Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Regarding the merits of trees

Across Northamptonshire we take trees for granted. I, and most of my friends, value them greatly and tend to assume that other people do too.
In yesterday's blog I briefly recounted a late afternoon stroll I took in the vicinity but made no mention of the trees along the way.
A fine Beech Tree, Fagus sylvatica, stands towards the western end of Christchurch Drive. Many people have rhapsodized about the beauty of the Wild Cherry, a judgement based largely on the tree as seen in full blossom. If, however, we set aside the flowers, then the beech must be one of our loveliest trees.
Beeches produce fine timber, for which the tree is encouraged by foresters to grow tall and straight, but in earlier times coppicing was more frequent, making the foliage and younger branches readily accessible. Our neighbourhood specimen has been coppiced but whether deliberately or by an accident to the leading shoot is anyone's guess. It clearly predates the adjacent houses. As a wild tree the beech may not be native to Northamptonshire but it is certainly native in the south of England; suspicions that it may have been introduced by the Romans were demolished when pollen from 6000 year-old deposits were found in Hampshire.

A coppiced beech stands near the west end of Christchurch Drive,
Daventry. 11 April, 2018
Along Badby Road West stands a small group of Sycamores, almost certainly an introduction. I paused to admire and photographs a section of trunk which, despite being only four or five yards from the busy road, was thickly encrusted with lichens. A man who was just leaving the premises of a nearby house shouted out, 'I wish someone would cut the buggers down.' I was a little taken aback and was tempted to offer a response encompassing the words Daily Mail or The Sun but I restrained myself - a decision encouraged by the fact that he was younger and bigger than I. In fact he had a valid point for these trees when in full leaf would have made his living room very gloomy. There was another point too.
This sycamore sports a rich lichen assemblage. Badby Road West,
Daventry. 10 April, 2018
The lawn, his garden borders and in fact any available ground, bore an astonishing crop of sycamore seedlings,  probably covering at least five hundred square yards.  They are easy to remove from a lawn of course as one mowing does the trick, but to remove them by hand from a border must be the very devil of a job.
Sycamore seedlings abundant on a lawn. Badby Road West, Daventry.
10 April, 2018
The Ash Tree, Fraxinus excelsior, is also common hereabouts, as it is all over the English midlands. It shares with sycamore the ability, via copious seed production, to rapidly colonise vacant ground. It cannot be coincidence that both species have winged fruits and I have found, over many years of gardening, that seedlings of ash and sycamore are the only trees that fall into the 'weeds' category. Just a few yards further on, at the edge of the recently-constructed Daventry by-pass a forest of small ash trees has developed. In the years flowing the great storms of October 1987 and January 1990 the job of healing over the scars was largely managed by ash trees.

A thicket of  ash saplings has developed beside the A45. Daventry.
10 April, 2018
I again took the opportunity to photograph the strange-looking inflorescences borne by the trees. They look more like fruits than flowers.
The yet-unopened flowers of ash beside the A45, Daventry.
10 April, 2018
What strikes me as very odd is that a number of place-names are based on the word 'ash'. In Northamptonshire alone we have two villages called Ashton, one near Oundle and the other a little off the M1 near Hartwell. Also within the county there is Castle Ashby, Canons Ashby, Ashby St. Ledger and probably more.  Now to name a settlement after a distinctive yew tree or a fine holly tree - that would be understandable, but to distinguish it on the basis that an ash or even a group of ashes stood nearby seems strange. Over Britain as a whole there must be scores of not hundreds of place-names that make reference to ash trees. The answer may lie way back in history.
The younger of my two sisters will never pass a magpie without saying, 'Good morning, Mr Magpie.' In Sussex people would treat an ash tree in a similar manner and people would not, it seems, pass one without bidding it 'Good Day.' This greeting may hark back to pagan times and in Scandinavian mythology the ash tree was revered as Yggdrasil, which, as the tree of life, had 'its branches spread all over the world'. Perhaps the proximity of an ash tree to a settlement was regarded as propitious - a good omen worth remembering in the name.

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