21 January 2016

Tree Flowers: January 2016: Hazel

When I was growing up, I had a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) growing right outside my window. I enjoyed when the tree developed the winged seeds, and less enjoyed having the task of pruning it each year (someone in the past had pollarded it, which I alway thinks looks horrible and a sign of a badly placed tree). But I never noticed the flowers - even though they would have been no more than 6 feet from my bedroom window.

So to try to make up for my unobservant past, this year I'm going to be looking at a different tree flower each month. Some will be native to the UK, but I'll be looking at all sorts of trees from wild to neatly kept, from showy to discrete. In some ways, the smaller and less 'flower' like the better. I'll try to feature trees that are in flower that month, or hopefully within the correct season.

I'll start this series of posts with hazel:

Hazel quickly followed the birches in establishing themselves and recolonising Britain after the last ice age. However, they cannot tolerate deep shade and cannot grow tall enough to reach the light (growing up to a maximum of 30 feet), therefore they are likely to be one of the first species you see on the edge of deciduous woodland.

The flowers of Hazel are incomplete, but the tree is monoecious, so it has both the male and female flower on the same plant. This differs from plants such as holly where the male flowers are on one individual and the female flowers on a different individual.

The flowers are wind pollinated and without petals. The tiny female flower is enclosed in a series of bracts (photo above) and shows only the stigmas, which are reddish. The male flowers are a bit more obvious as they are catkins, sometimes quite bulky, which dangle down and move in the wind.

They are often multi-stemmed and has been well used in cultivation for coppicing. They grow quickly with reasonably straight branches that are often used as poles - particularly often for growing peas and beans. Other uses of hazel include being employed as a 'nurse' species for more commercially valuable species such as walnuts (my breakfast) and cherry. This is due to the strong early growth of hazel, which provides shelter and shade for the main crop - the shade reducing the growth of brambles and other 'weed' species.

Quick to develop roots, layering in the winter is a common way to propagate new plants - however these will be clones and won't increase the gene pool. However, it seems that hazel doesn't have many pests and diseases. The ones it does have seem to concentrate on foliage (deer and livestock) and nuts (grey squirrels).

I was surprised to see the female flowers out in January (and most already at an end) - but winter hasn't really happened yet. But this allowed me to use hazel as my first tree flower in this series. I hope you enjoyed it and go out to find some!


Mabey, Richard. Flora Britannica. 1st edition. London: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.
Coombes, Allen J., and Zsolt Debreczy. The Book of Leaves: A Leaf-by-Leaf Guide to Six Hundred of the World’s Great Trees. S.l.: Ivy Pre
Hemery, Gabriel, and Sarah Simblet. The New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. ss, 2015.

15 January 2016

Friday Five: Arabidopsis Thaliana (thale cress)

Is great for study due to wide geographic regions it can grow, from Europe and Asia, to north-western Africa. This sepcies can be found in diverse habitats from rocky ground to dunes, from waste ground to railway lines.

Arabidopsis thaliana is member of the mustard/cabbage family, which contains plants such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and rapeseed. Although if German scientist Friedrich Laibach had not suggested the thale cress as a model organism for study in 1943, the thale cress would have absolutely no use for humankind!
Was orginally thought to have the smallest genome (C-value) at 157 megabase pairs. This is small compared to Paris japonica that has a C-value of 148,880, but larger than Genlisea margaretae a carnivorous plant has a C-value of 63. However, it's still the model plant for scientific study.

In 2000, became the first plant to have its genome fully sequence. This has provided insights into molecular processes that take place within cells.

Arabidopsis thaliana was the first plant to go from germination to seed setting (whole life cycle) in space. This was conducted in 1997 on the Mir Space Station. Multigeneration studies have been taking place during 2015 trying to understand the effects of microgravity on plant growth.


. 2015. . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/278.html. [Accessed 07 December 2015].
Kathy Willis, 2015. Plants: From Roots to Riches. First Edition Edition. John Murray.