Blog - Unusual and exotic trees
Trees – come in all shapes and sizes
Trees come in many shapes and sizes. Some are tall and thin, like Poplars, others have a ‘rounded’ canopy, like oak and horse chestnut. Sometimes we ‘persuade’ trees to assume a particular shape or form, perhaps through pollarding or coppicing - or something more extreme - like topiary or bonsai. However, sometimes nature itself has unusual or dramatic effects on trees. Wind can leave trees on cliff tops or exposed places distorted and growing almost horizontally along the direction of the prevailing wind. Occasionally, something very strange is seen. For example, at Gryfino in Western Poland, there is a forest with some very weird looking trees. There are about 400 trees that are bent at the base. At first, the trunk lies more or less parallel with the ground, then it bends upwards and the stem is erect. Consequently each trunk of these pines trees has a pronounced bend in it (see photo below). The rest of the trees in this forest are quite normal, growing upright and straight - like most pines.It is thought that the pines were planted back in the 1930’s though the local town was forsaken by the residents during the second world war (and only repopulated in relatively recent times). The trees are sometime referred to as the Crooked Forest. There has been much speculation as to how the trees came to be so mis-shapen. The theories run from The landing of alien space craft! This crushed / flattened the trees when young and tender The trees were damaged by German tanks during the war (but why only a select number of trees?) Genetic mutation(s) which resulted in abnormal growth Fungal infection(s) which resulted in abnormal growth The young trees were flattened by a heavy fall of snow, which perhaps persisted for some time. The trees were able to right themselves in the Spring, through a normal geotropic response. The trees were part of plantation / forest, in which some were deliberately cut at a young / sapling stage. The area was a tree farm, where some of the pines were cut / bent for later use in furniture or frames. By bending a young tree down to the ground in this manner (for some time), compression wood is formed. Such wood has higher lignin and lower cellulose content and it is stronger than wood that is bent after a straight tree is felled (for example, by a steaming process). Indeed, English ‘hedgerow oak’ was known to be the best for the curved timbers needed to internally strengthen a sailing ship. Trees were even deliberately bent in certain ways so as to " grow" a required set of curved timbers. Such curved timbers were known as “compass timbers”. In Gryfino, it is likely that the war interrupted the activities of local foresters / woodworkers, they left and these trees were left to grow on in their rather unusual form. Thanks to Kalasancjusz at Pixabay for the image of the crooked forest.
Unusual and exotic trees – The wild service tree.
The Wild Service Tree is a native British species. Nowadays, the tree is quite rare and can be an indicator of ancient woodland. The wild service tree or chequers tree (Sorbus torminalis) is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae). The term torminalis is botanical latin meaning “of or belonging to the gripes, good against the colic”, because the fruits were (at one time) used as a remedy for the colic. It is a tree native to England and Wales but not to Scotland or Ireland. Within those two home nations its distribution is patchy; it is not a common tree. However, it is widely distributed across Europe (notably France and Germany). The tree is light-demanding species and it suffers if the canopy closes in, so tends to favour the woodland margins, coppiced areas with open and sunny conditions and hedgerows. It does not ‘like’ water logged conditions, nor dry sandy soils. Trials in Sweden, Norway and Denmark indicate the good growth is achieved soils with a silt content of just under 14%, and it can tolerate a pH range from acid through neutral to slightly alkaline. The tree can grown to a height of 20 to 30 metres, if the conditions are right - and the growth can be fast. Young trees can grow at a rate of one metre a year. It sends down quite deep roots and develops strong laterals (which may extend beyond the diameter of the crown). This means that they are ‘windfirm’ and relatively drought tolerant. The leaves bear some similarity to those of maple. In Spring, the tree produces bunches of creamy white flowers, which provide pollen and nectar for insects. The flowers when fertilised produce brown berries. Like Medlars, these may be bletted - allowed to become over-ripe and have been used to make jams, drinks. However, many of the fruits fall to the ground where they may be eaten by birds or small mammals. If eaten by birds, then the seeds may be dispersed over a wide area but natural regeneration from seeds is uncommon (though suckering from roots is a possibility). Young plants / saplings may be targeted by voles and mice, they are also sensitive to competition (especially from brambles). The tree is not grown for timber production in the UK, but abroad the timber is valued as one of the hardest, native European woods. The colour is yellow to light red, though old trees can have a deeper colour. Because of its hardness it was used in the past to make mill cogs, mangle wheels, parts in textile mills and wine presses. Now, the wood is used in furniture making and for wind instruments (flutes, recorders, bag pipes). Wild service trees, grown for timber, are ‘raised’ in ‘coppice with standards”, where the service trees are the standards. Thanks to Ruth for images.
According to some interpretations of the bible, the Magi or ‘wise men’ travelled from afar bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to present to the infant Jesus. The meaning and significance of these gifts has been debated over the years. One things is clear - all were valuable materials as might have been presented to a king or deity. Together with spices, frankincense and myrrh moved through ancient trade routes for thousands of years. Gold is a relatively rare element and as such is a precious metal that has been used for jewellery and coinage throughout recorded history. It is a noble metal, that is it is relatively unreactive, resisting attack by most acids - with the exception of aqua regia, a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids. But what of frankincense and myrrh? Their origins are not geological as both are plant products. They come from a group of plants known as the Torchwood family or the Burseraceae. These are trees or shrubs that have prominent resin ducts / canals. The resin ducts are tubes, surrounded by cells which produce and secrete a resin into the canals / ducts. The resin is viscous, ’antiseptic’ and aromatic (often smelling of almonds) and helps to prevents microbial attack (and may deter wood boring insects). Frankincense comes from trees of the genus Boswellia. Nearly all species of this genus have a bark that produces an aromatic sap but it is B. sacra, (also known as the olibanum tree) that is the main source of frankincense (from its papery, peeling bark). It is found in Somalia, Yemen and Oman, often growing in relatively inhospitable places. To obtain the resin, the bark of the tree is cut and resin seeps out and is collected, rather like the tapping of a rubber tree. The trees do not produce resin until they have reached a certain maturity and over-exploitation of the trees can lead to their death. The seeds from heavily tapped trees are less likely to germinate than those from trees that have not been ‘drained’ of resin. All Boswellia species are threatened by habitat loss, over-exploitation, and damage by long horn beetles. What is Frankincense used for? The word derives from the Old French ‘franc encens’ meaning high quality incense. Many tonnes of frankincense are traded each year and are used in religious ceremonies, and in the making of perfumes and natural medicines. In ancient times, the Egyptians used it in the process of mummification, it was added to the body cavities together with natron (a mixture of sodium salts). The resin has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine for its antibacterial properties and ‘blood moving’ properties. Like Frankincense, myrrh is a resin harvested by wounding the bark of a tree. The bark is a silvery grey, and the twigs are quite spiny (see image). The resin that exudes is ‘waxy’ and quickly congeals becoming hard and glossy, darkening as it ages. The tree in question is Commiphora myrrha. It is found in north east Africa - Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea and parts of Saudi Arabia. The related Commiphora gileadensis, native to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, is also accepted as an alternate source of myrrh. Myrrh has been used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes, and as a constituent in salve / ointment for skin abrasions, bruises and sprains. It has also been used in perfumes and as a special flavouring for wine. Like frankincense, it was used in making incense❋ and in the preparation of bodies for mummification / embalming. In Exodus [30:22-24], God said to Moses to take the best spices and liquid myrrh to make a holy anointing oil. Anointing oil is still used in certain ceremonies / rituals of both Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches. In some cultures, it can be used to ‘fumigate’ or refresh a house, giving a warm, earthy and balsamic odour. It is also said that myrrh is a powerful detoxifier, can lower cholesterol and stabilise blood sugar levels. Both frankincense and myrrh were extensively traded in ancient and more recent historic times, along with various spices (such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg) across the Mediterranean and Arabian peninsula, through to India. Interestingly, in Ancient Rome, myrrh was priced at five times the cost of frankincense. ❋ Incense can be made from various aromatic plant materials that produce a scent. The actual ingredients used vary by region / area. Apart from frankincense and myrrh, incense may contain cinnamon musk patchouli (from a plant of the mint family) sandalwood. Many thanks to Pixabay for images of frankincense and myrrh (Leo_65, xbqs42 et al)) .
Veteran trees and an ancient swedish oak
Veteran trees may be defined by a number of features: age size; condition; history; position. Neither age nor size in themselves define veteran status. These features have to be viewed in relation to typical values for each tree species. Thus, a one hundred year old birch or willow might be ‘deemed’ a veteran but a one hundred year old oak or yew would be a youngster. To be termed a veteran, a tree should show some of the following features the trunk should be large (for the species) decay holes in parts of the trunk the trunk may show signs of damage and/or bark loss dead wood in the canopy fungal fruiting bodies often present (from heart rot fungi) epiphytes, such as mosses and lichens are present the tree supports a rich variety of different species the shape or position of the tree is of interest the tree may have cultural or historical interest, some were used as gallows! Some veterans achieve their status through the management of the tree, such as pollarding or coppicing. There are thousands of ancient trees in the UK and the Ancient Tree Inventory not only offers a way of finding ancient trees across the country but also you can add details of trees). Veteran trees can be found in many countries, though the may go under different names. In Australia, veteran or ancient trees are often connected with the social, cultural, and legal practices of the aboriginal peoples. In Italy, an Albero Monumentale (‘a monumental tree’) is defined under National Law [number 10, 14th January 2013]. In Sweden, the oldest oak (Quercus robur) is the Rumskulla Oak , also known as the Kvill Oak. It is found in Kalmar County, Småland. The name Rumskulla derives from its older form Romfarakulla ( = Rome + travel + hill); the area was a resting place for pilgrims that to made the journey to Rome. It is one of the largest trees in Scandinavia, being some 14 metres (46 feet) high and with a trunk circumference of 13 metres (43 feet). Its girth is still increasing. In the severe winter of 1708-09, the crown was was damaged and much lost. The tree is over a thousand years old and was first described in 1772. The tree is now supported by iron bands and wire. Like many veterans, its centre is hollowed out and it is covered with mosses. There are many holes, cracks and crevices. The Rumskulla Oak is registered as a national natural object of interest, with the Swedish Heritage Board. Thanks to Fredrika for the photos.
Monster trees – the redwoods.
The redwoods are special trees because of their size and age. There are three species : the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens ), the giant sequoia / redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum), and the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) They are the most massive trees on earth. The coastal redwoods are the tallest of the three species. The largest was measured to have a height of some 379 feet (115.5M). Not only are these trees large but they are also impressive because of their longevity, Read more...
Unusual or exotic trees : The Walnuts.
There are two main species of walnut tree - Black Walnut and English (or Persian) Walnut. Walnut trees are often grown in the U.K. as an ornamental or specimen tree in parks or gardens. However, there are areas where the trees are grown for their timber or the nut crop. The Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is native to eastern North America; Missouri is one of the top producers of the nuts. Whilst the nuts have an intense flavour, their tough coats represent a challenge. Black Walnuts have had a number of uses over the years, some of them associated with the U.S. military. Read more...
Unusual or exotic trees – The Fig (Ficus carica).
Figs can grow as rather straggly bushes or tall trees; they are native to the Middle East and parts of Asia. Evidence of fig ‘cultivation’ has been found in a neolithic settlement in the Jordan Valley - many thousands of years ago. In Ancient Greece, Aristotle described in some detail the biology and cultivation of the fig. Figs were said to be responsible for the death of Augustus (first emperor of Rome), as his wife Livia smeared the figs in his garden with poison - allegedly. Figs were cultivated in Pakistan through to the Mediterranean and Portugal; they were later introduced to the “New World” and have been grown extensively in areas like California since the late 1800’s, forming a valuable part of the local economy. Figs belong to the same family as the Mulberries (Morus alba & nigra) and the breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) - the Moraceae. The fig can grow to a height of some 10 metres and it is deciduous. Its large, deeply lobed leaves are shed in autumn - leaving noticeable leaf scars on the stems. The surface of the leaves has a ‘rough’ texture. The bark is a dark grey, slate or brown colour. If the young shoots / leaves or developing figs are cut, they may exude a milky sap (latex) - which can cause skin irritation. Read more...
Unusual or exotic trees : the Olive Tree.
The olive tree [Olea europaea] , is an evergreen tree native to the mediterranean area. Indeed, it is often cited as an ‘indicator plant’ for the area. It is of major agricultural importance throughout the mediterranean basin as it is the source of olive oil. Generally, the outline of the tree is somewhat short and squat†, its height varies between 8 –15 M. The oblong/spear-shaped leaves are silvery green; the upper surface is green, whereas the lower surface is more silvery. The leaves measure between 4–10 cm in length and are between 1–3 cm in width. Olive trees can be very long lived and, as the tree ages, the trunk frequently becomes gnarled and twisted. The tree produces small, white, ‘feathery’ flowers on the previous year's growth. Read more...