Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Sickly Elder

I strolled over to Byfield Pocket Park yesterday and spent a couple of minutes pulling out some saplings of Elder. A few trees of Elder are fine, but they can become  'too much of a good thing'.

It is an odd plant, whose unpleasantly smelling leaves seem unpalatable to most creatures. The bark is a different matter. I suspect it is rich in nutrients as it is usually crowded with many lichens, with the bright orange-yellow Xanthoria parietina being particularly prominent. Of course the fruit are much loved by blackbirds, whose droppings are often stained purple with the juices. And many people still make elderberry wine, as they have done for centuries. The Northamptonshire poet, John Clare, wrote:

            Around the Elder-skirted copse
            The village dames, as they get ripe and fine,
            Gather the branches for their Elder wine. 

                                      Clare's Shepherd's Calender. 1827

Elsewhere Clare refers to it as "The sickly Elder", presumably a reference to the leaves.

Since long before Clare's time it has been regarded as a member of the Honeysuckle Family (Caprifoliaceae) but the flowers appear quite different. As with poppies, geneticists have been looking closely at Elder and concluded that it should be placed (together with Viburnums) in the hitherto obscure Adoxaceae Family. I suppose I'll eventually come to terms with this.


                                      Xanthoria parietina on elder, Byfield Pocket Park

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