). DBH ~ 1 ft.

European larch (Larix decidua). DBH ~ 1.5 ft.

European beech (Fagus sylvatica). DBH ~ 2 ft.

Birch (Betula) – probably downy (pubescens), maybe silver (pendula). DBH ~ 0.5 ft.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). DBH ~ 1 ft.

Posted in Miscellany

treeblog's cleft-headed looper (Biston betularia) - larva of the peppered moth

A couple of posts back, in the most recent grey alders and Scots pines update, I published a couple of photos of a rather spiffing caterpillar pretending to be a twig on treeblog’s grey alder No. 1. That was on Friday the 7th of November. A week later on Friday the 14th, when I was taking photographs for the cider gums update, I saw that Bud-head (for so I called the caterpillar, after its spectacular bud-mimicking head) was still on alder No. 1. What a beaut! But when I went to check on old Bud-head a couple of days later on Sunday, it was gone. Vanished! Nowhere to be found!

Bud-head on Friday the 14th of November.

What species was Bud-head? I wondered. What would it look like as a moth or butterfly? I didn’t hold much hope that I’d ever find out, after failing to identify the other caterpillars that called the grey alders home this year – see these posts from October and August. But after opening my Insects of Britain and Northern Europe Collins Field Guide, I found what I was looking for pronto. Bud-head is a Biston betularia (L.) – a peppered moth (or, when in caterpillar form, a cleft-headed looper). I was pretty impressed. Peppered moths provide one of the best-known examples of survival of the fittest – probably the most taught example in British education establishments! For those who aren’t in the know…

There are two forms or morphs of peppered moth; one light-coloured and the other dark-coloured, or melanic. Before the Industrial Revolution, most of the peppered moth population was made up of the light-coloured form. Yet once the Revolution kicked off, the dark-coloured form rose to dominance. The accepted theory puts this change down to air pollution. All of the soot and smoke kicked out by the dirty industries of Britain coated buildings and trees. The light-coloured moths used to have a good set of camouflage, but on the blackened, sooty surfaces of the Industrial Revolution they stood out like sore thumbs. At the same time the melanic form fitted in nicely; they suddenly had the superior camouflage. So while their lighter brothers were sitting ducks for predators, the dark-coloured moths thrived. Nowadays, after the decline of our heavy industries, there is less soot and smog in the air, so guess what? The lighter-coloured form is making a comeback.

I’ve just whacked all that down from memory, but if you do some digging, I’ll bet there are some good papers out there with the science to back it all up. Incidentally, judging by its colouring Bud-head is probably of the melanic form (f. carbonaria). Another interesting fact (lifted from the Collins Field Guide):

The name of the family [Geometridae] means ‘ground-measurer’ and is derived from the behaviour of the caterpillars. These are generally long and slender and they have only two pairs of prolegs… When walking they grip the substrate with the prolegs and then stretch out, as if measuring length, to find a hold with the thoracic legs. Having found a hold, they draw the prolegs up close to the thoracic ones and in doing so they throw the body up in a loop – leading to their common name of the loopers.

The Collins also adds to my light-dark story. Apparently the melanic form was first reported in 1848 (the Industrial Revolution took place around the late 18th and early 19th centuries). And:

It is believed that the larvae of the melanic form are hardier than those of the normal moths in the presence of slight air pollution – insufficient to blacken trees and walls. Industrial melanism occurs in many other moths, and in some other groups of insects as well, but in recent years there has been a noticeable drop in the numbers of melanic individuals as a result of smokeless zones in many regions.

Bud-head from behind - now probably gone off to pupate in the soil for overwintering.

Read about the peppered moth on Wikipedia.

Update (26th November 2008): I've had it brought to my attention that this post would be improved by including a picture of the peppered moth. I'll go one better and include two.

Probably the intermediate form, Biston betularia f. insularia. © naturalhistoryman (Flickr).

The melanic form, Biston betularia f. carbonaria. © naturalhistoryman (Flickr).

Posted in Miscellany

The Brown Brontosaurus Brush Mower

If you liked the Timberjack Walking Harvester, you’ll love the Brown Bronto. It eats trees!

Is that not proper mental? The Brown Bronto is manufactured by John C. Brown & Sons in the USA. According to the website,

The Brown Brontosaurus Brush Mower is a complete brush control system that performs year round clearing, even in the most difficult terrain. Running with as little as 18 GPM auxiliary hydraulics allows our mower attachments to be placed on just about any excavator, gradall, feller buncher, high-flow skid steer or custom machine.
Because of our unique design, with the appropriate hydraulics up to 15” material can be mulched and cleared while retaining the ability to still clear the small low-lying brush.

And if the monster in the YouTube video wasn’t enough, take a look at the Brown Bronto photo gallery. A wee Bronto ‘dozer and a double-Bronto train!

Posted in Miscellany

National Red Squirrel Week

red squirrel

Image © James Laing. See it on Flickr.

This week is National Red Squirrel Week (4th – 12th October).
Check out the Wildlife Trusts page here, which contains a list of events running during the Week. The Wildlife Trusts are using National Red Squirrel Week to get the public to record their sightings of red and grey squirrels to identify where the reds are thriving and where the raging hordes of greys are invading previously grey-free areas. Wildlife Extra’s National Red Squirrel Week page provides contact details to report your squirrel sightings to the relevant organisations around the UK. Get involved!

squirrel supporting itself between two tree trunks. “Awesome Ninja Skillz… I has dem”

Image from I Can Has Cheezburger.

Posted in Miscellany

Autumn early this year?

fallen birch leaves litter the lawn

It's only half way through September but there are yellow birch leaves littering our lawn. Is autumn here already? It might as well be. 2008 held the worst summer I can remember, weather-wise. Whole weeks of grim, overcast skies broken up by days of incessant rain. How depressing. Where were those incredibly hot days (and nights) of 2006? Perfect days beneath perfect blue skies.

According to the media, 2008 is shaping up to be one of the wettest years on record. Last year was pretty wet too, what with the Great Sheffield Flood and all. But I do remember talking about how long the leaves were staying on the trees. Up in Edinburgh, I'm sure most trees still had half their leaves well into November. So a late autumn, or at least a late winter.

But this year... autumn starting earlier than normal, perhaps because of the dire weather?

Posted in Miscellany

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

Plustech Oy Timberjack Walking Harvester

I first saw this a few months back. There are a fair few mentions of this thing across the internet, but most of them say roughly the same thing. The harvester is apparently a prototype developed by Plustech Oy, a Finnish subsidary of John Deere. However, I don't think Plustech Oy exists these days. They have no online presence at all, although I did find their (dead and gone) old site, plustech.fi, through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. This is what they had to say about their harvester:

The walking forest machine is Plustech's best-known innovation. The goal of product development was a machine that caused minimum impact to the terrain.

The walking machine adapts automatically to the forest floor. Moving on six articulated legs, the harvester advances forward and backward, sideways and diagonally. It can also turn in place and step over obstacles. Depending on the irregularity of the terrain, the operator can adjust both the ground clearance of the machine and the height of each step.

The machine's nerve center is an intelligent computer system that controls all walking functions - including the direction of movement, the travelling speed, the step height and gait, and the ground clearance. The harvester head is controlled by the Timberjack 3000 measuring and control system. To further optimize machine operation, Timberjack's Total Machine Control system (TMC) regulates the functions of the machine's loader and engine. All control systems are designed for ease of use. The operator-friendly controls are incorporated in a single joystick.

P.S. treeblog Set A and Set B updates coming soon!

Posted in Miscellany

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