30 November 2015

Trunk of the Month: November 2015: Aesculus indica

I took this photo of the Indian horse chestnut in January 2014, about 11 months before I'd thought of investigating and blogging about a different trunk for each month in 2015. It really captured my interest due to the varied shapes of the bark fragments and the colours ranging from almost white to red to brown. The colour seems to depend on the age of the layer of bark, with old parts being brown. The lighter colours are revealed when fragments fall off and create a vertical crater-like landscape.

This species can grow to around 30 metres in height with a spread of around 2 metres and is fairly hardy at a reported -50oC. Being related to the European horse chestnut, affectionately known as the 'conker tree' to generations of British children, this species has the same sort of white flowers on spikes and they're pollinated by bees. It also provides a 'conker-like' seed, but this is apparently wrinkled and smaller than the European version.

Along with this species' use as an ornamental tree, the wood is used to make items such as spoons, boxes, and pots. The leaves are used as cattle feed, while the seeds are ground into a bitter flour. The saponins, which creates the bitterness, dissolve in water and are removed during preparation. (Side note: I don't know if the saponins of this tree are used to when fishing to poison fish and make them easier to collect, but anyone who watches bushcraft/tribal/survival programmes is likely to have seen saponins used in this way before).The seeds of this species are also used in traditional medicine in India, for headaches, rheumatism, and skin disease, etc.

All in all, this beautiful tree is useful for many reasons. Thanks for reading :)

Aesculus indica (Indian horse chestnut) | Plants & Fungi At Kew. 2015. Aesculus indica (Indian horse chestnut) | Plants & Fungi At Kew. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/aesculus-indica-indian-horse-chestnut. [Accessed 28 November 2015].
Aesculus indica - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2015. Aesculus indica - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesculus_indica. [Accessed 28 November 2015].

13 November 2015

Friday Five: Seeds

The largest organism on Earth, the General Sherman (Sequoiadendron giganteum) germinated from a seed weighing just a six-thousandth of a gram.

So far, the earliest seed plants that have been found in the fossil record are from the Devonian period, showing that seed plants have been around for at least 360 million years. The plants were gymnosperms, which include conifers and cycads, as well as the living fossil ginkgo biloba.

There are about 600 different species of fungi that are known to infect seeds and use them to propagate themselves. Some can be beneficial, or at least benign to the plant, however some can cause disease, such as bunt in wheat. These fungi destroy the flowers and then spread by spores.

The coco de mer is the biggest largest seed in the world. It was originally collected in the Maldives, which is why it was given the epithet of maldivica, however its' true home was eventually found to be the Seychelles. It can grow to 18 kg / 40 lbs in weight and around 30 cm / 12 in long.
The large size allows the seed to power the growth of the plant so efficiently that it can grow 10 meters in height within a few years.

The largest wingspan of any seed is held by the Brazilian zebra wood tree (Centrolobium robustum). These seeds are protected by spines and have a wing up to 30 cm long!

Here's David Attenborough talking about the coco de mer seeds:

Silvertown, Jonathan. An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds. Reprint edition. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

31 October 2015

Trunk of the Month: October 2015: Acer platanoides

The Norway maple has a large native distribution, taking in large tracts of Europe and western Asia. It can grow above the arctic circle, such as in Tromsø, Norway. It's even used in Alaska, since introduction there in the 18th century, for shade and street planting. A common replacement for the Norway maple in formal plantings (as the Norway maple can be invasive) is the London plane, which is interesting because the 'platanoides' epithet refers to the leaves resembling the plane tree. Indeed, plane-leaved maple is another common name for this tree.

There doesn't seem to be a great use for building material as it's considered non-durable to perishable. However, it seems to be used for musical instruments, along with flooring and furniture. It doesn't seem to be used for syrup either, due to a lower concentration of sugar in its sap.

The tree is often planted for ornamental reasons, primarily for the enjoyment of the colour change in the leaves. The Norway maple has many cultivars that concentrate on the colours of the leaves, or the shape. 'Crimson King' has been given the coveted RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Flora Britannica advices that this species can self-seed throughout lowland Britain in scrub, hedgerows, and woodland. So, it's one to look out for when you're out and about.

The rough grooves that criss-cross the trunk are what I like about this tree. The grooves provide a great touch sensation, as well as much needed places for lichen and moss to grow.

Mabey, Richard. Flora Britannica. 1st edition. London: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.
Acer platanoides - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2015. Acer platanoides - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acer_platanoides#Cultivation_and_uses. [Accessed 03 November 2015].