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The treeblog trees

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treeblog update (Set A, Day 782): grey alders & Scots pines

Yesterday (Set A, Day 782), and another break in the rain, I got outside and photographed grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3, both Scots pines, and the post-Set A unknown seedling (PSAUS). And the potted birch seedlings from Set C, but that’s a different post.

Scots pine Alpha in its new pot. Since Alpha’s last appearance on treeblog in the Day 754 update almost a month ago, it has grown a fine set of candles. The leading candle is the tallest by far – the close-up view below allows the young needles to be made out.

This candle performs a clever little trick daily: it leans over, and then straightens itself up again. One may expect it to grow towards the sun, in whose direction it sometimes does lean; but mostly the candle leans away from the sun towards a dark wall of conifer. Perhaps the candle is showing a tendency to grow towards warmth. The dark, flat surface of the conifer hedge will probably radiate a fair bit of thermal energy when warmed by direct sunlight.

Scots pine Gamma: not as developed as Scots pine Alpha in the candle stakes.

Grey alder No. 1. Whilst the grey alders are much bigger trees than the Scots pines, they are still stuck in the same-sized pots. I’ve got my eye on some 30-litre pots to rectify this unacceptable situation.

Grey alder No. 2, the smallest of the four.

Root nodules at the base of No. 2 (at least I assume that’s what they are). A photograph of these same nodules appeared in the Day 702 update when they were dull orange, not crimson. It might just be the angle of the photographs, but they seem to have grown a bit bigger since then. They contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria of the genus Frankia that take nitrogen from the atmosphere, where it is unusable by the tree, and ‘fix’ it into compounds that are used by the tree.

Grey alder No. 3.

No. 3 has a large-cotyledoned seedling growing at its feet, probably either an ash (Fraxinus excelsior) or a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus).

The PSAUS, although perhaps it ought to be henceforth known as the PSAW for it has now been recognised as a willow. What flavour of willow it is remains to be seen, however. Candidate species are goat willow (Salix caprea) – a clump grow locally – and white willow (Salix alba) – a large specimen grows quite close by.

The willow’s blackened old leader remains, even though it died off last autumn.


* * * * *

Set C(r) news - Day 68 (yesterday)
Two more seedlings in the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan zone: WM3 & WM4.


Posted in The treeblog trees





Grey alder No. 4 grievously harmed. A moral dilemma.

Grey alder No. 4 earlier today.

Admire its rain-spattered leaves…

…and the base of its trunk, as thick as a strong thumb.

A sunny interval after days of near-incessant rain saw me out in the garden this afternoon looking to take enough photos for a treeblog update. Unfortunately yet predictably the sun didn’t stay out long enough for that, but I did get some photos of grey alder No. 4. Then I noticed that the treeblog flagship has once more come under attack. Last year it was caterpillars; this year it’s much more serious. Those caterpillars were only interested in leaves, and leaves are easy come, easy go. But whatever is attacking the Beast this year is taking big chunks out of stems. And not just any stems, but specifically new ones at the top of the tree. The very leader is amongst those stems damaged.

Damage to one of grey alder No. 4’s upper stems.

Damage to the actual leader, just a few centimetres below the very top of the tree. Outrageous!

More damage.

Even more damage: a near-severed section of stem.

Who is causing the damage? Almost certainly some form of insect. But what? Aphids? There are a few on the tree, but surely greenfly can’t devour stems in this manner. Wasps? My father suggested that they could be to blame. I’ve read that they can chew through succulent stems, apparently to access water.

So far the other three alders don’t appear to have been damaged, but I am worried that the harm done to the leading shoot may cause grey alder No. 4 to fork, stopping it from becoming a great standard tree. I don’t want to see further damage inflicted, but I’m faced with a moral dilemma:

To use pesticide or not to use pesticide, that is the question.

I don’t agree with the use of pesticides. They are generally harmful to the environment; they are inherently unnatural; they are cheating. But. My alder means a lot to me. I have put a lot of effort into raising and documenting it; I have grown very fond of it; I want to prevent further harm from befalling it. Ten, twenty, fifty years down the line, I want grey alder No. 4 to be a great tree.

Dear reader, what stance would you take on this dilemma?


* * * * *

Set C news - Day 67 (today)
A further five seedlings (Nos. 5 to 9) found in sweet chestnut territory, but I have serious doubts over their authenticity.

Set C(r) news - Day 5 (today)
A seedling is discovered in the newly replanted rowan tray (‘Whitwell Moor’ zone). Again, I am suspicious over its authenticity - would a rowan have sprouted in so short a time, and without any pretreatment? Still, I’ve flagged it as Whitwell Moor rowan No. 2 (WM2). WM1 was found on the 8th of May (Set C Day 58) pre-replanting.


Posted in The treeblog trees





Set C rowan seeds replanted. Some Set A trees repotted.

The ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan seeds after cleaning.

After exhuming the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan berries and extracting the seeds on Sunday, I did the same for the ‘Upper Midhope’ rowan berries yesterday. I also removed any trace of berry from all of the seeds, then today I replanted them. FYI kiddo, today is Set C(r) Day 0 / Set C Day 62 / Set A Day 776. It’s hard to keep track sometimes, isn’t it?

The ‘Upper Midhope’ rowan seeds after cleaning.

Set A also saw some replanting, or rather repotting. Both Scots pines received a much-needed pot upgrade, as did the larger cider gums: Nos. 2, 7, 12, 13 and 14. All were repotted in a two-parts compost, one-part sand mixture. The rest of the Set A characters need repotting too but they’ll have to wait a bit: I’m all out of compost and sand now. Looks like a trip to a garden centre or the B&Q is on the cards then, where I’ll also be looking to procure four super-large pots for the grey alders.

The newly potted treelings. From left to right (in the big pots), cider gums Nos. 14, 2, 13, 7 and 12, then Scots pine Beta and Scots pine Alpha on the end. Cider gum No. 10, still in one of the old pots, is included for scale. The rowan seed tray is there too!

treeblog updates for all the trees coming soon!


Posted in The treeblog trees





Set C: 25 birches are transplanted & rowan berries are exhumed

I spent some time yesterday transplanting twenty-five birch seedlings out of the seed tray and into small plant pots, two per pot. Which twenty-five? All of the birches from No. 1 to No 30 except No. 29 – the tricot – and Nos. 8, 18, 19 and 20. Why those twenty-five? I decided to transplant just the first thirty birches for reasons of time, space, and their delicate nature. I’m not sure transplanting them at so an early stage is such a good idea, which is why I’ve left tricotyledonous No. 29 in situ for now – I don’t dare risk disturbing it. Nos. 8, 18, 19 and 20 I can no longer tell apart from each other and surrounding seedlings, so they’ve been left behind in the seed tray, lost in their own tiny forest. All the other seedlings in the birch tray, for the time being, will be left to their own devices.

Birches Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 7, mid-transplant (all to the same scale). These four had particularly long roots which were fairly free of soil.

I also sifted through the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan tray and removed all of the berries (sixty days after I planted them on the 11th of March), a course of action explained in this post from a week and a half ago. Before doing this I had to transplant the only seedling in the tray into a pot. It was very tiny and I’m quite sure it wasn’t a rowan. Still, it might be interesting finding out what it is.

Once I’d exhumed all of the berries, I rinsed them in a bowl of water and embarked on the long and tedious task of squishing them between my fingers and removing the seeds. Some of these decaying berries held no seeds; a couple held five seeds; most contained two or three seeds. Once all of the seeds were removed, I gave them another rinse. They have now been dried off and later on today I intend to give them a good cleaning to remove any clinging traces of berry. Then they’ll be replanted! The whole process needs repeating for the ‘Upper Midhope’ rowan berries, but there aren’t nearly so many of those.

A handful of exhumed berries before rinsing. There were way more than the few seen here!

The fruits of my labour, or maybe the labour of my fruits: the rowan seeds in submerged. Not one had germinated so far as I could tell.

The waste product heap. This handful of slimy rowan berry mush went in the compost bin.

This big grub or maggot, about four centimetres long, was lurking in the rowan tray’s soil along with a smaller grub, several small earthworms, and a long orange centipede. The surface of each seed tray is also home to numerous springtails.


Posted in The treeblog trees





Set C: the story so far (Days 50 to 59) & a tricotyledonous birch

Birches Nos. 29, 32, 46 and 53 this afternoon (Day 59).

Exciting tidings! One of the birch seedlings has turned out to be a tricot! Birch No. 29 (in the above photo) has three cotyledons, not the normal amount of two. I have previously found two tricotyledonous seedlings (both sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus): one near Edinburgh in spring 2005 and another in the Ewden Valley in spring 2007. The first one died a couple of days after I collected it because I had nowhere to plant it as I was staying away from home. The second one (which appeared on treeblog back in the day) died mysteriously a month or so after I collected it. That was a bit upsetting so I hope it’ll be third time lucky with my birch tricot, the first one I have seen.

Set C: the story so far… (contd)
I was away from Monday to Friday so news from Days 54 to 58 comes courtesy of my father.

Day 50 / 30th Apr. ‘09 - Birches Nos. 25 and 26 appear; also the first non-birch germinations - two seedlings in sweet chestnut territory. These look so much like the birch seedlings, however, that I wonder if they’ve sprouted from self-sown birch seed.

Day 51 / 1st May ‘09 - Thirteen more birches (Nos. 27 to 39), as well as a third seedling in the sweet chestnut zone.

Day 52 / 2nd May ‘09 - A further eight birches (Nos. 40 to 47).

Day 53 / 3rd May ‘09 - Another two birch seedlings (Nos. 48 and 49).

Day 54 / 4th May ‘09 - Birch No. 50.

Day 55 / 5th May ‘09 - Birch No. 51.

Day 56 / 6th May ‘09 - Four more birches (Nos. 52 to 55) and a fourth “sweet chestnut” seedling.

Day 57 / 7th May ‘09 - Another five birches (Nos. 56 to 60).

Day 58 / 8th May ‘09 - At least seven more birches (unflagged) and the first seedling in the ‘Whitwell Moor’ rowan tray. It also looks just like a birch seedling.

Day 59 / 9th May ‘09 - The first seedling in the ‘Upper Midhope’ rowan section; this one actually differs from the birches. But is it a rowan or a self-seeded weed? Only time will tell. On the birch front, I don’t have any exact figures, but there were a lot of unflagged new seedlings in the tray today. The total number of birches must be close to a hundred now, and with so many of them growing close together, and new ones popping up at the base of existing flag-poles, it’s become impossible to keep track of them all. That’s why there hasn’t been any new flags for two days now.

Tomorrow I plan on doing a bit of treeblog work. I want to transplant as many as possible of the earlier-germinating birches into pots to free up some room in the seed tray. I also want to exhume the rowan berries, strip out and clean all of the seeds, then replant them. The Scots pines and most (if not all) of the cider gums would benefit from being repotted, as would the post-Set A unknown seedling (PSAUS). The alders could also do with new pots, but they’d have to be pretty big!

In case you were wondering, this is what a birch (either Betula pendula or Betula pubescens) looks like when it is a few years old. This one was found growing in the garden a couple of years ago by my father.

Any idea what these are? I found a few of them lying on top of the soil in the Set C seed trays today. At first I thought I was seeing some new kind of seedling because of their similarity to a pair of unopened cotyledons, but I was wrong. They also look a bit like anthers, so perhaps they have blown in off some flowering plant. Then again, they don’t appear to have any pollen on them. Another treeblog mystery!


Posted in The treeblog trees





Raising trees from seed: treeblog vs the Forestry Commission, or Set C mistakes

Before we get stuck in to the main course, would Reader like a starter? Another two seedlings were observed in the birch tray yesterday (Day 50), bringing the total to twenty-six. On top of that, a Set C first: two seedlings were discovered in sweet chestnut territory! But are they really sweet chestnut seedlings or just weed impostors? I’ve never seen a sweet chestnut seedling before, but I had a mental image of them being, uh, beefier. At least they’re not nettles

Anyhoo, I was browsing the internet the other day when I came across a Forestry Commission Practice Guide entitled Raising trees and shrubs from seed (Gosling, 2007). “This could be relevant,” I thought, and relevant it is. As hoped, the guide provides advice on raising all three of treeblog Set C’s species from seed. It would seem I’ve not been going about things in quite the right fashion.

The Set C birch seeds. I collected them from an impressive tree on Whitwell Moor. Those catkins (more correctly “strobiles”) were chock-a-block full of seeds too.

Birch:
According to the guide, birches are fairly easy to germinate. As “orthodox seeds”, birch seeds can be dried and stored for a long period of time. One of the recommended methods of storing birch seed (for no more than one winter) is to “Store in a loosely-tied polythene bag in the main compartment of a refrigerator (approximately +4°C)”. I kept my seeds in a plastic sandwich bag in my bedroom, which is obviously warmer than a fridge. The guide recommends either sowing in Jan-Feb to pretreat naturally or sowing in spring with or without artificial pretreatment. The recommended pretreatment here is to keep the seeds cold (about 4°C) for three to nine weeks (isn’t that just keeping them in the fridge a bit longer?). The guide classes this pretreatment of birch seeds as “Generally effective: a significant proportion of live seeds should germinate

I pretreated my birch seeds by moving them into the shed for a few weeks before planting, and things seem to be going well. Twenty-six seedlings so far, a number I’d be very happy with if I knew for certain they were all birches. I actually sowed several hundred birch seeds, so only twenty-six seedlings looks like a poor rate of germination - but I don’t have anywhere to keep hundreds of birch seedlings!

The Set C sweet chestnuts. I collected them from a magnificent old tree at Wigtwizzle.

Sweet chestnut:
The guide devotes a paragraph to the curious phenomenon of “suicidal” seeds:

…some very small seeds, such as willow and poplar, and some very large fruits, such as oak, sycamore, sweet chestnut and horse chestnut, die quite soon after being shed from the tree – one of the last properties you would normally associate with seeds. The fruits are killed if they dry out and at present there is no known method of doing anything more than slowing down their rate of deterioration. It is therefore only worth collecting seeds of these species if you can sow them fairly quickly, or are prepared to suffer significant losses over, for example, one winter’s storage.

Great. It goes on to describe chestnuts as recalcitrant – highly perishable. One thing you can’t do is to let these things dry out: “if they are frozen or dried, they die”. I didn’t have anywhere humid to store my chestnuts, so I stuck them in the shed all winter. The air in the shed is certainly not as dry as that in the house, but I wouldn’t exactly call it humid. At least I didn’t put them in the freezer.

Still, there is some hope. According to the guide, if you store your freshly-collected chestnuts at low temperatures (3°C to 5°C) – to slow seed deterioration and minimise fungal growth – and high humidity – to retard drying – then you’ll only suffer 60-70% losses over a couple of years. Well, my nuts mightn’t have been kept humid, but they were kept cold (hopefully not too cold) and were only in storage for one winter, so at least some of them ought to still be viable. Later on, the guide warns that “sweet chestnut… will typically decline from 90% to 50% germination over the 10-24 weeks between collection in October/November to spring sowing in March/April”.

The good news is that while they are a pain in the backside to store, sweet chestnut, along with poplars, willows, oaks and horse chestnut, are the “easiest to germinate of all tree species”. No pretreatment is required.

If Set C, like Set B before it, fails to bear treeblog any young sweet chestnuts, then Set D will have to succeed! If it comes to that, then in the autumn, as soon as a new horde is collected, they shall be buried in compost and kept cool and moist all winter.

I collected these, the majority of the Set C rowan berries, from a tree on Whitwell Moor. A further eighty or so berries were collected from a tree near Upper Midhope.

Rowan:
So far it looks like I did okay with the birches, and I might yet scrape through with some sweet chestnuts, but how did I do with the rowans? Ha! terrible!

Rowan berries tend to contain two seeds, although they may hold more. I did not know this when I planted my rowans still in berry form - I thought they only had the one! Something I did think about but failed to act upon is this: rowan berries are eaten by birds; birds digest the berries; birds excrete the undigested seeds; the seeds then grow. How I wished for caged birds to eat my berries in a sort of controlled berry-digesting, seed-cleaning sweatshop. Alas! this just wasn’t practical and I didn’t fancy doing the birds’ job myself (what if I digested both berries and seeds?). In the end I simply planted the berries whole, which was a bit silly:

Fleshy fruits are also some of the most awkward and certainly the messiest to process. …very occasionally a little fermentation can help. However, for seeds such as hawthorn, holly and rowan, fermentation can be significantly harmful or even fatal and is therefore to be avoided. Subsequently, most seeds will need repeated washing not only to remove the clinging remnants of sticky flesh, but also as a means of removing chemicals that have the potential to inhibit germination.

Germination-inhibiting chemicals? Oh no! (At least rowan seeds, like birch seeds, are “orthodox” so can be dried and frozen for storage. My berries experienced the same storage conditions as my birch seeds.) Anyway, once your rowan seeds are nice and clean with no tarrying trace of berry, they can enter pretreatment hell. The guide describes pretreatment as “Only partially effective: even with the longest pretreatment durations and/or several pretreatment cycles”! Still, it recommends 2-4 warm (about 15°C) weeks and 16-30 cold (about 4°C) weeks of pretreatment. Awesome.

I think I’m going to have to exhume my rowan berries, release the seeds from their fleshy prisons, and replant. No time for pretreatment though. Maybe the next winter can be contracted to perform that job if nothing germinates before then?

Level of shame = high.

* * * * *

Raising trees and shrubs from seed is a great little guide. It provides a host of advice on collecting, preparing, storing and planting seed. You can download it free from here: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/fcpg018.pdf/$FILE/fcpg018.pdf


Posted in The treeblog trees





Twenty-four birches in Set C (Day 49)

At the last count, at half five this afternoon, there were twenty-four seedlings in the birch tray. I think it’s reasonable to assume that at least the majority of these seedlings really are birch, as opposed to self-seeded weeds, considering that there isn’t a thing growing in either of the other three trays (which contain sweet chestnuts, rowan berries, and half sweet chestnuts, half rowan berries respectively). Innovation! I’m keeping track of the seedlings by planting a little numbered flag next to each one; this will allow the future trees to be photographically tracked back to their very earliest days of germination. This might seem (be) pointless or anally retentive, but I regret having not done the same thing with the Set A seedlings. I have photos of cider gum and grey alder seedlings from the early days, and I don’t know whether those seedlings were eaten by slugs/snails* or are still in the treeblog stables today. Which slightly irritates me.

The flags are made of cocktail sticks and Sellotape. I wrote identifying numbers on the sticky sides of lengths of tape then folded the lengths back on themselves around the tops of cocktail sticks, thus sticking the two halves together - with the ID numbers safely weather-proofed between twin layers of tape.

* No seedling massacre this time! Set C is safe within a fortress built of slug pellets!

The birch tray earlier today: lots of flags, lots of blue slug pellets, and lots of birch seedlings (only a few of which are visible).

Set C’s birches: the story so far…

26th Sep. ‘08 - I collected seed from a tree on Whitwell Moor.

Day 0 / 11th Mar. ‘09 - Set C is planted.

Day 40 / 20th Apr. ‘09 - A rooted seedling is discovered lying on top of the soil.

Day 44 / 24th Apr. ‘09 - The first seedlings proper appear – four of them!

Day 45 / 25th Apr. ‘09 - A fifth seedling appears.

Day 47 / 27th Apr. ‘09 - Another five seedlings appear.

Day 48 / 28th Apr. ‘09 - A further eleven seedlings appear! No. 5 is rescued and relocated; it had been growing right at the edge of the tray and had fallen down the gap between the soil and the plastic edge.

Day 49 / 29th Apr. ‘09 - Three more seedlings appear, bringing the grand total to twenty-four.

treeblog’s most pointless image ever? I said I thought it would be good to have photos of all the seedlings from their earliest days, but really? I can make out bugger all from here, and the large version isn’t much cop either.

Nevermind. Here’s a nice big close-up to make it all better again:

Birch No. 1. That red spot between the cotyledons looks like more leaves are on the way!


Posted in The treeblog trees





First Set C seedlings appear! (Day 44)

Great joy! Checking the Set C seed trays yesterday (Day 44) I found what I have long waited for: the first proper seedling! A pair of little green leaves was poking above the soil in the birch seed tray, and upon closer inspection a further two seedlings were partially covered up just an inch away, right at the edge of the tray. And then I noticed a fourth seedling just beginning to poke through an inch from the first. What’s more, when I checked the trays today, I saw what looks like a fifth birch seedling coming through!

Aaw, isn’t it cute? I might be jumping the gun a little (what if it dies / gets eaten / isn’t a birch), but this can be birch No. 1. By the way, I’ll keep these photos labelled as “Betula sp.” until I ID the parent as a silver (B. pendula) or downy (B. pubescens) birch. [Update (5 July 2009): These seedlings are all downy birches!]

And these can be Nos. 2 and 3. No. 1 is just in frame on the right.

Birch No. 4. No 1 is in the photo again, this time in the bottom left.

Now for a bit of history to put the timings of these germinations into perspective. In 2007 Set A was planted on the 28th of March and we had seedlings sprouting in force thirty days later, Day 30 being the 27th of April. In 2008 Set B was planted on the 14th of March but it only produced one seedling, also a birch, which unfortunately died within a couple of months; that seedling was first noticed on the 10th of May, fifty-seven days after planting. So now for 2009: Set C was planted on the 11th of March, and the first seedlings were noticed forty-four days later on the 24th of April. A rooted rowan berry with no stem or leaves has been seen (one and a half weeks ago) – so rowan seedlings shouldn’t be too far away. As for the third Set C species, sweet chestnut, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that they grow. Sweet chestnut was also a failed Set B species.


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 754): grey alders & Scots pines

Say a big hello to the latest treeblog update, this time around updating you on the progress of the grey alders, the Scots pines, and of course, the post-Set A unknown seedling (PSAUS). I took these photographs on Monday (the 20th), 754 days after Set A was planted; while I was at it I took a tape measure to each of the treelings to measure their height before their growth explodes.

The PSAUS, looking rather lovely in the sunshine. It’s leafing out and branching out. 13 cm tall (from the base to the tip of the stem).

Grey alder No. 4. The tallest of all the treeblog trees at a whopping 91 cm. Primo!

Grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3. 75 cm, 55 cm and 65 cm high respectively.

Scots pine Alpha. 17 cm tall.

Scots pine Gamma. At 12 cm tall, this one’s the shortest in this update.

How will the heights have changed by the end of the summer? Will grey alder No. 4 still be the big daddy? Will PSAUS finally get a positive ID???


Posted in The treeblog trees





A few developments from Sets A & C

I was out in the sunny garden on Monday photographing and measuring the grey alders and Scots pines for a Set A update, which I’ll post tomorrow. Here are five miscellaneous photos that shouldn’t mind being left out of an update:

So on Monday, or Day 40, while undertaking my daily scrutinisation of the Set C seed trays, I noticed sommat in the birch tray. Not bethinking it to be a seedling, as it was lying on the soil surface, I gently hoisted it upon a fingernail. Lo! twas a birch seed with a root! After a photo I put it back under a light cover of soil, or more accurately, compost. Will it carry on growing and develop into a bona fide seedling? Or will it wither away before ever amounting to aught? Nothing more has been seen or heard of the rooted rowan berry accidentally excavated on the 14th…

From Set C to Set A: the uppermost buds of Scots pine Alpha (there are a pair much further down the stem). Any time now I expect the large terminal bud, swollen with spring, to erupt into new needles.

One of grey alder No. 4’s leaves. The leaves of all four alders currently don’t look like normal grey alder leaves, either because they are the first leaves of spring or because they aren’t yet fully developed.

Cider gum No. 15, scarred survivor of the New Year’s hoar frost. It’s not dead, it’s got buds! Little red ones!

Cider gum No. 3, not just scarred, but killed off by that same frost. But was it? Low down on its stem, this tiny branch. It was there before the frost – I’m not saying it has grown since then. But I do say it looks like the old freak may still have life in it yet!

And in other news, my father and I completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge yesterday.

* * * * *

The next edition of the Festival of the Trees will be hosted by Orchards Forever from the 1st of May; the theme is trees in bloom. Don’t forget to submit.

* * * * *

Saturday 25th April – Monday 4th May
The sculptures of three fine art students – Elizabeth Green, Fran Morris and Lizzie Latham – will be on display at the Cradle outdoor art exhibition in Bournemouth Lower Gardens. Their work has the common theme of using trees as the setting for their sculptures. Click here for more information.


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 741): cider gums

Grey alders: check. Scots pines: check. Cider gums: coming right up sir. Two by two sir, just like Noah’s menagerie.

The last cider gum update (2nd March - Day 704) was ordered so that gums of a similar size were displayed in pairs. For this update, I’ve paired the cider gums in numerical order (excepting the three runts, Nos. 3, 6 and 15, which appear on their own). Thus Nos. 1 & 2, Nos. 4 & 5, Nos. 7 & 8, Nos. 9 & 10, Nos. 11 & 12, and Nos. 13 & 14. This arbitrary* arrangement makes for some interesting height discrepancies that I think give a better impression of the actual range of sizes within the cider gums.

* Not entirely. Nos. 1 - 3 germinated before Nos. 4 - 9 which germinated before Nos. 10 - 15 (the first, second and third wave respectively).

Next time I’ll just get a tape measure on the job. Photos taken on Tuesday (741 days since planting).

Cider gums Nos. 1 and 2.

Cider gums Nos. 4 and 5. No. 4 has several frost-damaged leaves, which can just be made out in the photo (for higher-res versions of any photo on treeblog, click it and then the ‘ALL SIZES’ button). Check out all that moss!

Cider gums Nos. 7 and 8. No. 7 is the tallest of them all. Look how it dwarfs the rather nice No. 8.

Cider gums Nos. 9 and 10.

Cider gums Nos. 11 and 12. No. 11 looks a mess: small, frost-bitten, and bent over to one side so. Poor thing.

Cider gums Nos. 13 and 14: the Branching Duo.

Gut, ja? Well, things aren’t looking so well with the runts…

Cadaverous cider gum No. 3. By all appearances, deceased. That damned hoar frost over New Year’s did it in! But can the Freak really be an ex-cider gum? So long as that bit of stem around its fork remains green, I’ll keep some small hope aflame. Can No. 3 rise from the dead?

Cider gum No. 6. The only one of the runts that I can say is fine with any conviction.

Cider gum No. 15. It’s bad, very bad… but it might not be fatal. While the top has definitely kicked the bucket, some mid-section leaves retain some greenery. And could those red blobs be buds? Can No. 15 pull through? That damned hoar frost.

* * * * *

Set C update – Day 30 (today): Still no sign of germination. Two years ago, the first Set A seedlings had germinated by Day 30. Still, Set A was planted two and a half weeks later in the year than Set C, so Set A’s Day 30 was at the end of April. If there aren’t any Set C seedlings by the end of this April, I shall be getting worried. I can’t handle another Set B.


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 741): grey alders & Scots pines

Spring is doing things to the treeblog trees. It’s making buds open and leaves come out. Although to be honest, spring hasn’t brought any noticeable change in the appearance of the Scots pines and cider gums, but after months of having them look like bare twigs the re-emergence of greenery on the grey alders and the unknown seedling is a sight to gladden the heart. The cider gum update will be here in a couple of days; until then, enjoy the rest of the gang.

Photos taken yesterday.

Grey alder No. 4, the mightiest of all the treeblog trees.

Check out some of the Beast’s fresh new leaves. Once all these super-efficient solar panels have been deployed, the alders are going to rocket up. This is causing me all kinds of anxieties and palpitations because this tree needs to be in the ground somewhere, not in a pot, yet I don’t have anywhere to plant it!

Grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3. It’s not just No. 4 that needs to be found a home, these three urgently need one too!

Scots pine Alpha.

Scots pine Gamma. I hope these two put on a spurt this year and get some branches on the go.

The pointy terminal bud of Scots pine Gamma.

The post-Set A unknown seedling. Will 2009 be the year it gets identified so its present unwieldy moniker can be done away with? There’s a rumour that it could be a goat willow…

What do you think? Do you put stock in this rumour? On the left we have a section of the Unknown One. On the right (not to scale), we have the newly emerging leaves of an actual goat willow (Salix caprea), photographed on April the 3rd. Similar buds, similar leaves with stipules*… and the difference in the colour of the shoots may be explained by the trusty Collins Tree Guide (by Johnson, 2004): Shoots red in sun, grey/green in shade. Please be a goat willow. Please.

* Stipule definition (from the same book): Appendage, usually leafy, at the base of a leaf- or flower-stalk.

* * * * *

Set C update – Day 28 (today): Still no sign of germination.


Posted in The treeblog trees





Second Anniversary of the planting of treeblog's Set A

Aye, today is the Second Anniversary of the planting of treeblog’s Set A. Those two years have gone by in a flash, but, paradoxically, it seems at the same time as if an age has passed since I put those seeds under the soil. To commemorate that occasion, I have laboured to put together a photographic summary for each of Set A’s constituent species: Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), grey alder (Alnus incana), and cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii). These summaries consist of twelve sequential photos of a representative from each species; the first photos show seeds on the day of planting, the final photos show the trees today, and the other ten show intermediate stages. I’m quite proud of how much the Set A trees have grown over the course of just two years, particularly the alders.

Representing Pinus sylvestris, here’s Scots pine Alpha:

Day 0 - 28 March 2007

Day 47 - 14 May 2007

Day 55 - 22 May 2007

Day 62 - 29 May 2007

Day 95 - 1 July 2007

Day 154 - 29 August 2007

Day 409 - 10 May 2008

Day 432 - 2 June 2008

Day 458 - 28 June 2008

Day 515 - 24 August 2008

Day 605 - 22 Nov 2008

Day 731 - 28 March 2009



Representing Alnus incana, here’s grey alder No. 4:

Day 0 - 28 March 2007

Day 47 - 14 May 2007 (unknown g.a.)

Day 62 - 29 May 2007 (unknown g.a.)

Day 74 - 10 June 2007

Day 95 - 1 July 2007

Day 154 - 29 August 2007


Day 196 - 10 October 2007

Day 264 - 17 December 2007

Day 409 - 10 May 2008

Day 432 - 2 June 2008

Day 515 - 24 August 2008

Day 731 - 28 March 2009



Representing Eucalyptus gunnii, here’s cider gum No. 7 (getting by with a little help from its friends):

Day 0 - 28 March 2007

Day 47 - 14 May 2007 (unknown c.g.)

Day 62 - 29 May 2007 (unknown c.g.)

Day 81 - 17 June 2007 (c.g. No. 1)

Day 130 - 5 August 2007

Day 196 - 10 October 2007

Day 397 - 28 April 2008

Day 432 - 2 June 2008

Day 480 - 20 July 2008

Day 497 - 6 August 2008

Day 558 - 6 October 2008

Day 731 - 28 March 2009


Pretty nifty, eh? And just think: a year from now you could be looking back on three years of Set A!

* * * * *

Set C update – Day 17 (today): No sign of germination yet.


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog Set C planted today!

Day 0 (Set C).

One hundred and one weeks since the planting of Set A and fifty-one weeks since the planting of failed Set B, I planted treeblog’s Set C today in a private garden ceremony. This latest set is represented by three species: rowan (Sorbus aucuparia L.), sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa Mill.), and birch (either silver (Betula pendula Roth) or downy (Betula pubescens Ehrh.)). Whereas a single tree provided me with all my chestnuts, and another with all my birch seeds, my rowan berries were collected from two different trees.


I collected these rowan berries from a tree at the edge of Whitwell Moor. I’ve been acquainted with this tree for a decade now and remember climbing in it during my days at high school. Here it is on the day of berry collection (26th September 2008):



This second lot of rowan berries, which are slightly smaller and more orange than the others, come from a tree near Upper Midhope. I collected them on the 15th of last August, soon after it had sadly collapsed. I paid the fallen tree a visit three weeks ago and was glad to see it still in place and with live buds. Fingers crossed it can go on to see out a few more years. Here’s the rowan as it was on the 24th of August 2006, in all its former glory:



The birch seeds - which kept trying to blow away as I took this photo - were collected on the same day as the berries from the rowan on Whitwell Moor. The bulk of the seed, by the way, is still in the catkins in this photo. They were a pleasure to break up. The seed was produced by a great tree of amazing girth which is either a silver birch or a downy birch. I can’t quite make up my mind seeing as how it appears to have characteristics of both species. My suspicions are that it’s a silver birch that has been roughed up by the elements thanks to its exposed location at the edge of a wood on Whitwell Moor. If only I was in North America… From Wikipedia: “Many North American texts treat the two species as conspecific… but they are regarded as distinct species throughout Europe”.

The great silver/downy birch (26th September 2008):



My sweet chestnuts, the quantity of which gives me deep joy. These bad boys were collected from the Wigtwizzle Chestnut on not one, not two, but on three separate expeditions on the 5th, 9th, and 17th of last October. Primo! The Wigtwizzle Chestnut (seen below on the 7th of July 2007) is one of the most impressive trees in my local area. When you get close, the sheer size of this veteran’s trunk grabs hold of you and slaps your mind. It’s quite literally awesome. Chestnuts from this tree were also planted for last year’s Set B, but none of them germinated. However, I didn’t have that many, and they’d been kept in the house over winter which had probably dried them out beyond the realms of viability. This year the nuts were kept in a garden shed and I’ve got quite a few more.


Another (more aesthetically pleasing) view of those chestnuts.

The planting process was straightforward. I half-filled four seed trays with compost. Into one tray went all the birch seeds, into another went the Whitwell Moor rowan berries, into the third went half of the sweet chestnuts, and into the fourth went the rest of the chestnuts and the Upper Midhope rowan berries. All nicely spaced out likes. Then a light covering of more compost and a good watering.

The trays are now safe in the treeblog compound. Let the germination begin!



Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 704): cider gums

The Scots pines and grey alders got their update on Friday. Today it’s the turn of Set A’s cider gums (Eucalyptus gunnii) - all fifteen of them. Whilst an evergreen species, the cider gum doesn’t do much in the way of growth during the winter. The treeblog cider gums last made their appearance in an update way back on the fifteenth of November (Nos. 3 and 9 appeared covered in frost in a post on the second of January). Back then they looked radiant with health but these days… they aren’t looking so good. I attribute this change for the worse to two particular hardships that this winter has thrown up. One: the hoar frost we had on New Years Eve and New Years Day (same link as above) that covered everything, treeblog trees included, with icy spikes. Two: the heavy snowfall we received at the beginning of February which stayed for two weeks (three weeks on the hilltops). While the tall and sturdy alders were relatively unaffected, the Scots pines and cider gums were mostly snowed under. Actually, the five tallest cider gums (Nos. 2, 7, 12, 13 and 14) live in a more sheltered part of the garden, so wouldn’t have been too badly affected.

The grey alders (deciduous), Scots pines (evergreen), and the post-Set A unknown seedling (deciduous) have made it thus far through winter unscathed by these hardships. The cider gums haven’t been as fortunate. With the possible exception of Nos. 1 and 12, all of them have been frost damaged to some extent. I made notes of the damage yesterday when I took the photos, and I’ll fill you in on a tree by tree basis:

Cider gums Nos. 1 and 4. No. 1 has some possible minor leaf damage and No. 4 has damage to its tips (buds) and some of its leaves.

Cider gums Nos. 2 and 7. No. 2 has some damaged tips in its upper reaches and while No. 7’s upper tips look fine, those lower down are damaged.

Cider gums Nos. 5 and 8. Both have damaged tips, although the No. 8’s leading tip seems fine.

Cider gums Nos. 9 and 10. Both 9 and 10 have their lower leaves and one tip damaged; in No. 10’s case it is unfortunately the leading tip.

Cider gums Nos. 11 and 13. Poor old No. 11 has some serious damage to most of its tips, particularly the leader. No. 13 has a bunch of damaged tips.

Cider gums Nos. 12 and 14. No. 12 has some possibly damaged tips and No. 14 has damage to some lower tips.

Now we come to the runts…

Cider gum No. 3. The whole sorry seedling appears to be dying! I really hope it pulls through - in its first year No. 3 was one of treeblog’s biggest characters. The one, the only… the Freak.

Cider gum No. 6. Whilst suffering some damage to its leaves, the leading tip appears fine. It should be okay.

Cider gum No. 15. Serious damage all over! Looking even worse than No. 3, the poor soul is probably a goner.

There you go folks. Sad times. A raft of cider gum damage and the death of two treeblog trees close at hand? Sad times indeed. But in nature, if the weak haven’t got what it takes…

On a more positive note, the thirty-third edition of the Festival of the Trees has arrived at local ecologist. Go read!


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 702): grey alders & Scots pines

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally posting a treeblog update! It’s the first one of 2009 and the first one in almost 100 days - the last update was posted over three months ago on the 23rd of November. And in all that time… nothing has changed, apart from the grey alders losing the last of their leaves. That explains the lack of an update then, but with spring just weeks away I thought it best to crank one out.

What were the grey alders (Alnus incana) and Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) doing this time last year? Aside from all the trees being astonishingly small, in the update posted on the 12th of February 2008 there is a close-up of grey alder No. 4’s terminal bud… and the tiny green leaf inside can be seen, all ready for the unfurlage! But two weeks after that date in 2009, grey alder No. 4’s terminal bud remains firmly closed. If you’re good, I promise you can have a look later in this update.

Now without further ado, let’s get into this update proper:

Grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in their wintry guises. No leaves, no growth… they slumber on and dream of spring.

Grey alder No. 4: the Beast. This one is genetically superior, I have no doubt about that. It towers over the rest of Set A! Some say that it is the arboreal reincarnation of Henry VIII. I don’t know about that.

Scots pine Alpha, looking a bit wonky. I hope this year’s growth endows it with a much sturdier stem.

Scots pine Gamma, looking rather windblown. The two pine photos are not to scale; in real life the Alpha is a bit bigger than the Gamma.

Remember this fellow? What? You don’t? Well I can’t blame you. It’s the post-Set A unknown seedling, and it hasn’t appeared on this humble blog since the update posted on the 6th of October. Back then, the tip of its one and only stem had died, and I didn’t expect the rest of it to last much longer. I was wrong. It’s made it through the winter and its little reddish buds are looking radiant with health. I’ve still no idea what species it is, or even if it is a tree at all. All I’ve got is a gut feeling of willow.

Ah, très intéressant. I noticed these root nodules on grey alder No. 2. They contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria of the genus Frankia that take nitrogen from the atmosphere, where it is unusable by the tree, and ‘fix’ it into compounds that are used by the tree.

This photo shows a bit of damage to the main stem of grey alder No. 4. I don’t know what caused this, but as nothing has been rubbing against the stem I can only assume that someone has been nibbling the bark.

Budwatch 2009. Here it is, the terminal bud of alder No. 4, that great barometer of spring. When will it open? When will spring officially begin? I shall endeavour to keep you updated.


…Coming soon… the Set A cider gum update… and the planting of treeblog Set C!


Posted in The treeblog trees





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





New Year's Eve hoar frost

Happy New Year treeblog reader! 2008 went out in style – we had a beautiful hoar frost on New Year’s Eve that stayed for two days. I can’t ever remember there being one of these where I live before, but I saw one in Scotland a winter or two ago. Every twig, leaf, cobweb and blade of grass resplendent under a coating of spiky white frost!

The photos are from New Year’s Eve.

These silver birches (Betula pendula) looked even more silvery than usual.

Cider gum No. 9, like all the treeblog trees, was frosted up. This, in only their second winter, is their first real test of frost tolerance.

Cider gum No. 3, one of the smaller gums.

The very top of grey alder No. 4, the pride of treeblog. I hope those buds haven’t been damaged.

Just one of the many frosted cobwebs that were hung around the garden, all of which were so well highlighted by the frost that they really jumped out and caught the eye.

P.S. 2009's first edition of the Festival of the Trees is up at Rock Paper Lizard, so go enjoy! Next month's edition of the festival will be hosted here at treeblog - information for how to submit will be posted shortly!


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 605): grey alders & Scots pines

treeblog Set A update alert! Photography from yesterday afternoon (Day 605).

Just over a fortnight ago, as seen in the Day 590 update, the grey alders still kept most of their leaves. Yesterday it was a different story. No. 4 was completely leafless and Nos. 1 and 2 only had a couple. No. 3, weirdly, still had quite a few, while the evergreen Scots pines won't, of course, be shedding their needles. Have a good look:

Grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3. No. 1 and No. 2 are in winter mode, but No. 3 is holding back. Interesting.

The Beast! Grey alder No. 4, in full-on winter mode. I reckon the alders actually look better leafless than they have done for a quite a while. One consequence of all those caterpillars setting up home was the alders taking on a rather ragged appearance thanks to holes nibbled in the majority of their leaves. Some leaves were chewed right down to the main vein! Another plus that comes from leaflessness: the 3D branching structure of each alder can now be properly appreciated. Still, I’m looking forwards to seeing these guys bristling with perfect new leaves come spring.

The Alpha Scots pine. Funky needle afro. The two little rosettes up top should explode into action in the springtime.

The Gamma Scots pine. ‘Nuff said.


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 597): cider gums

Welcome to a new-look treeblog! I think it looks pretty nifty, and I hope you’ll agree. But who has time to worry about aesthetics when there’s a brand new cider gum update in town? I was out in the chilly November air yestreen snapping photos of Set A’s most numerous species like some dendrological paparazzo, a whole 597 days since I planted those self-same eucalypts as tiny seeds. Oh! how they have grown!

Cider gums Nos. 1, 2 and 4. All in fine fettle, although No. 4 lets the side down a little bit with an unfortunate bend in the stem.

Cider gums Nos. 5, 7 and 8. No. 7 is a right beast!

Cider gums Nos. 9, 10 and 11. Poor old No. 11 is not looking too healthy at the tip of the leading stem - a caterpillar has been at work here. I expect this tip will die off soon and we’ll be looking at a forker.

Cider gums Nos. 12, 13 and 14. Branches galore!

Cider gums Nos. 3, 6, 15: the weans. No. 6 looks to be making a concerted effort to leave behind its days as a runt, now looking as smart and healthy as any of the big uns did this time last year. On the other hand, No. 15 seems to be keeping a very small and compact form. Perhaps it’s practicing to become a bonsai.

There ends this latest update. You can now leave comments on the posts published here at treeblog - just click the link below. I always love a bit feedback.


Posted in The treeblog trees





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