April 2018, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman
I have always loved Hydrangeas. My Nan and Grandad grew them at the front of their house, and so did my Mom and Dad. It’s amazing how when you see a certain flower they bring back such wonderful, precious memories. Because of my love for the abundance of showy blossoms this popular shrub produces, and because of the fond memories, I have grown Hydrangeas in my garden for some years. Although, for the first time ever, I made the most silly mistake of pruning then at the wrong time so I did not get a single blossom last year. But this year, they are back again, and in splendour.
Here are a few facts about this colourful flowering shrub, some I already knew, and some I didn’t.
- Hydrangeas go back a long way, and were here before we were. The oldest fossil finds discovered in America go back 40 to 65 million years ago.
- The Chinese and Japanese have been cultivating Hydrangeas for thousands of years.
- The first Hydrangeas were introduce to England from North America in 1736, then later from Japan in 1788.
- Of course, these are very, very, very thirsty plants. I remember my Dad dousing his in buckets of water in the heat of summer.
- I didn’t realise these were poisonous, so no eating them. The buds, flowers and leaves contain a compound known as glycoside amygdalin. It is the amygdalin that has the potential to make hydrangea poisonous, because it can break down to produce cyanide.
- The colour of the blooms are affected by the aluminum ions in the soil.
- There are around 70 to 75 different species. If only I had a bigger garden to fit them all in!
Rear garden, Staffordshire, England. June 2017.
A fast growing deciduos tree, this oak grows up to 30m (98ft) tall, and is a widely spreading specimen with long main branches rising from a relatively stout trunk. The bark is grey with fine, deep vertical fissures. The leaves are usually long and narrow, but sometimes long and ovate. The lobes are more pointed than Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur), and they are a darker green and shiny, but paler and woolly on the underside. The stalks are hairy and are about 2cm long. In the autumn the leaves turn a rich orange brown. The male flowers are pendulous catkins of crimson flowers. The acorns have no stalks, and they are long, the cups deep and mossy covered in narrow, greyish scales. The acorns ripen in the second year.
Mainly grown in parks and gardens, or alongside roads, but it is also found naturalised in woodland. It is fairly tolerant of different soil types, and is also quite resistant to atmospheric pollution. A native of southern Europe, the Turkey Oak was introduced and raised by J Luccomb, an Exeter nurseryman, in 1735. Today it is fairly common and widespread.
Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris), Bournemouth park, Dorset and Warley Woods, Staffordshire, England. August and September 2013.
A broadly domed deciduous tree which can grow up to 35m (115ft) tall. It has straight branches radiating from a short trunk. The bark is smooth in younger trees and ridged when mature, and is silver-grey or brownish-grey in colour. The green deeply lobed leaves are large, ranging from 10-25 cm long, the stalks are around 2 cm long. The leaves turn a vibrant red in the autumn, although it can be of variable shading. Both sexes are on the same tree, the male catkins being yellow pendulous filaments, and the female flowers are inconspicuous ovals. The acorns are set in shallow cups.
Planted as an ornamental in parks and gardens, and other urban settings for its autumn colours. Native to North America, introduced to Britain in 1724. Abundant in warmer climes, and naturalised occasionally.
Red Oak (Quercus rubra), Warley Woods, Staffordshire, England, November 2012 and June 2013.
The Cork Oak is a medium-sized evergreen tree with a rounded crown growing up to 20m (66ft) tall. The bark is a pale-greyish brown, creamy or orangish with deep fissures when left to mature. It is thick and softly corky. The leaves are shallowly lobed and spiny tipped. In maturity they are smooth and dark green on the upperside, but underneath they are pale grey and felt-like. The acorns are egg-shaped formed in scaly cups. It can live between 150-250 years.
Grown for ornament in parks and gardens. Introduced from the Mediterranean in the 1690s, and mainly grown for ornament throughout the British Isles. Very occasional.
In other countries such as Spain and Portugal, the bark of the Cork Oak is harvested by stripping it from the trunk to make corks for wine bottles. The cambium and other tissues of the tree are unharmed in this process and the bark regrows back and can be harvested again 9-12 years later. In the distant past it has also being used to make Roman sandals.
Cork Oak (Quercus suber), Warley Woods, Staffordshire, England. November 2012.
Also called ‘Holly Oak’ or ‘Evergreen Oak’, this oak is a dense evergreen tree with tough foliage which grows up to 20m (66ft) tall. The crown is dense, dark and broadly domed, often on a short trunk with several ascending large branches. The bark is dark grey with shallow fissures, and in time is cracked into fine, square plates. New leaves unfold silvery white in June, but soon turn a dark glossy green with whitish-grey felt-like undersides. In younger trees the leaves are broad and elliptical, and are spiny like those of Holly (Ilex aquifolium), perhaps to prevent animal grazing. In older trees the leaves become longer, lance-like and without spines. Trees of an intermediate age possess both leaf types. The male flowers appear in the spring, and turn from green to a golden-yellow. The female flowers are tiny green clusters. Mature acorns are on very short stems, and are held in a scaly, felt-like cup. They are much smaller compared to the acorns of the Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur).
Planted mainly in milder climes and a shelter-belt tree in coastal areas for its ability to cope well with sea spray, but it is also found in cemeteries, large Victorian gardens, parks and sea-fronts, and has naturalised occasionally. A native tree of the Mediterranean region, and originally part of the ancient evergreen forests once extensive there, the Holm Oak has been planted in Britain for over 400 years, and is the most common of our evergreen oaks.
Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), Bournemouth seafront, Dorset, England. August 2012 and 2013.
Also called ‘Golden Chain’ or ‘Golden Rain’ it has a narrow, irregular crown with a slightly weeping appearance. The bark is smooth and greenish-brown, becoming fissured in age. The leaves are alternate, trifoliate, grey-green in colour and are silky-hairy. The bright yellow flowers are pea-like, hanging in strings and are sweet-scented. They blossom May to June in profusion. The fruits are pods (also called ‘legumes’), with a smooth blackish-brown outer skin containing many tiny black seeds which are extremely poisonous. They may remain on the tree for sometime once split open. It can grow up to 10m (33ft) tall.
Found in parks and gardens as an ornamental. Native to Central and Southern Europe, and introduced to Britain in 1560. It is commonly planted as an ornamental in Britain. Occasionally naturalised.
The timber of Laburnum is highly valued in cabinet making and woodturning. The whole tree is highly poisonous. It contains cytisine, and if consumed by humans and other animals it can be extremely toxic, although other animals like hares and deer seem to cope well with it and are unharmed when eating the seeds.
Common Laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides), park, Staffordshire, England. June 2013.
Also called ‘Woodland Hawthorn’, it is related to the Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), but it differs in that it has shallower lobed leaves, and it has two or three stamens in the flower and thus produces two or three stones in the berry. It grows into a fairly large shrub, and sometimes into a small shapely tree up to 15m (49ft) in height. It flowers in abundance in May to June. The flowers are white or pinkish-white, but cultivated forms with bright crimson flowers are planted in parks and make attractive specimen trees.
It prefers shade and is found in ancient woodland and hedgerows in the wild, but it is also used in planting schemes in towns and cities. A fairly common native hawthorn found in central and southern England, although not as frequent as the Common Hawthorn.
The Midland Hawthorn hybridises with other hawthorns quite freely in the wild, and there are several cultivated forms used in urban and suburban planting schemes, notably ‘Paul’s Scarlet’, with double crimson flowers,’Punicea’ with single crimson flowers, and ‘Plena Alba’ with double white flowers.
Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), park, Staffordshire, England. June 2013.
The neighbour at the bottom of my garden has a wonderful cherry tree growing near my fence, and the blossoms which appear are beautiful and buzzing and alive with insects. Her husband, now departed, planted it as a cherry stone many, many years ago.
Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), garden, Staffordshire, England. April 2017.
Sorbus x intermedia
A natural hybrid between Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and the Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis). A medium-sized deciduous tree which can grow from 10 to 20m tall with a conical crown. The bark is smooth and grey. The coursely lobed, oval leaves are up to 12cm long, dark green with silver-grey, downy undersides. It flowers in May with a profusion of small, clustered creamy-white flowers. Bright orange-red berries follow in autumn.
Widely planted in parks, and along streets and avenues for its tolerance to air pollution. It is also wind resistant, and tolerant of calcareous soils, which makes for a very tough tree. It also thrives near the coast because of its tolerance to sea salt. Native to Scandinavia and the Baltic, this tree has long been planted in the British Isles and is fairly abundant. Also naturalised.
August and September 2013, local common and park, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013.
Also called ‘Gean’, ‘Mazzard’ or ‘Sweet Cherry’, this tree has a high domed crown and the bark is purplish-grey, smooth and shiny with horizontal peeling in papery strips. The leaves are fairly large and are ovate and pointed, with serrated margins. They are a dull, dark green with 2-5 red glands at the base. It flowers in April and May before the leaves open, and the whole tree is covered in an abundance of large white sprays. The cherries ripen to dark red by August, and are bitter/sweet to the taste, but birds have better access and strip them clean off the tree very quickly. The tree can grow up to 30m (98ft) tall.
It grows in woodland margins and clearings, and it is often planted as an ornamental in parks and gardens. A fairly common and widespread native tree, except in northern Scotland and Western Ireland.
Uses: The timber of the Wild Cherry is hard and strong and a rich red in colour, and is used to make quality furniture and veneers. It is also used in wood-turning.
Extrafloral Nectaries: At the base of each leaf on the stalk are tiny red glands which may look like plant galls, but are in fact extrafloral nectaries. These foliar nectaries attract predatory insects who will eat the nectar and plant-eating insects which maybe a threat to the tree. In essence these insects act as the tree’s protectors. Ants are commonly attracted to the sugary secretions of these glands, and these help keep away egg-laying insects as well as larvae which may eat the foliage.
May and July 2013, local garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013.
This is quite a showy tree when in bloom with its long, white tail-like arrangement of flowers. The bark is smooth, greyish-brown, with a strong unpleasant smell when rubbed. The leaves are elliptical to elongate, with dark green upper surfaces and greeny-blue undersides. They grow up to 10cm long, have finely toothed margins, and they taper towards the tip. The flowers open in May, and are white, almond-scented and grow in spikes which can be pendulous or ascending growing up to 15cm long. The fruits are 6-8mm and glossy black, and are generally only eaten by birds, such is their sour, acidic taste. The tree can grow up to 17m (55ft) in height, and can live for up to 200 years.
Found in woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens, and other urban green spaces. A native tree, common and widespread across Britain, and also planted as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens.
Many species of insect rely on Bird Cherry for food, especially several species of moths. The fruits are eaten by birds such as robins, thrushes, and starlings.
May 2012, local pathway, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012.
Also called ‘Oriental Cherry’ or ‘East Asian Cherry’, the Japanese have been cultivating this tree for 2,000 years and have bred numerous varieties. A medium-sized deciduous tree which can grow up to a height of 15m (49ft), with a dense and busy crown. The bark is purple-brown with horizontal lines of prominent lenticels, which are pores. The ovate leaves are up to 20cm long with serrated margins and a long drawn out tip. The flowers are in clusters and can be white or pink appearing in April and May. They may also be double, and are often abundant. Cultivated forms rarely produce any cherries. There are many cultivated varients of this tree, ‘Kanzan’, being perhaps the most commonly grown form.
Found in parks and gardens, and planted along streets and avenues in Britain as an ornamental tree.
Most likely originally native to China, then introduced to Japan at a very early date before being introduced to Europe and then Britain where it has become a very popular spring-flowering species.
May 2013, Warley Woods, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013.
This tree was around some 200 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the planet, and its sharp-pointed needles aided it in keeping browsing animals at bay. It is sometimes refered to as a ‘living fossil’.
Also called the ‘Chile Pine’, or ‘Chilean Pine’, this is a magnificent and exotic, evergreen ornamental tree which was widely planted in Victorian and Edwardian parks and gardens. The trees are either male or female, and generally have a single tall, straight trunk, an evolutionary trait to help keep the leaves away from browsing dinosaurs. It can grow up to 30m (98ft) in height. The leaves are scale-like, triangular and rigid, and dark green in colour. The globular female cones are 15cms across, and ripen in the second year, breaking up on the tree. The nuts produced are similar to Brazil nuts.
Widely grown as an ornamental in parks and gardens. They can live up p to 1,000 years in its native countries, up to 150 years in Britain. Originally a native of Chile and Argentina, it is fairly common and widespread throughout Britain.
The Monkey Puzzle tree was discovered by a Spanish explorer called Don Francisco Dendariarena in the 1780s. It is believed to have been introduced to Britain by the Scottish plant-hunter Archibald Menzies in 1792. He is supposed to have slipped five of the nuts into his pocket after been given them as a dessert during a banquet at Valparaiso, and then managed to germinate them on the voyage back home. Grown as exotic ornamentals in gardens, it was said that the many intricate formed branches of the tree were enough to puzzle a climbing monkey.
June 2012, local park, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012.
You know when I first came across this tree over twenty years ago on a local field boundary, I am embarrassed to say I did not know what kind of tree it was. I always liked its form, and it make a good perch for passing birds to rest on.
Also called ‘Common Maple’ or ‘English Maple’, this is a medium-sized deciduous tree which can be fairly variable in shape. It can be either broadly domed or narrow with a high dome. It can grow up to a height of 25m (82ft). The bark is grey-brown and fissured. The fairly small dark green leaves are 3-5 lobed, the top lobe being pointed and the bottom pair being smaller. Freshly open leaves have a pinkish tinge to them which eventually turn green. In autumn they can be quite a spectacle as they turn bright yellow then a reddish-brown colour. Male and female flowers occur together with the leaves in April to May and are yellowish-green. The winged fruits are in bunches of 4, with the wings horizontal, light green and stained crimson. These wings allow the seeds to be carried far from the parent plant by the wind.
Found in woods, hedgerows and open fields. This is Britain’s only native species of maple, and it is common as a wayside tree and hedgerow shrub in England and Wales. It is scarcer further north.
The Field Maple is an important food source to many insects, birds and mammals.
September 2010 and August 2013, local field boundary, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2010 and 2013.
When I first came across this oak it was a complete mystery to what it was. At first I thought the leaves had been attacked by ravenous caterpillars, they were so oddly shaped. It took me quite some searching to try to get some identification on it.
Height 25m. This is a fast-growing semi-evergreen hybrid between the Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) and the Cork Oak (Quercus subur). The bark is deeply corky. The leaves are deeply and irregularly lobed, glossy green, often narrow and waist-like or thread-like. The different shapes of the leaves may be described as violin-shaped or spoon-shaped. They remain on the tree throughout the winter months until spring when they lose them and then quickly regrow them. See also Lucombe Oak Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’. It can grow up to 25m (82ft) tall.
Grown as ornament in parks and gardens. An old ‘Lucombeana’ species, and very rare.
Photographs taken November 2012, Warley Woods, Staffordshire. Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38. © Pete Hillman 2012.
Quercus x rosacea (= Q. petraea x Q. robur)
The parents of this hybrid Quercus petraea and Quercus robur can be quite variable in themselves, and thus the resulting offspring Quercus x rosacea may also be fairly variable having varying strengths of its parents which can make identification somewhat confusing, even more so when these characteristics appear mixed as in some specimens. For example as in the length of the petioles (leaf stalks) and the peduncles (acorn stalks). It flowers May to June. It can grow up to a height of 25m (82ft).
Found in woodland and parkland. First described in 1909, it is a native species which is found wherever both parents occur.
Photographs taken September 2013, nature reserve, Staffordshire. Camera Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2013.
Also called the ‘Durmast Oak’, it is a sturdy deciduous tree, with long radiating branches around a taller more upright trunk compared to the Pedunculate Oak. It can grow up to height of 40m (131ft). The leaves have five to six lobes, and are dark green and hairless above, with yellow stalks 1-2.5cm long. They lack the auricles (earlike projections), which the Pedunculate Oak have at the base of the leaf. The acorns are long and egg-shaped, and are stalkless, fixed directly to the twig in small clusters. This oak maybe confused with the Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur), which has acorns on stalks, and leaves with auricles and no stalks. The flowers appear as catkins in May and are seen through to mid-June. The Sessile Oak can live for up to and over 1,000 years.
Found in woodland and parkland, where it supports an abundance of wildlife. A native species which is common and widespread in western parts of Britain, especially Wales where it has been designated its national tree and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Welsh Oak’. It is called the ‘Cornish Oak’ in Cornwall, where it is also considered to be their national tree.
The Sessile Oak readily crosses with the Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur) to form Quercus x rosacea (= Q. petraea x Q. robur) Bechst. This large hybrid oak tree is first described in 1909 and can be difficult to identify because of its variable nature.
It used to be heavily coppiced for fuel and its bark was used for tanning. Also used in the making of barrels and casks.
Photographs taken May and September 2013, Warley Woods, Staffordshire. Camera Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2013.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Also called ‘English Holly’ ‘Common Holly’, ‘European Holly’, or ‘Christmas Holly’, it is a shade tolerant evergreen tree or shrub where it may grow into a scraggly form, but in good light it is spire-shaped, then becoming irregularly upright and pendulous with age. It can grow up to 23m (76ft) in height. The bark is smooth and silvery-grey, becoming warty in older years. The leaves are a shiny dark green, tough and leathery with wavy, spiny margins, although leaves further up the tree may lose their spines. The white fragrant flowers open in May. Male and female flowers are on separate trees, and only the female trees bear the clusters of bright red berries which are ripe by October.
It is a common under-storey in woods, especially oak and beech woods. Commonly planted in hedgerows, and widely planted in parks and gardens. A common and widespread native tree of Britain and Ireland.
There are many variants of Holly, and the golden-yellow variegated forms are quite popular with gardeners. The red Holly berries are a favourite food of many birds, especially thrushes like the Blackbird (Turdus merula). The Holly Blue ( Celastrina argiolus) butterfly larvae feeds on the buds and flowers of Holly. The leaves used to be an important winter fodder for livestock.
Bringing Holly into our homes at Christmas goes back to a pre-Christian time when Holly was regarded as a powerful fertility symbol, and was a charm against witches, goblins and the devil. The felling of a complete Holly tree was said to bring bad luck.
Photographs of Holly (Ilex aquifolium), taken October and November 2012, urban park, Staffordshiree. © Pete Hillman 2012. Camera used Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38.
This is one of my very favourite places to be, in a beech wood in autumn. The trees so tall and reaching for the sky, and the leaves as golden as the sun reflected off them are indeed a sight to behold.
Also called the ‘European Beech’, these are immense deciduous trees which can grow up toa height of 40m (131ft), and which provide one of the most beautiful autumn spectacles when its leaves turn a bright golden-yellow. They have broad, rounded crowns. These towering trees can have huge overhanging, arching boughs if given the space to grow. In closely wooded areas they will grow with columnar straight boles with few branches in a bid to reach the light. The bark is usually grey and smooth, but may also be ridged and rougher. The smoother bark holds centuries old ‘graffiti’, for it is soft and easy to carve into. The leaves are up to 10cm long, dark green and are oval and pointed, and give a beautiful show of autumn colours. The leaves take a long time to rot down and greatly improve the fertility of the soil, and often beech woods have thick carpets of leaves which hinders growth of other plants beneath, except for some orchids. The white flowers produce beechnuts (beechmast) enclosed in a prickly case, and are an important woodland food source for birds and mammals. It flowers from April to May, and fruits September to November. The Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’), is a mutation turning the leaves dark purple. Also compare the Fern-leaved Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’), which has very interesting deeply cut leaves. Beech trees can live for 300 years or more.
Found in woodland, parks and large estates. A native species, it is common on chalky soils, and ranges south-east and mid England. Beeches can be giants, towering over other trees, and they can live up to 300 years and over. However, because of their heavy, bulky mass and because they tend to grow in weak structured, chalky soils, they suffer greatly from windfall in storms and high winds. The great storm of 1987 which swept across southern England bought down many thousands of mature trees. Once thought to have been bought over by the Romans, however pollen dating suggests they have been in Britain since the last ice age.
The timber makes beautiful furniture, it is used for kitchen utensils like spoons, tool handles and tools, and sports equipment. It also makes an excellent fuel for burning, and is used to smoke herrings.
Photographs of Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica), taken November 2012, Warley Woods, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012. Camera used Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38.
I took these photographs of the Major Oak of Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, with an old pop in a roll of film camera back in the Easter of 1992. I thought this might be an interesting supplement to my previous post about the English Oak.
Although the age of the tree is not accurate to estimate, but it is believed to be between 800 to 1,000 years old, hence the added supports from preventing the huge limbs of the oak from breaking off under their own weight and during stormy weather. It is a giant tree by all standards. It is estimated to weigh 23 tons, has a girth of 10 metres, and a height of 16 metres. It has a canopy spread of 28 metres. Its odd shape and giant size has led to specualtion that this may be several trees fused together when they were saplings.
Legend has it that Robin Hood hid inside the hollow of the Major Oak whilst being persued by his enemies.
Also called ‘English Oak’ or ‘Common Oak’. When growing out in the open it can form a wide, tidy domed crown, but when growing amidst other trees in woodland it grows tall and slender. The leaves have deep irregular lobes and a short stalk or petiole. The familiar acorns are borne on long stalks or peduncles. It may possibly be confused with Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) which is predominately found in the west and north of Britain, but has longish leaf stalks and less deeply divided leaves, and the acorns are not borne on peduncles. The flower catkins show May to June, whilst the leaves also unfold in May. It grows from 15m to 25m (49ft to 82ft) tall). It can live up to and over 1,0000 years.
This is the dominant tree to be found in deciduous woods in Britain. Also found in coppice woodland, hedgerows parkland and gardens. Native to the British Isles, and it is common and widespread, especially in the south-east of England and the Midlands.
The English Oak supports more insect species than any other tree, and it is thought to be around 300 species. It also supports bird life and mammals. Grey Squirrels and Jays feed on the acorns as an essential food source in autumn and over the winter.
The Pedunculate Oak readily crosses with the Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) to form Quercus x rosacea (= Q. petraea x Q. robur) Bechst. This large hybrid oak tree is first described in 1909 and can be difficult to identify because of its variable nature.
The timber cut from oak has been extensively used by humans over the centuries, from boat building, timber-framed building construction, to furniture crafting and for smoking food. The oak has featured in numerous folklore and traditions since ancient times. It was and still is very much part of druid ceremony and it is believed the word druid may have meant ‘oak man’.
Also called ‘Common Larch’, it is on of the few deciduous conifers to shed its needles in autumn and grow new fresh green foliage the following spring. It is a tall tree which can grow up to 45m (148ft), with a straight trunk from which graceful side branches grow which makes it look spire-like. The bark is rough and greyish brown, becoming fissured with age. The needles form small tight bunches of 30-40 each, each needle up to 3cm long. The light green foliage shows in April, gradually darkening through summer and then turns golden-brown in the autumn before falling in October. The male flowers are in small yellow clusters which produce masses of pollen in the spring. The female cones are bright red in spring and are called ‘larch roses’. In maturity the cones harden and become egg-shaped and woody, green to begin with then turning brown in autumn. They are about 4cm long. I can take up to several years for all the seeds to be released, and they are equipped with a triangular wing which aids them to be blown by the wind some distance from the parent tree. European Larch can live for up to 600 years.
Planted for timber use in plantations, shelterbelts or as an ornamental in parks and gardens. Also widespread in forests. A very hardy tree and can tolerate harsh winter conditions, but needs plenty of water, so it does particularly well in Britain. Native to the mountains of central Europe, the Alps and Carpathian Mountains, and introduced to Britain in the 17th century. Common and widespread throughout. Rarely naturalised.
Larch is fast-growing and makes a very tough and resilient timber for use outdoors, and it has been used extensively in construction work, mining, and in shipbuilding.
Photographs of European Larch (Larix decidua), taken October 2012 and September 2013, local wood, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012 & 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
Also called ‘English Yew’ or ‘European Yew’, this is one of the world’s longest-lived trees. A slow-growing evergreen tree, it may vary in height quite considerably and can grow between 10m to 25m (33ft to 82ft) tall. They are a broadly conical conifer with dense foliage, the trunks of mature trees maybe severely gnarled and twisted. The bark is reddish and purplish-grey, smooth, and it peels continuously in strips making it appear patchy. The needles are dark green and glossy above and paler below with two pale yellowish bands, and are 3cm long. The trees are either male or female. The male flowers are yellowish and shed copious amounts of pollen in clouds from the top of the tree in early spring. The greenish female flowers give rise to the hard fruits which are surrounded by a red fleshy aril which is 6-7mm long. They ripen in late autumn and the black seed contained within is extremely poisonous, yet many birds who rely on it as an important winter food source pass the seed through them unharmed which helps in the tree’s propagation.
Ancient Common Yew woods are found in southern England on chalk downland, and are found frequently in limestone areas elsewhere. It has long been eradicated in some localities in the past due to its high toxicity and threat to livestock, and to its once prized value as wood for making bows. Commonly found planted in old country churchyards, parks and gardens, and they are often used for topiary as it is easy to prune and shape into ornamental forms. Yew is native to Britain and much of Europe, it grows throughout the British Isles, but less so in Ireland and it is absent from the far north of Scotland.
Some of these Yew trees are estimated to be over 2,000 years old, and many are found in old English churchyards where they have commonly been found growing over the past centuries. The wood is said to last longer than iron, and was used in the past to craft weapons used in medieval warfare. The Common Yew has a long association with English culture, and because the wood is hard and flexible it was used in the Middle Ages to make cross-bows. longbows, spears and musical instruments. The world’s oldest wooden artefact is made from yew, a 250,000-year-old spear found at Clacton in Essex.
Common Yew has been used for hedging and ornamental shaping as in topiary for centuries. Its dense evergreen foliage makes for long-lasting impenetrable hedging, and its slow-growing nature makes it ideal for clipping into ornamental forms. It has been widely planted in churchyards for thousands of years, and has earned the nickname ‘Tree of the Dead’. In fact, no other species of tree has such a close association with ancient churches. At least 500 churchyards in England and Wales alone contain yew trees. Some of the trees planted near old churches may indeed predate the church itself, and may have been pre-Christian sites of worship. Yews were sacred to the Druids, and on the site of many ancient churches once grew sacred groves of yews, or yews planted in circles like woodhenges at locations in the land perceived to be sacred. In ancient times the yew was consecrated to the gods of the dead because of its high toxicity, but it has also been a symbol of immortality, resurrection, and endurance because of its long-living and regenerative nature. Yew is also considered as a protection against evil, a symbol of old magic, and as a means to communicate with our ancestors, connecting us to a mysterious and magical realm beyond this life.
Almost all of the tree is poisonous to humans and livestock, which can lead to heart failure and fatality. The major toxin is the alkalide taxine.
Photographs of Common Yew (Taxus baccata), taken May, June and September 2013, all except bottom image taken in Warley Woods, Staffordshire. Bottom image of topiary taken at St George’s Church, Kings Stanley, Gloucestershire. © Pete Hillman 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
Populus nigra ‘Italica’
Also called ‘Italian Poplar’, it is a cultivar of the Black Poplar (Populus nigra), and is a real skyscraper such is its height (up to 38m (125 ft) tall), and it has a shapely ornamental form of Italian origin. It is a fast-growing, tall and slim deciduous tree, a living column of tight vertical branches forming a pointed crown which make the tree most distinctive and instantly recognisable against the skyline.
The bark is brown and fissured, and heavily burred with age, often forming a heavy buttress with dense foliage. The leaves are 5-10cm long, triangular or diamond-shaped, finely toothed, glossy green and massed on the boughs. In autumn they turn a blazing golden-yellow before falling. The stalks are pale yellow and flattened. This is a clone of the Black Poplar (Populus nigra), and most specimens are all males, so they do not reproduce, but can be spread by suckers or by cuttings. The red male catkins appear in March before the leaves open.
Often seen planted in rows along avenues or streets, or to form screens or windbreaks in parks and playing fields, and as individual ornamentals in parks and gardens. It is also a familiar sight in the countryside. Because of its sheer height and columnar form, it can be susceptible to toppling in high winds. A native from the Lombardy region of northern Italy, and introduced into Britain in 1758 by Lord Rochford, who planted it in St Osyth’s Priory in Essex. Abundant in warmer areas, and sometimes naturalised by suckers. It can live for up to 150 years.
Photograph of Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’), taken August 2013, urban park, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.