Tree spotlight no.5 – the Hophornbeam

Hophornbeam

Hophornbeam or Ostrya is a genus of eight to ten small deciduous trees belonging to the birch family Betulaceae. Its common name is hophornbeam in American English and hop-hornbeam in British English. It may also be called ironwood, a name shared with a number of other plants.

The genus is native in southern Europe, southwest and eastern Asia, and North and Central America. They have a conical or irregular crown and a scaly, rough bark. They have alternate and double-toothed birch-like leaves 3–10 cm long. The flowers are produced in spring, with male catkins 5–10 cm long and female gaments 2–5 cm long. The fruit form in pendulous clusters 3–8 cm long with 6–20 seeds; each seed is a small nut 2–4mm long, fully enclosed in a bladder-like involucre.

hophornbeam details

The wood is very hard and heavy; the name Ostrya is derived from the Greek word ostrua, “bone-like”, referring to the very hard wood. Regarded as a weed tree by some foresters, this hard and stable wood was historically used to fashion plane soles. Ostrya species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including winter moth, walnut sphinx, and Coleophora Ostryae. 

Colour/ Appearance: Wide sapwood is white to pale yellow.

Heartwood is a light brown, sometimes with a reddish hue.

Overall appearance can be very similar to birch.

Rot resistance: Heartwood is rated as non-durable to perishable regarding decay resistance, and is also susceptible to insect attack.

Workability: Overall, a difficult wood to work. Hophornbeam has high cutting resistance, (which also means that the finished wood product has good wear resistance). Reacts poorly to steam bending attempts. Turns, glues, and finishes well.

Odour :No characteristic odor.

Allergies/ Toxicity: Hophornbeam has been reported to cause skin irritation.

Pricing/ Availability: because of its small size, Hophornbeam is seldom harvested commercially. Likely to be limited in availability, even within its natural range. Expect prices to be high for a domestic hardwood.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: furniture, canes, tool handles, and other turned objects.

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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. 

Tree spotlight no.3 – Snakebark Maple

snakebark maple leaves and stripey bark

Snakebark maples are maples belonging to the taxonomic section Acer sect.Macrantha. The section includes 18–21 species, and is restricted to eastern Asia (the eastern Himalaya east to Japan) with the exception of one species in eastern North America.

The various species of snakebark maples are most easily distinguished from other maples by their distinctive bark, smooth (at least on young trees), and usually patterned with vertical dark green to greenish-brown stripes alternating with stripes of light green, pinkish or white, sometimes with a bluish tone.

Other characters include stalked buds with just one pair of scales, and flowers on arching to pendulous racemes. The samaras are small, and often numerous.

They are small deciduous trees, typically 5–15 m tall, rarely to 20 m tall, fast-growing when young but soon slowing down with age, and often short-lived; they typically occur as under-storey trees in mountain forests, often along stream-sides.

acer_red_flamingo_snakebark

Some have good fall colour with tones of of reds and orange, while others tend toward a pale yellow which is less impressive.  All are relatively hardy compared to many other species of maples, and many are widely cultivated as ornamental trees for their bark. 

Rag trees in the Rose Garden

 

When you visit the Rose Garden in Trinity College you will see that a few of the trees have many ribbons and scraps of fabric tied to the branches. See images above.   I haven’t been able to find out who initiated this tradition or the reasons behind them. I can only presume though that they follow the traditions of the Rag Trees that are scattered around the country on the roadsides.

A ‘ragtree’ or ‘raggedy bush’ can be completely covered in rags or scraps of clothing. Usually, though not always, the trees are close to Holy Wells, and they are almost invariably Hawthorn trees.

The custom of hanging rags on trees is particularly strong among Ireland’s Traveller community, an indigenous minority of nomadic people whose culture is very old and who still maintain many ancient customs which have largely died out among the rest of the population.

Usually the rags are placed there by people who believe that if a piece of clothing from someone who is ill, or has a problem of any kind, is hung from the tree the problem or illness will disappear as the rag rots away. Sometimes the rag represents a wish or aspiration which will come to pass as the rag rots.

St-Gob-RagTree-Mont

When I encounter a tree where someone has left a token behind for whatever reason it always makes me wonder about the person or the intention tied to the token. I think these Rag Trees are an important conduit, allowing for a private intention to be expressed in a public sphere.

The art of botanical illustrations

During my background research for this project I came across a selection of lovely botanical illustrations of a selection of the trees species included in our project.  I have spread them throughout this piece of text outlining the background and recent renaissance of the art form.

Botanical illustration is the art of depicting the form, color, and details of plant species, frequently in watercolor paintings. They must be scientifically accurate but often also have an artistic component and may be printed with a botanical description in book, magazines, and other media or sold as a work of art. Often composed in consultation with a scientific author, their creation requires an understanding of plant morphology and access to specimens and references.

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Early herbals and pharmacopoeia of many cultures have included the depiction of plants. This was intended to assist identification of a species, usually with some medicinal purpose. The earliest surviving illustrated botanical work is the Codex vindobonensis. It is a copy of Dioscorides’s De Materia Medica, and was made in the year 512 for Juliana Anicia, daughter of the former Western Roman Emperor Olybrius. The problem of accurately describing plants between regions and languages, before the introduction of taxonomy, were potentially hazardous to medicinal preparations. The low quality of printing of early works sometimes presents difficulties in identifying the species depicted.

When systems of botanical nomenclature began to be published, the need for a drawing or painting became optional. However, it was at this time that the profession of botanical illustrator began to emerge. The eighteenth century saw many advances in the printing processes, and the illustrations became more accurate in colour and detail. The increasing interest of amateur botanists, gardeners, and natural historians provided a market for botanical publications; the illustrations increased the appeal and accessibility of these to the general reader. The field guides, Floras, catalogues and magazines produced since this time have continued to include illustrations. The development of photographic plates has not made illustration obsolete, despite the improvements in reproducing photographs in printed materials. A botanical illustrator is able to create a compromise of accuracy, an idealized image from several specimens, and the inclusion of the face and reverse of the features such as leaves. Additionally, details of sections can be given at a magnified scale and included around the margins around the image.

Botanical illustration is a feature of many notable books on plants, a list of these would include:

  • Vienna Dioscurides

  • Flora Graeca

  • The Banksias

  • Curtis’s Botanical Magazine

  • The Cactaceae

Recently a renaissance has been occurring in botanical art and illustration. Organisations devoted to furthering the art form are found in the US (American Society of Botanical Artists), UK (Society of Botanical Artists), Australia (Botanical Art Society of Australia), and South Africa (Botanical Artists Association of South Africa), among others. The reasons for this resurgence are many. In addition to the need for clear scientific illustration, botanical depictions continue to be one of the most popular forms of “wall art”. There is an increasing interest in the changes occurring in the natural world, and in the central role plants play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. A sense of urgency has developed in recording today’s changing plant life for future generations. Working in media long understood provides confidence in the long-term conservation of the drawings, paintings, and etchings. Many artists are drawn to more traditional figurative work, and find plant depiction a perfect fit. Working with scientists, conservationists, horticulturists, and galleries locally and around the world, today’s illustrators and artists are pushing the boundaries of what has traditionally been considered part of the genre.

Tree Spotlight – No. 2 : The Oregon Maple

Acer_macrophyllum

  • Acer Macrophyllum, the big leaf maple or Oregon Maple is a large deciduous tree in the genus Acer.
  • It can grow up to 48.89 meters (160ft 5in) tall, but more commonly reaches 15-2- meters (50-60 ft) tall. It is native to western North America, mostly near the Pacific coast, from southernmost Alaska to southern California.
  • It has the largest leaves of any maple,

  • It has the largest leaves of any maple, typically 15–30 cm (5.9–11.8 in) across, with five deeply incised palmate lobes, with the largest running to 61 centimeters (24 in). In the fall, the leaves turn to gold and yellow, often to spectacular effect against the backdrop of evergreen conifers.

  • The flowers are produced in spring in pendulous racemes 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, greenish-yellow with inconspicuous petals. The fruit is a paired winged samara, each seed 1–1.5 centimeters (3⁄8–5⁄8 in) in diameter with a 4–5-centimeter (1 5⁄8–2-inch) wing.

  • Color/Appearance: Unlike most other hardwoods, the sapwood of maple lumber is most commonly used rather than its heartwood. Sapwood color ranges from almost white, to a light golden or reddish brown, while the heartwood is a darker reddish brown. Silver Maple can also be seen with curly or quilted grain patterns.

  • Grain/Texture: Grain is generally straight, but may be wavy. Has a fine, even texture. The growth rings tend to be lighter and less distinct in Soft Maples than in Hard Maple.

  • Rot Resistance: Rated as non-durable to perishable in regard to decay resistance.

  • Workability: Fairly easy to work with both hand and machine tools, though maple has a tendency to burn when being machined with high-speed cutters such as in a router. Turns, glues, and finishes well, though blotches can occur when staining, and a pre-conditioner, gel stain, or toner may be necessary to get an even color.

  • Odor: No characteristic odor.

  • Allergies/Toxicity: Bigleaf Maple, along with other maples in the Acer genus have been reported to cause skin irritation, runny nose, and asthma-like respiratory effects. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

  • Pricing/Availability: Should be very moderately priced, though figured pieces such as curly or quilted grain patterns are likely to be much more expensive.

  • Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

  • Common Uses: Veneer, paper (pulpwood), boxes, crates/pallets, musical instruments, turned objects, and other small specialty wood items.

  • Comments: Big leaf Maple is appropriately named, as its leaves (shown below) are the largest of any maple, commonly reaching an overall width of 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) across. Big leaf Maple is a commercially important hardwood timber for the United States’ west coast, where it is virtually the only commercial maple species in the region.