31 posts in the category

Notable trees

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A brief introduction to the Arran whitebeams

Many Sorbus species, including the common and well-known rowan [a.k.a. mountain ash] (Sorbus aucuparia) and the less common and less well-known common whitebeam (Sorbus aria), have a habit of forming hybrids (I have a friend that calls trees that readily hybridise like this, such as the European and Japanese larches, ‘sexy trees’). This has led to a bewildering range of species and microspecies throughout the British Isles, often very rare and/or unique to particular locales. Perhaps the best well-known examples of this phenomenon are the ‘Arran whitebeams’. According to the Forestry Commission:

The Isle of Arran is home to two species of tree which do not occur anywhere else in the world, the Arran whitebeam (Sorbus arranensis) and the Arran cut-leaved whitebeam [a.k.a. bastard mountain ash] (Sorbus pseudofennica).

They are [...] officially classed as dangerously close to extinction by the WWF.

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 fun on Arran doesn’t stop there. A third speicies, the Catacol whitebeam (Sorbus pseudomeinichii), is believed to be the rarest tree in the UK with only two specimens found growing wild on Arran.

This page from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) elaborates:

[...] “It has long been recognised that one of the botanical highlights of Arran are the endemic whitebeam trees. These are unique trees which are native to Arran and not found anywhere else in the world. But the recent investigations into the genetics of the trees with the University of Bristol have shown that the population is much more diverse than previously thought.

“We knew about the Arran whitebeam and the cut-leaved Arran whitebeam, [...] but it has been really exciting to discover a completely new species. It is very complex picture but we think that the Arran whitebeams are gradually evolving towards a new type of tree which will probably look very similar to a rowan.

“So far our surveys have only been able to find two individual specimens of the Catacol whitebeam, so it is extremely rare and pretty vulnerable. Most of the Arran whitebeams, including the new species, are found in the mountains around Glen Catacol and Glen Diomhan at the north end of the island.”

SNH goes on to report that deer fences are being erected to encourage seedlings to grow into mature trees. At present specimens are restricted to cliff faces where they are safe from grazers. Furthermore:

It was previously thought that the Arran whitebeam was a simple hybrid between the rock whitebeam [(Sorbus rupicola)] and the native rowan, and that the cut-leaved Arran whitebeam was a back-cross between the Arran whitebeam and rowan.

However the recent research has shown that these crosses have not been one-off events and that further back-crossing has also taken place. The view now is that the Arran population is best thought of as a complex of hybrids. These seem to be gradually evolving towards a new type of tree which will probably look very similar to a rowan.

The Catacol whitebeam is thought to be one of these hybrids. As it was clearly different from both the parent species it has been recognised as a species in its own right.

According to this article from the Scotsman [15 June 2007] a Catacol whitebeam sapling has been raised by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, so that the species can be propagated and preserved.

Posted in Notable trees

Photos from a camping trip in the Highlands

A few weeks ago a couple of buddies and myself set off on a camping trip. We caught a train from Edinburgh to Blair Atholl early on the morning of Monday the 19th of May. And after four days of walking and four nights of camping, we ended up in Aviemore early the following Friday. We didn't take a direct route; from Blair Atholl we headed over the Minigaig Pass before heading eastwards for a day. Then we turned north and eventually headed back west towards Aviemore through Glenmore Forest Park. This route took us in and out of the Cairngorms National Park a couple of times, and altogether we walked about 100 km. Much of the journey was devoid of trees as we traversed many a mile o' desolate moorland. We saw the odd bit of plantation forestry (spruce-larch-pine), the odd willow or birch nestled in a wee valley... but the real treet came in the form of seeing some Caledonian pinewood remnants, particularly in and around the Glenmore Forest Park.

big conifers in Blair Castle’s Diana’s Grove

Almost immediately after leaving Blair Atholl station, we found ourselves in Blair Castle's Diana's Grove, where huge conifers are all around.

Britain's tallest Japanese larch

Diana's Grove is home to Britain's tallest Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi). This giant is 44 metres (approx. 144 feet) tall!

Other giant trees in the Grove include Britain's tallest red fir (Abies magnifica) - 39 metres (approx. 128 feet) - and Britain's fifth-tallest Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), the tallest tree in the Grove at 59 metres (approx. 193½ feet). An information board at the entrance to the Grove reads:

This Grove or Wilderness, set out in 1737, takes its name from a statue of Diana the Roman goddess of hunting...

The grove is renowned for its exotic conifers, introduced from all over the world, particularly America, many now among the tallest examples of their kind in Britain.

Some of the first European Larch to grow in this country were planted here by the second Duke of Atholl in the 1730s, the seventh Duke continued the tradition by introducing the Japanese Larch in 1884...

forestry machine

After not seeing another soul for a whole day, we descended from the moors early on Tuesday afternoon to be greeted by a bit of forestry work. Some trees were being felled to soften up the edges of a plantation.

stack of timber

This is one of two stacks of timber resulting from said operation.

junipers in front of a scree slope

In the foreground are common junipers (Juniperus communis), one of Britain's three native conifers. Nice to see it thriving up here, as I hear it's declined in some parts of the country.

the River Dee

Looking up the River Dee from the bridge at the Linn of Dee, a short section of rapids. This link opens a page showing a cubic panorama (uses QuickTime) of the Linn of Dee (the Dee must have been running lower when we walked by, as the river was at the bottom of a ravine).

Scots pines on a ridge, silhouetted against the sky

Scots pines in their natural habitat.

Caledonian pine woodland

This photo was taken within the Glenmore Forest Park. Proper Scots pine country.

dead Scots pine silhouetted against the sky

A Scots pine skeleton.

Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

Photos from Aira Force & Center Parcs

In the last post I showed you the money tree at Aira Force in the Lake District. Well, the fun didn't stop there! Besides Aira Force itself, there were further items of interest to be seen further up the trail.

lush countryside view

View over Ullswater from the footpath leading to Aira Force.

sunny oak woodland

Typical view of the oak woodland around Aira Force.

stony woodland river

Aira Beck upstream of Aira Force. The river looked to be a little low in its flow. Old alders were plentiful - a sort of naturally copiced alder is in the middle of the river in this photograph.

large bracket fungus

This large bracket fungus was growing on a poorly-looking alder growing above Aira Beck.

gigantic birch

Check out this behemoth of a birch! It was so big it was barely recognisable! There were a few similar birches reaching the kind of size most birches never even come close to.

massive spruce

And if the giant birches weren't enough, there was this gigantic Sitka spruce, the like of which I ain't ever seen before! This photo does not do it justice, because in the flesh this tree is a jaw-dropping spectacle. That massive branch alone is as big as your standard ready-for-harvesting forestry Sitka!

tall pines against a blue sky

This is the view from just outside our chalet back at Center Parcs, 69 Seven Pines: some lovely pine. Not bad, eh?

weird spruce root growing over another spruce

And finally, this slice of weirdness was just around the corner from our chalet. The Sitka spruce once growing on the right had grown roots over the left Sitka, and the two trees' roots had merged together a bit. Freakish.

Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial

I spent the last week up in the Highlands by Loch Tay, collecting data from the Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial at Boreland (Drummond 34). About three weeks previous to my Highlands trip, I'd been down in Thetford for a week at another silver birch provenance trial (see this post and this post). Whereas the Thetford site was a model provenance trial, all perfect neat rows and level ground, the Drummond Hill trial was a bit of a 'mare. Not as bad as the provenance trial in Ormsary (Kintyre 20) that I visited in September, but still a bit of trouble. The site was split in two by a forest road, and the lower portion was a right weird shape. The ground was all stoney and uneven, and holes made during mounding were often hidden by dead vegetation. It was a pain to traverse, and was real ankle-spraining country. Luckily no injuries were sustained, and I was accompanied at all times by my assisstant forester in case any such sprainage should have ocurred. The upper section of the site was less stoney, but was still full of stumps and holes. And the trees were planted all higgledy-piggledy! Some of this was understandable because of all the stumps and stones and whatnot, but some of it seemed a bit unnecessary. As a result, whilst in some parts of the trial clear rows of birches could be seen and we knew exactly where we were, in other parts we were a bit lost, especially when trees were missing, out of line, or just plain not planted in a nice five-by-five square!

Nevertheless, these difficulties were overcome and I now have all the data I require for my dissertation!

the provenance trial from afar

The provenance trial from afar (viewed from the other side of Loch Tay).

Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial

Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial from a much closer perspective. The birches are behind the deer fence, and in the background you can see a spruce plantation.

view over Loch Tay from the trial

A typical view over Loch Tay from the trial (only typical when the Sun was shining!) - isn't it beautiful?

an old shieling within the trial

I think this is part of a ruined old shieling. There were a few ruins in the lower portion of the trial site, and I think they were all once shielings. The OS map for the Loch Tay area shows an abundance of old shielings all over the place, but the ones in the provenance trial aren't marked on. I wonder whether or not these ruins are known to archaeologists? This page at 'Comunn Eachdraidh Nis' has a good description of what shielings were.

Loch Tay at sunset

Loch Tay. This pleasant scene was seen as we were leaving the trial site at half six on the second day, Tuesday the 18th of March.

fallen ash

When all the hard work was done, it was time for a little sight-seeing. The map showed an incised cross very close to the provenance trial, so I went to look at that. A plaque on the back identified it as the Fernan (or Fearnan) Fair or Market Cross. Right next to the cross a huge ash tree had fallen over, its upper branches reaching over the cross.

wooded isle

In Killin, on an island in the middle of the River Dochart just below the impressive Falls of Dochart, is the Clan Macnab Burial Ground. There was a nice spot of woodland on the island.

farm with snowy mountain in distance

And finally, a view of the farm complex on the Kinnell Estate where I stayed for the duration of my visit.

One last thing. We also made a visit to the nearby Fortingall Yew, the oldest tree in Europe, which is estimated to be between two and five thousand years old! The Wikipedia page gives a basic description.

Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

Majesty, or the Fredville Oak (Kent, UK)

Majesty, or the Fredville Oak - an English or common oak (Quercus robur)

Source. © agaclar.net.

Behold the majesty of Majesty, a.k.a. the Fredville Oak, a common or English oak (Quercus robur) growing in Fredville Park, Kent. I stumbled across a photograph of this beast on the internet a few days ago, and was quite stunned. What a giant! A quick sweep of the internet supplied the following intel.

We do not know of another oak in Europe [aside from Germany's Ivenack Oak] with a volume of over 100 m3 (3531 cubic feet) except perhaps Majesty, the Fredville Oak in Kent, England (19 m /62 feet tall, CBH [circumference at breast height] 12,2 m/40 feet), the trunk of which alone contains over 80 m3 (2825 cubic feet).

Source. Text © of Eastern Native Tree Society.

In Kent, between Dover and Canterbury, the small village Nonington lies. Just to the south of the village the Estate Fredville Park can be found, home to several ancient trees. The mightiest tree of Fredville Park is Majesty, the Fredville Oak... There are six oaks in Britain wich have an even somewhat bigger girth, but these are all short-trunked pollards, whereas Majesty is a 'maiden tree' with a long trunk up to 9 m ( 30 feet) height. In total the tree is 18 m (60 feet) tall.


Till recently Majesty was quite anonymous: even in the village nearby many villagers did not know of its existence. Since Thomas Pakenham payed attention to it in his great book 'Meetings with remarkable trees' [*] it gets more visitors, even groups from Holland as well as Japan!

[* Meetings with Remarkable Trees, by Thomas Pakenham (first published 1996).]

Source - visit for some great photographs of the oak. Text © of Jeroen Philippona.

This tree is now on my 'list of champion trees I want to see in person'!

Posted in Notable trees

Giant Yorkshire oak trees (1829)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Notable trees

The Plane Tree of Hippocrates

the Plane Tree of Hippocrates (June 26th 2006)

On the Greek island of Kos, an ancient plane tree occupies Platanou Square in the capital, Kos Town. Located close to the harbour and the Castle of the Knights, it is under this plane tree that Hippocrates, oft regarded as the 'Father of Medicine', is according to legend said to have taught many of his students some 2400 years ago. Another legend tells of St Paul the Apostle standing beneath the plane tree, speaking to the inhabitants of Kos and spreading the word of Christianity. According to Wikipedia its crown has a diameter of about 12 metres, which is currently supported by a cage of green-painted metal.

the Plane Tree of Hippocrates (June 26th 2006)

Contrary to the legends, the current tree is almost certainly not as old as they require. Yet it is likely that this tree is a descendant of the original tree, or perhaps a new tree that grew from the still-living roots of the original tree once its above-ground parts had expired. Thomas Pakenham, in his Remarkable Trees of the World (2002, Weidenfield & Nicolson), writes:

For centuries people have believed that this is the tree under which the great healer sat when he taught medicine to his disciples in the 5th century BC. I would like nothing more than to share their faith. [...] But kill-joys will point out that the wood of the oriental plane tree, Platanus orientalis, rots relatively quickly. Today the main trunk is a hollow shell like an old gourd. True, there are large branches growing out of the cage from the east side of the gourd; and there is a new trunk, layered from a branch on the west side about a century ago, now forming a delightful dome of young branches. But I doubt whether the original tree, whose trunk is now a shell, is older than 600 or 700 years.

But wait, say the fans of the great healer. Suppose there was a plane tree there in Hippocrates' day. Of course, it didn't live 2500 years. But its roots did. [...] The trunk, this old gourd, may be the fourth generation of the great healer's trees sprung from the roots.

the Plane Tree of Hippocrates (August 3rd 2004)

I have visited the Plane Tree of Hippocrates twice; in August 2004 and again in June 2006. I must confess to being disappointed upon first seeing it, after hearing rumours of this legendary, ancient tree. But after visiting it for a second time, I could imagine its true size, as if its hollow trunk was still solid and whole.

the Plane Tree of Hippocrates (August 3rd 2004)

Posted in Notable trees + Holidays and field trips

The Capon Tree (May 2007)

Last Saturday I travelled back home from Edinburgh. The Capon Tree at Jedburgh is en route, so it was no trouble to stop and check it out again. The old veteran has made it though another winter and is now in full leaf. These photos just don't do justice to the Capon Tree's impressive size.

the Capon Tree

the 'front'

the 'back'

the lower bough

the upper bough

the Capon Tree

Posted in Notable trees

Anne Frank’s chestnut tree to be felled

Hot on the heels of the fall of El Grande, more bad news from the tree world:

The famous chestnut tree mentioned in Anne Frank’s diary is to be cut down. Amsterdam council said on Thursday it has no option but to agree to the felling of the 27 tonne tree which is diseased and could be dangerous if it falls. The tree, which is officially listed, is situated in the enclosed courtyard between Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht.
[Source: DutchNews.nl]

The horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), popularly known as the ‘Anne Frank Tree’, featured in the famous diary. The tree was visible from the attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis during the Second World War. It is estimated to be between 150 and 170 years old, making it one of the oldest chestnuts in Amsterdam. For several years the tree has been attacked by the Artist’s Conk fungus (Ganoderma applanatum). Horse chestnut leaf miner moths (Cameraria ohridella) have also been a significant problem. A study in 2006 concluded that 42% of the tree was rotten. Many botanists believe that the tree is close to collapsing, and the owners applied for a permit to carry out a preemptive felling which has now been granted. After the felling, grafts will be planted on the same spot where the chestnut tree is standing and a new tree will grow. A few quotes from Anne Frank’s diary:

February 23, 1944
The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.

Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs, from my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind. As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.

April 18, 1944
April is glorious, not too hot and not too cold, with occasional light showers. Our chestnut tree is in leaf, and here and there you can already see a few small blossoms.

May 13, 1944
Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.

Posted in Notable trees

El Grande, Australia's largest tree, toppled

Poor old El Grande. Australia’s largest tree, killed through the folly of man, has been blown over in strong winds. The Herald Sun reports:

Standing at 79m [259 feet], the massive Eucalyptus regans - known as El Grande - stood unharmed by man for almost four centuries until the Forestry Tasmania burn-off went out of control.

..."This is the last chapter of a very sad story of mismanagement of our forests by Forestry Tasmania," Wilderness Society Tasmania campaign coordinator Geoff Law said. "Forestry Tasmania admitted killing the tree with a forestry burn in 2003. They would have cut it down in 2002 except the Wilderness Society blew the whistle on them.

…"It could have been an icon to the planet, but instead it has disappeared through incompetence."

Following the fatal burning, an inspection of El Grande was undertaken in April 2003 by the Wilderness Society. Some of the observations are quite amazing:

- The lower butt of the tree had been exposed for approximately ½ - 1 metre by a bulldozer or a similar machine. Some roots had been exposed and damaged.
- The fire had burnt to the tree and then had been drawing into the ground-level openings.
- The dry rot and wood inside the trunk had ignited and the configuration of draught holes at the base with outlet holes further up had acted like a furnace and chimney.
- The temperatures generated within the tree core mush [sic] have been extremely high, virtually "cooking" the tree from the inside-out!
- The external furnacing had extended to 60-65 metres where the flames appear to have exited from some hollow branches of this level. N.B. The charring is visible!

El Grande, although not the tallest tree in Australia, was the largest in terms of volume. According to gianttrees.com.au (managed by the Giant Trees Consultative Committee), El Grande had volume of 439 cubic metres and a diameter of 595 cm (234 inches). Alas, this champion Eucalyptus regnans, estimated to be 350 years old, is sadly no more.

Posted in Notable trees

The Capon Tree

The Capon Tree is situated on the bank of the River Jed about two miles south of the Scottish Border town Jedburgh. It is one of the last remnants of the ancient Jed Forest, most oaks of which were cut down during the Napoleonic Wars. Estimates of its age vary, although it must have reached a decent size by the mid-eighteenth century for in 1746 six of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s men were hung from its branches. Some time during the twentieth century its massive trunk split in two, and its branches are now supported by wooden struts. However, the Capon Tree is still alive and apparently doing well. I have visited it a few times, as it is on the way to Edinburgh from my home in Yorkshire.

In 2002, in celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the Capon Tree was designated one of fifty Great British Trees by the Tree Council in ‘recognition of its place in the natural heritage’

The Capon Tree in December 2010.

Posted in Notable trees

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