Originally published February 2010
Hello everyone and a Happy New Year! Ten years into the new millennium and is our Millennium Oak a robust, strapping example of Quercus sp.? No, it is not! If you are not even aware of which tree it actually is, just look straight ahead as you walk in the gate and search for the dejected looking bundle of twigs in the protective tube (no need to actually raise your line of vision from the ground!). However, being a rather melancholy specimen and looking very much (to introduce an interesting vision of mixed species) the runt of the litter, has its uses. It is clearly an admirable example of an organism struggling against adversity and perfect for the budding young ecologists at the school to study and speculate why it is growing almost horizontally as opposed to striving to be part of the woodland canopy.
I feel a Millennium +10 Oak may be in order. In fact copious tree planting thoughout the Reserve may be an idea to compensate for the loss of some of our beautiful Ladies of the Wood to heavy wind and rain last year and the weight of their cold, white cloak in recent weeks.
To this end Gentle Reader I would like to propose a challenge; to grow your own Millennium +10 tree for Quarry Wood. They should be grown in a pot (extra Brownie points for those grown from seed!) ready for a mass tree planting event at the end of the year. Native woodland trees with a high conservation and/or wildlife value will be considered the crème de la crème.
Here are a few names to consider:-
Alder (Alnus glutinos) Grows well in wet and marshy areas.
Wild Crab (Malus sylvestris) Lovely tree refered to in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Silver Birch (Betula pendula) Our Lady of the Wood.
White Willow (Salix alba) Lovely long narrow leaves with silver hairs on the underside.
Hazel (Corylus avellana) Catkins, cobnuts and coppicing, not so good on water-logged soil.
Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) Named because its wood was thought as hard as horn.
Whitebeam (Sorbus aria) Rarely found in the wild, high conservation value.
Wild Cherry or Gean (Prunus avium) Papery bark which peels off to reveal shiny red patches underneath.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) Known by very many names including May and Quickthorn. More connections with myth and folk lore than almost any other tree.
Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) What the Romans did for us two millennia ago!
Spindle (Euonymus europaea) Bright pink fruit with orange seeds, baked and powdered as a traditional treatment for head lice!
Field Maple (Acer campestre) Five lobed leaves and a corky bark as it ages. The wood was traditionally used for fine wood turning and making musical instruments.
Common Oak (Quercus robur) The heart of England with a very high wildlife value.
Species to avoid include Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) both of which are beautiful trees but those fabulous helicopter like seeds get everywhere and they are so prolific they could almost be considered arboreal rabbits! If you are thinking of trying your luck and planting your old conkers then remember Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is better suited to open spaces and does not usually thrive in a small woodland area. In order to provide the maximum benefit to our fauna and flora it goes without saying that we need to encourage native trees in our reserves. So no Monkey Puzzles, African Baobabs, Olives, Date Palms or Australian Cathedral Figs please. Trees have a tough enough time avoiding hybridisation with domesticated strains without being invaded by travellers from around the globe.
As a child of the Empire myself I realise this all sounds as if I am bordering on jingoism. Consider however, our Common Oak is associated with approximately 300 insect species and a further 300 species of lichen, whereas studies have shown that the number of insect species attracted to the naturalised Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) runs to single figures only.
That scourge of woodlands up and down the country, Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum), is extremely deleterious to British wildlife. This evergreen, originating from southern Spain and Portugal, spreads toxins throughout the soil and creates an inhospitable area for years after the plant has been cleared. God bless those intrepid Victorian naturalists!
The prime tree planting season starts again in Autumn so there is plenty of time to get those seeds germinating and enjoy watching your little ’uns taking shape. Keep a weather eye on the TQW slot for updates on the grand tree planting event, and happy growing everyone!
And sometimes lurk I in a gossip’s bowl in very likeness of a roasted crab;
A Midsummer Night’s Dream II.i.
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