History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

07 February 2007

Trees of the British Isles

I love trees. They are fascinating. I picked up a small book called The Observer's Book of Trees and Scrubs of the British Isles when we were in Hay-on-Wye and I thought I might do a series of blogs on the different species.

Here are the first three.

The Holly Tree: well distributed throughout the British Isles. The bark of the Holly is smooth and grey. The leaves are oval and leather with sharp spines. When the Holly has attained a height of ten feet or so, often the leaves do not have spines. Perhaps sometime in it's early history it developed the spines in self-defense against cattle. It produces small white flowers that are about a quarter of an inch apart. The fruit is similar in structure to a cherry and is called a drupe. There are male and female trees and the solely male trees will produce blossoms, but not berries.

The Horse Chestnut: native to Greece, Iran and Northern India. Introduced to Britain around 1550. It is not a tree that is found in the woodlands, or even the wayside--but at public parks and gardens. The leaves are almost circular with fingers. The flowers are bell-shaped with five lobes supporting five petals. They are pure white in color, but splashed with crimson and yellow. They have seven curved stamens and one longer style. The tree grows rapidly and produces a soft wood. It is not good for durability, but it's extremely even grain and the ability to take a high polish makes it useful for indoor work, such as cabinet making.

The Elder:
More of a tree of the wayside than the woodland, often of low bushy growth. It grows rapidly in it's early years and can be used as a hedge. The tender shoots quickly harden, making a tough tube with a pithy center. These tubes are useful to make blow-pipes, pop-guns, hearth bellows, and music pipes. The flowers are creamy white and give off an offensive odor. The berries are small purple-black globes and are used to make Elderberry wine, which is said to have medicinal properties.

Well, now I'm longing for a picnic and a walk in the woods.

:) Jessica


Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Jess, please keep this series going! Like you, I bought a book on trees (and another on birds and another on wildflowers) of the British Isles last time I was there. I like it when a writer is specific - you know, she climbed a horse chestnut, not just a generic 'tree' to see the bad guys riding up the drive. I love the woodlands of the Northern Hemisphere. I love the Australian bush too but the two are completely different with completely different atmospheres. Sigh. Want to go for a nice green forest walk now too!

12:11 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Beech and hawthorn are what I think of as the quintessential English trees.

8:41 PM  

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