At this time of the year, the business of the trees’ apparently indiscriminate intimacy is drawing to a close – The male flowers of many trees, having fulfilled the purpose of dusting the air and visiting insects with pollen, start to crisp and fall to the ground while the fertilised female flowers begin to plump and transform into baby fruits, nuts and seed.
The female flowers of beech develop a tough bristly outer in which grow their three-sided nuts. At present, the copper beeches are particularly notable – Glastonbury’s entire collection has turned a deep burgundy that appears almost black in certain light, this is in contrast to previous years when a lighter leaf colour has been observed.
As with their leaves, the developing nuts show a deep burgundy red – almost directly opposite in colouring to their standard green cousins – these nuts will grow surprisingly quickly, and if not nibbled upon by squirrels will, in time, turn brown, dry out and then pop open to reveal their three sided nuts cocooned in velvet.
In the realm of the oaks, the dangling male catkins dry and drop, while the tiny female flowers protruding from the tops of new leaf growth start to show signs of fertilisation, they transform into tiny pimples upon their elongated peduncles, and later will develop into the characteristic acorn and cup. The evergreen oak in Glastonbury Abbey, slightly later than our natives, is currently draping its branches in male flowers while producing an abundance of new leaf growth. The older leaves having spent two or three years upon the tree will now turn yellow and drop, making a sort of autumn for the holm oak. This is its most colourful time of the year – as a percentage of the older darker leaves remain on the tree, contrasted with the brighter green of new growth leaves that are soft to touch and yet to develop the tough leathery surface.
Elsewhere, the dangling yellow floral plumage of our native field maples and our ‘Great Maple’, the sycamore, now develop into tiny ‘helicopters’; double winged samaras that in some cases appear in a conspicuous bright red colouring and in rare cases develop in double, 4 wings, or even less commonly, a triple, 6 winged formation.
The single winged samaras of ash hang in large bright green bunches, while candy-floss coated seeds of pussy willow and poplar float through the air and gather in the gutters to create narrow white paths along the lane sides.
The horse chestnuts are a particularly comical sight at this time of the year as their white tissue paper petals crumple and drop to reveal their bright green swellings. In stark contrast to their showy flowers are the bulbous prickly casings, presently only the size of a fingernail, bound to develop into cumbersome conkers.
Having been the headline act throughout May, hawthorn’s profusion of white flowers now dwindle. Over the last month they have coated vast swathes of the countryside in their white froth, completely sheathing their spears and making their foliage almost invisible.
I watched in awe throughout the month as an abundance of flowers tumble over the hedge tops like the draped and flowing manes of white horses. One hedgerow in particular , pictured below, turned from a racing green to a complete blanket of white as the entire corridor came into bloom and remained that way for most of May. Once pollinated the hawthorn flower’s petticoats fall to reveal their conception; tiny developing haws, like hundreds of tiny green apples topped with the five retained sepals forming a little hat in the shape of a five pointed star upon the top of each.
Almost as soon as the thorns have quickened, the baton is handed to the elder. Elder blossom, with its large saucers of tiny white flowers, provide circular landing platforms that make it very obvious for pollinating insects upon which part of the bush they are to land, but also a large surface area from which pollen can be taken upon the wind.
I was recently surprised to read that up until recently elder was thought to be a solely wind pollinated tree. Considering elder flowers have petals and are showy, it did not occur to me that they would be primarily wind pollinated. A recent study showed the importance of insect pollination in elder’s reproduction, particularly from a tiny insect called a thrip who uses elder flowers to feed and breed.
Later in the year, each pollinated flower will transform into a tiny black elderberry, forming bunches of glistening and nutritious treats, making a fan of bird and human alike. Note the need to cook elderberries before they are safe for consumption by humans.
In the lanes of Stone Down, all is fresh and new, as if purposefully arranged and up standing in a uniformed chaos, unspoiled by the challenges of mid summer yet to befall them. All seems to tumble upward and outward, spilling into the lanes, propelled skyward by the moisture of early May’s deluge, and simultaneously drawn from the ground like thread from a bobbin by the persistent and consistent heat of May’s end.
Over the hedge, the fields overflow with grasses and wildflowers, creeping up to my waist and as far as my shoulders in some of the field’s outer edges. I wind my way along the pre-trodden paths of badger and deer that sprawl a meandering map across the meadows, revealing routes to their playgrounds, latrines and eventually to their sets – they span the fields, pass through hedges, run along boundaries and wind through the grassy tuffets. I share these paths so as not to spoil too much the fields bouquet which I have waited for months to gaze at, pass through and sit within.
When seated in the field clearings, I am now completely submerged, surrounded by the full spectrum of greens, peppered and punctuated with contrasting bright pops of colour from clover, vetch and buttercup. The seed heads and flowers bob upon the surface of the wind rippled grasses, like a million boats moored in a grassy bay, their gentle sway brings me to a place of deep relaxation and floods with peace my soul.
Forgetting my stature, I imagine myself a tiny person venturing into these vast expanses of overgrown meadow, the pollen encrusted grass heads arching above me, not only out of reach but appearing tiny in the farthest reaches of the deep forest canopy.
The reaching trunks of meadow buttercups are topped with a thousand dancing suns while the grasping vines of common vetch clamber for the light and sprout bright pink zygomorphic (having one plane of symmetry) flowers. They seems to move in amongst the forest of grasses like tiny transiting dragons. Vetch is in turn dangled over by the lighter pink flora of dock who are predictably outgrown by the umbrella’d floral stems of cow parsley who form the upper canopy of this woodland in miniature.
These sanctuaries exist fleetingly and so must be enjoyed as much as possible within this narrow window of post spring and pre summer. Soon it is time for these beautiful earth bound harbours to be mown for hay or grazed by cattle, lost for another year as the seasons move and remind us that change is constant and no destination is final.
At June’s beginning the countryside stands erect, the canopies, hedgerows and meadows are fully pillowed and bulging and continue to swell. Yet to be bitten by bug and yet to wilt under the heat of the solstice hearth, all is newly born and perfectly formed. For the most part, reproduction is complete, sexual organs expended, and the arboreal community is now bouncy and uplifted, the fresh full leaves of the trees flesh out their canopies concealing their seeded treasures behind foliaged curtains. In this period, between Spring’s final throws and Summer’s relief when the birds are still active and vocal, before the heat has taken hold, before the bugs have beset upon their foliage, this is the time when the tree’s and their leaves are at their newest, fullest, finest, freshest, bestest!
The upcoming month will see the busiest weeks yet for the tree walks with a sold out event in Wedmore as part of the Wilder Wedmore Nature Festival (note that other events have tickets available), continued Abbey tree tours and plenty of private walks for visitors to Glastonbury. I am also planning a special edition tree walk to explore the trees that live in and around the centre of our town – details to be released soon – see all upcoming dates within this email or on the homepage of www.tothetrees.co.uk.
The month of May too was a busy month in Glastonbury’s social calendar, the celebration of Beltane, the Gorseth of the bards of Ynys Witrin (swearing in the new bards within the new circle of crab apples, upon the Tor Fairfield, in preparation for the bardic finals). The bardic contest itself, and the chairing of a new bard of Glastonbury – an elegant performance of the annunciation by Johanna Van Fessem won her the bardship for the forthcoming year and a day, much to mine and many other’s joy and agreement. Congratulations to Johanna – Hail the bard! All this is not to mention the many appointments with nature, to keep up moment to moment with the most mutable month of May.
MW – 5/6/23
A Visual Diary – May / June
Spring Tree Walks
Public Tree Walks, Glastonbury – By Donation
Wedmore Tree Walk – Sat 10th June 14.30pm – Event link
Summer Tree Walk – Sat 17th June 11am – Event link
Summer Tree Walk – Sat 8th July 11am – Event link
Summer Tree Walk – Sun 23rd July 11am – Event link
Abbey Tree Tours – Spring 2023
This walk can only be booked via the Abbey website:
Abbey Tree Walk – Sat 1st July 11am – 12.30pm
Abbey Tree Walk – Sat 29th July 11am – 12.30pm
Abbey Tree Walk – Sat 19th Aug 11am – 12.30pm
Booking: 07548 936 081
Walks for individuals and groups, for birthdays, weddings, and as an add on to your retreat, at a date and time to suit you.
Call Matt to book: 07548 936 081
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