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The onward march of the bark beetles

The onward march of the bark beetles

by Chris ~ 5 August, 2018 ~ one comment

The woodlands blog has previously reported on the havoc being wreaked by bark beetles.  Such beetles may be small (about half a centimetre in length) but their effects on the western forests of North America is colossal - indeed some parts have lost 90% of their conifers.   Outbreaks of these beetles have been increasing in size and severity.

The beetles onward march was generally kept in check by long and cold winters, but with warmer temperatures (especially in the winter months) and a longer season for reproduction bark beetle populations have been gaining ground, even making their way into parts of the boreal forest of North America. Read more...

Woodlands and biodiversity

Woodlands and biodiversity

by Lewis ~ 29 March, 2018 ~ comments welcome

Most regard woodlands as a beautiful and important part of our countryside, and feel that they can exert a profound and positive influence on our emotional state.    Time spent wandering through the woods can have a relaxing and calming effect. Woodland only forms a small percentage of our countryside (about 13%), and some of that is dominated by conifers planted in the post-war period for timber production; however, the area covered by broad leaved trees is now increasing.    Despite this, our woodlands do harbour a wonderful variety of wildlife (think of the red squirrel, the nightingale, the dormouse) but there is concern that woodland plants and animals face a number of threats - many species are in decline.   Why is this ? Read more...

Pine cones - an activity

Pine cones – an activity

by Lewis ~ 9 February, 2018 ~ one comment

Half term is coming, and perhaps you will be visiting your own wood  or walking through woodland during the holiday period.   Below is a simple activity (that you could supervise) which might interest younger members of the family.

Did you know that sometimes pine cones stay on the trees for some years, before falling to the ground? During that time, seeds form under the scales of the pine cones.   The scales have two important functions

  • to protect the seeds from bad weather and
  • to protect the seeds from foraging, hungry animals.

Eventually, the seeds are released so that they can grow into new trees. To have the best chance of finding fertile soil and growing successfully, the pine cone scales stay tightly closed (see featured image) when the weather is cold and wet as these conditions are not suitable for germination and growth of a young seedling.   Read more...

Trees for Christmas.

Trees for Christmas.

by Lewis ~ 19 December, 2017 ~ 5 comments

Each year, a variety of conifers are sold as Christmas trees, for example, the

  • Norway Spruce Picea abies
  • Silver Fir Abies alba 
  • Nordmann Fir Abies normanniana
  • Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris

and in North America

  • Douglas Fir Pseudotuga menziesii  and
  • Balsam Fir Abies balsamea.

Read more...

Plant pigments - the xanthophylls

Plant pigments – the xanthophylls

by Chris ~ 15 November, 2017 ~ comments welcome

The chlorophylls (and there are several different types) are the main light absorbing pigments in land plants.  They are located in the chloroplasts of the palisade and spongy mesophyll layers of the leaves.  The chlorophylls mainly absorb red and blue wavelengths  of light.   Apart from the chlorophylls, plants have other pigments - often termed the accessory pigments - notably the carotenes and the xanthophylls. Read more...

A seasonal plant - Mistletoe.

A seasonal plant – Mistletoe.

by Lewis ~ 22 December, 2016 ~ one comment

Many evergreen plants are associated with Winter, and Christmas in particular - notably various fir trees as 'Christmas Trees', holly and ivy for decorations and wreaths, and mistletoe as the decoration under which lovers might kiss.  For an interesting video on “The Botany of Christmas” visit Mark Nesbitt’s lecture to the Linnean Society.

Associations with Mistletoe go way back and there are a number of customs and myths surrounding the plant.  Pliny wrote that it was collected by Druids - particularly from oak (believing that it held the soul of the host tree and it was to be cut from the trees with a golden sickle).   Mistletoe has been used in folk / herbal medicine to treat various ailments - from cancer to epilepsy but clinical trials as to its effectiveness are needed.  However, like many plants, mistletoe is actively being investigated for its phytochemicals and possible medical uses. Read more...

"Warming conifers"

“Warming conifers”

by Chris ~ 22 May, 2016 ~ comments welcome

Mature woodlands and forests populated with deciduous trees remove significant quantities of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere, locking it up in complex organic carbon compounds - such as starch, cellulose and lignin.  Such compounds add to the biomass of the trees.  However, come the Autumn deciduous trees shed their leaves, and in Autumn and Winter winds break off branches and twigs.  These dead leaves and twigs etc contribute to the ‘litter’ on the woodland floor and the humus in the soil.   This material represents a vast source of ‘locked up carbon’. Read more...

Woodland types : Coniferous plantations

Woodland types : Coniferous plantations

by Chris ~ 15 July, 2015 ~ 3 comments

Coniferous plantations are found throughout the U.K.   There are some 300,000+ hectares in England, 900,000+ hectares in Scotland, and circa 106,000 hectares in Wales.   Large scale conifer planting ‘took off’ soon after the First World War.   At about this time, the woodland cover had fallen to 5% (in Britain) so the Forestry Commission was established. This had the aim of ensuring that there would be a strategic reserve of timber.

Vast areas of ‘low grade’ land were pressed into service.   Areas around Thetford and Kielder were used, as were some sandy coastal sites (e.g. Holkham in Norfolk) and many large tracts in Scotland (including the use of some natural peatlands). Read more...

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