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Information, stories and myths relating to trees.

tree stories for the wooden hearted


Of all our forest trees the Oak is undoubtedly the king. It is our most important tree, the monarch of our woods, full of noble dignity and grandeur in the summer sunshine, strong to endure the buffeting of the wintry gales. It lives to the great age of seven hundred years or more, and is a true father of the forest. We read of the Oak tree in the story books of long ago. There are many Oak trees mentioned in the Bible. In Greece the Oak was believed to be the first tree that God created, and there grew a grove of sacred Oaks which were said to utter prophecies. The wood used for the building of the good ship Argo was cut from this grove, and in times of danger the planks of the snip spoke in warning voices to the sailors.

In Rome a crown of Oak leaves was given to him who should save the life of a citizen, and in this country, in the days of the Druids, there were many strange customs connected with the Oak and its beautiful guest the mistletoe. The burning of the Yule log of Oak is an ancient custom which we trace to Druid times. It was lit by the priests from the sacred altar, then the fires in all the houses were put out, and the people relit them with torches kindled at the sacred log. Even now in remote parts of Yorkshire and Devonshire the Yule log is brought in at Christmas-time and half burned, then it is taken off the fire and carefully laid aside till the following year.

We know that in Saxon times this country was covered with dense forests, many of which were of Oak trees. Huge herds of swine fed on the acorns which lay in abundance under the trees; and a man, when he wished to sell his piece of forest, did not tell the buyer how much money the wood in it was worth, but how many pigs it could fatten. In times of famine the acorns used to be ground, and bread was made of the meal. There have been many famous Oak trees in England: one of these we have all heard of - the huge Oak at Boscobel in which King Charles II hid with a great many of his men after he was defeated at the battle of Worcester.

I think you will have no difficulty in recognising an Oak tree at any time of the year. Look at its trunk in winter: how dark and rough it is; how wide and spreading at the bottom to give its many roots a broad grip of the earth into which they pierce deeply. Then as the stem rises it becomes narrower, as if the tree had a waist, for it broadens again as it reaches a height where the branches divide from the main trunk. And what huge branches these are- great rough, dark arms with many crooked knots or elbows, which shipbuilders prize for their trade. These Oak-tree arms are so large and heavy that the tree would need to be well rooted in the ground to stand firm when the gale is tossing its branches as if they were willow rods.

The Oak tree does not grow to a great height. It is a broad, sturdy tree, and it grows very slowly, so slowly that after it is grown up it rarely increases more than an inch in a year, and sometimes not even that. But just because the Oak tree lives so leisurely, it outlasts all its companions in the forest except, perhaps, the yew tree, and it’s beautiful hard, close-grained wood is the most prized of all our timber.

In the end of April or early in May, the Oak leaves appear; very soft and tender they are too at first, and of a pale reddish green colour. But soon they darken in the sunshine and become a dark glossy green. Each leaf is feather-shaped and has a stalk. The margin is deeply waved into blunt lobes or fingers, and there is a strongly marked vein up the centre of the leaf, with slender veins running from it to the edge.

In autumn these leaves change colour: they become a pale brown, and will hang for weeks rustling in the branches till the young buds which are to appear next year begin to form and so push the old leaves off. If a shrivelling frost or a blighting insect destroys all the young Oak leaves, as sometimes happens, then the sturdy tree will re-clothe itself in a new dress of leaves, which neither the Beech, nor the Chestnut, nor the Maple, could do. It shows what a great deal of life there is in the stout tree.

The flowers of the Oak arrive about the same time as the leaves, and they grow in catkins which are of two kinds. You will find a slender hanging catkin on which grows small bunches of yellow-headed stamens. Among the stamens you can see six or eight narrow sepals, but these stamens have no scales to protect them as the Hazel and Birch catkins have. On the same branch grows a stouter, upright catkin, and on it are one or maybe two or three tiny cups, made of soft green leaves called bracts, and in the centre of this cup sits the seed-vessel, crowned with three blunt points. As the summer advances this seed-vessel grows larger and fatter and becomes a fruit called an acorn, which is a pale yellow colour at first, and later is a dark olive brown. The soft leafy cup hardens till it is firm as wood, and in it the acorn sits fast till it is ripe. It then falls from the cup and is greedily eaten by the squirrels and dormice, as it was in the olden times by the pigs. From those acorns that are left lying on the ground all winter, under the withered leaves, will grow the tiny shoots of a new tree when the spring sunshine comes again.

The Oak tree is the most hospitable of trees: it is said that eleven hundred insects make their home in its kindly shelter. There are five kinds of houses, which are called galls, built by insects, and you can easily recognise these, and must look for them on the Oak tree. Sometimes on the hanging stamen catkins you will find little balls like currants with the catkin stem running through the centre. These are the homes of a tiny grub which is living inside the current ball, and which will eat its way out as soon as it is ready to unfold its wings and fly.

Often at the end of an Oak twig you find a soft, spongy ball which is called an Oak apple. It is pinkish brown on the outside and is not very regular in shape. This ball is divided inside into several cells, and in each cell there lives a grub which will also become a fly before summer is over.

Sometimes if you look at the back of an Oak leaf you will see it covered with small red spangles which are fringed and hairy. These spangles each contain a small insect, and they cling to their spangled homes long after the leaves have fallen to the ground.

Another insect home or gall grows in the leaves, and this one is much larger than, sometimes as big as a marble. It too is made by an insect which is living inside, and this is called a leaf gall.


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Hampton Court Flower Show

I went along to the Hampton Court Flower Show this year and was stunned to discover that a visit there could make the sick well again. Well, maybe not. However, I did see people, who had spent all day being pushed around in a wheelchair, up walking and pushing their own wheelchairs.

The impetus for this was, of course, the great sell off at the close of the show. Father was walking through the show ground cradling his baby in his arms, whilst mother followed with the pushchair laden with plants. Granny, who had benefited from resting in her wheelchair as she moved around the show, found it was an ideal way to get her lilies and agapanthus back to the carpark. Once out of the showground the sights were enough to make a gardener cringe, trees, agapanthus, eremurus and lilies sticking out of the sun roofs of dozens of cars on their way to the M3.

Other had folded up plants as best they could so that they would travel on the bus and underground. Then there is the safe bet that many of the plants acquired will not have been planted for several days, nor watered, nor put out of the sun. When will people learn that a bargain is only a bargain if you can get the plant home alive and in one piece... otherwise it is just so much compost.

More at Hampton Court Flower Show