Celtic sacred trees – The crab apple

As the Crab apple tree was this week’s highlighted tree I thought I would include a blog about it’s mythological and sacred nature. At a later stage I will also look at the stories and symbolism associated with the Yew tree.

wild apple wood twigs

In general many types of trees found in the Celtic nations are considered to be sacred, whether as symbols, or due to medicinal properties, or because they are seen as the abode of particular nature spirits. Historically and in folklore, the respect given to trees varies in different parts of the Celtic world. On the Isle of Man, the phrase ‘fairy tree’ often refers to the elder tree. The medieval Welsh poem Cad Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees) is believed to contain Celtic tree lore, possibly relating to the crann ogham, the branch of the ogham alphabet where tree names are used as mnemonic devices.

The pome fruit and tree of the apple is celebrated in numerous functions in Celtic mythology, legend, and folklore; it is an emblem of fruitfulness and sometimes a means to immortality. Wands of druids were made from wood either of the yew or of the apple.

Hand carved druid wand from apple wood

Crab apples have long been associated with love and marriage. It was said that if you throw the pips into the fire while saying the name of your love, the love is true if the pips explode. Apple wood was burned by the Celts during fertility rites and festivals, and Shakespeare makes reference to crab apples in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour Lost.

To follow are brief synopsis of some legends that talk include references to the apple tree, which I found in Wikipedia.

The soul of Cú Roí was confined in an apple that lay in the stomach of a salmon which appeared once every seven years. Cúchulainn once gained his escape by following the path of a rolled apple. An apple-tree grew from the grave of the tragic lover Ailinn. In the Irish tale Echtrae Conli (The Adventure of Connla), Conle the son of Conn is fed an apple by a fairy lover, which sustains him with food and drink for a month without diminishing; but it also makes him long for the woman and the beautiful country of women to which his lover is enticing him. In the Irish story from the Mythological Cycle, Oidheadh Chlainne Tuireann, the first task given the Children of Tuireann is to retrieve the Apples of the Hesperides (or Hisbernia). Afallennau (Welsh, ‘apple trees’) is a 12th-century Welsh narrative poem dealing with Myrddin Wyllt. The Breton pseudosaint Konorin was reborn by means of an apple.

Tree spotlight no. 4 – The Crab Apple

 

Malus-sylvestris-Native-Crab-Apple-Ireland

Crann fia-úll (Malus sylvestris)

Like the wild cherry, crab apple has been deliberately grown around old farmsteads (and the fruit used for crab apple jelly) but is also a truly native species found in old woodland. Crab apple is found in hedgerows throughout the Irish countryside. Unlike modern hybrid apples, crab apples grow true from the apple pips.


It is a small tree, very suitable for gardens. It bears attractive pink/white apple blossom in the spring, while the apples provide an autumn feature in the garden, as well as a useful crop.

crab apple tree in the middle of a large green field

What does crab apple look like?

Overview: one of the ancestors of the cultivated apple (of which there are more than 6,000 varieties), it can live to up to 100 years. Mature trees grow to around 10m in height. They have an irregular, rounded shape and a wide, spreading canopy. With greyish brown, flecked bark, trees can become quite gnarled and twisted, especially when exposed, and the twigs often develop spines. This ‘crabbed’ appearance may have influenced its common name, ‘crab apple’.

The crab apple is one of the few host trees to the parasitic mistletoe, Viscum album, and trees are often covered in lichens.

Leaves: the brown and pointed leaf buds form on short stalks, and have downy hair on their tips, followed by glossy, oval leaves, which grow to a length of 6cm and have rounded triangular teeth.

Flowers: in spring, the sweetly scented blossom is pollinated by bees and other insects, which develops into small, yellow-green apple-like fruits, around 2-3cm across.

Fruits: sometimes the fruits are flushed with red or white spots when ripe. Birds and mammals eat the fruit and disperse the seeds.

Look out for: it has a ‘crabbed’ or spiny appearance because of gnarled and twisted twigs.

Where to find crab apple

Crab apple thrives best in heavy, moist, well-drained soil and areas of scrub. They grow throughout Europe.

Value to wildlife

The leaves are food for the caterpillars of many moths, including the eyed hawk-moth, green pug, Chinese character and pale tussock. The flowers provide an important source of early pollen and nectar for insects, particularly bees, and the fruit is eaten by birds, including blackbirds, thrushes and crows. Mammals, including mice, voles, foxes and badgers also eat crab apple fruit.

CrabApples_large

How we use apple

The trees are often planted in commercial orchards as their long flowering period makes them excellent pollination partners for cultivated apples. The fruit can be roasted and served with meat or added to ales or punches. More commonly it is used to make crab apple jelly, and also as a natural source of pectin, for setting jams.

The pinkish wood has an even texture and makes good quality timber, and lends itself particularly well to carving and turning. It also makes a sweetly scented firewood. In Ireland a yellow dye was extracted from the bark to colour wool.

crab-apple-bark-2-lo-res

Threats

The crab apple is susceptible to a variety of fungal infections, including apple scab, honey fungus and apple canker.  As you can see above the Crab Apple tree in the Rose Garden in Trinity College Dublin suffers from apple canker, the white furry residue on the bark. 

Introducing the Rose Garden

 

 

IMG_2984 lo res

Even at peak student population, you’ll sometimes have the Rose Garden to yourself. It is a small intimate space enclosed on three sides. The well-spaced benches and domestic-style planting make it feel like a haven in a busy campus.

I recently spent a wonderful afternoon in the Rose Garden surrounded by the cherry blossoms, which were in full bloom. The flowers created a blanket like structure that seemed to hover overhead defying gravity. I was also captivated by the various species of birds that seem to frequent the space. I was especially delighted to see what must have been an adult bird wandering around on the grass pulling up worms while a young chick followed along greedily eating the food passed to it from its parents beak. I will write more about my time in the Rose Garden in a future post as the responses I received from visitors to the garden will form part of the art work that will be placed in the Crab Apple Tree in September/ October 2017.

The Rose Garden itself is located between the end of Woodward and Deane’s Museum Building and its perpendicular neighbor, the number 40 block of New Square housing, with open space (the rugby pitch and College Park, with the cricket crease and running track) behind railings on the other two sides. The path into New Square is the only open side, and even this feels somewhat enclosed thanks to the large cherry blossom tree planted nearby.

Tomography – the Crab Apple and Snake Bark trees

 

When we were taking samples in February Clodagh attempted to image the small apple fruit from the Crab Apple Tree. She was unable to do so as it contained too much liquid. It dried out and shriveled up over the month and in March she attempted to image it again. The resultant images I think are well worth the wait.  What do you think?

When I looked at these images and those of the macro photos I took of a Snake bark lenticle (see below) they immediately reminded me of topographical images and models. Also see below for some examples.

snake-bark-tree-bark-1-lo-res

Macro image of Snake Bark lenticle, photo Olivia Hassett

These images then inspired a further trawl through the internet to see what other works have been inspired by tomography. This really got me to thinking about the possibilites of working with stacked layers/ layers  of colour or layers of any kind…..more to follow as I progress this idea further.  

layered card? reflection in knife

Topography definition:

The arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area.

The distribution of parts or features on the surface of or within an organ or organism.

Trinity Ball – Trees cordoned off

Trinity College Trees Oregon Maple cordened off

When I called into Trinity College Dublin yesterday to meet and talk ‘Trinity Trees’ with David Taylor, David Hackett and Clodagh Dooley I was surprised to see many of the trees that are part of our project cordoned off in advance of the Trinity Ball which happens tonight.  I think they look great surrounded by the metal barriers – enveloped and protected.

Lichen images from March sampling

Lichen – The Oregon Maple

We found some wonderful examples of different types of lichen growing on some of the trees that were chosen.  The images above were taken from the bark of the Oregon Maple.  See below for a different type of lichen which we found on the Crab Apple tree. 

 

Lichen – The Crab Apple