ANNIVERSARY WALK: Sunday 15th March marks the first anniversary of the tree walks. We will celebrate with a surprise walk, of course! A journalist from the Metro will also be visiting Glastonbury and enjoying a tree walk with us! More info >


To The Trees – Edition #3

The season began with a beautiful spring walk, met with some good weather and a keen group of 30 walkers, plus two canine friends!

We took a route around the lanes, studying the oak, beech and ash trees on wick hollow, taking a look at our native maple, the field maple, and investigating hazel flowers. We spotted the horse chestnut opening its leaves as well as the young sycamores getting a head start. We stopped for a few songs beneath the two beech trees on Bushy Coombe and ended at the Oak next to the brooke, meandering slowly back into town to enjoy a little gathering at Rainbow’s End.

This week marks the first anniversary of the tree walks. I can’t quite believe we’ve been meeting for a year. In that time we have been on around 30 group walks to meet the trees, our first group consisted of 5 people and today we walked with 30 people. I am proud of myself and the walkers for the commitment and consistency shown to this project over the past year and endlessly grateful to the trees for facilitating such an activity. Coming together like this is helping us to build stronger relationships with nature and in turn with ourselves and our community. It works!

We’ll have an Anniversary Tree Walk on Sunday 15th March, to celebrate this blossoming project. This one is a surprise walk, not listed in the Oracle, or elsewhere, so please do your best to spread the word and bring people along.

 


The Ash Tree

The Ash tree holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. On the surface, I love its long flowing limbs, its jet black buds, its deep maroon flowers and its long fingery branches, but there is far more here than first meets the eye.

There is enough to be learned from and about the Ash to nourish a lifetime’s study. Indeed, the ash could warrant its very own tree walk at some point. I find that trees uncover themselves slowly, layer by layer, each time I revisit a tree in my study, a deeper level of understanding emerges, this is especially the case with ash.

Ash was often overshadowed by oak and beech, but the more I spent time with the tree, the more I learned that it is very special and unique, a tree held in reverence by ancient human populations.

Yggdrasil

In Norse mythology the world tree, Yggdrasil, the central pillar of their belief system around which all life took place, was thought to be an ash tree. It’s placement here as the world tree, above trees of seemingly higher stature, the trees of climax woodland like oak, beech, and yew, is confusing, until you start to uncover the depth of the ash tree’s connection to the ancient cultures.

The branches of the world tree extend into heaven and its roots into the underworld, the trunk represents the middle world, where we exist and all life takes place. We might be best imagined as the leaves on the tree in this metaphor. Certain symbolic creatures live around the world tree: a serpent, an eagle, a squirrel who communicates between the snake and eagle, and a goat. From the bosom of the goat comes the sweet nectar, honey dew, from which mead is created.
Ash trees produce a honey substance from their leaves, which can be used to produce mead. Mead had a central role in communal celebrations, and I imagine was also consumed for its ability to alter the mind and encourage heightened states during communal gatherings. The ancients gave a lot of importance to this substance and understood that it fell from the air. A golden, sweet, nourishing substance gifted by nature. Perhaps this is why the ash tree was considered the most important to their culture.

Ecology

The ash trees mythology highlights a nourishing, life giving tree, which could also be of it in an ecological context. Ash can help to repopulate as a pioneer tree, but also play an important role in intermediate woodlands, and secondary succession, eventually making way for the climax woodland species, beech and oak, if the soil conditions are correct. If soil does not support beech then ash itself can also become the climax woodland.

Ash supports fewer species of insect than other trees, but does support over 500 species of lichen and becomes more habitable with age as the pH level of the bark increases. Its leaves are quick to decompose and they raise the pH level of the soil, increasing the availability of nutrients in the surrounding woodland. The foliage allows light through, which helps sunlight reach the under-story growth, hazels, elders, etc.

It has an important role to play in all areas of a developing woodland, almost like a crux, or arbor. Perhaps this is another reason it may have been held in such high regard.

The fluid gender of the ash

A further fascinating fact about the ash is that it is a dioecious or trioecious tree. Trees can have all male flowers, all female flowers, a mixture of both, and a flower that has both male and female parts. Further, it also appears to be able to change sex from one year to the next. I gather this depends on environmental conditions, other ash trees in the vicinity and perhaps the amount of seed the tree produced the prior year.

I enjoy the ash tree’s defiance of categorisation. It’s a fluid tree, one that contributes to developing woodlands in it’s own special way, it transforms from year to year, seemingly producing different gems at the end its magical black buds.

No doubt there is far more to be learned about this wonderful tree.

 


Tree of the Month: The Flowering Ash on Well House Lane

A profusion of inflorescence is on display from the ash on Well House Lane. This Ash has been in partial bloom throughout February, these are male ash flowers, they are not yet fully extended, though some are beginning to open.

This tree in particular seems to having a bumper year, a few other ash trees in the locality are showing flower buds forming and partially opened, but in modest numbers, most other trees are showing no flowers at all, but buds are swelling across the population.

Perhaps this is the trigger tree, once it starts releasing its pollen en masse then the others will follow. Ash tree flowers appear without petals, they are wind pollinated and do not need to attract insects to the flowers in order to pollinate. Flowers can be purely male, purely female, or have both male and female parts. Ash trees also have the ability to change sex from one year to the next. There is a wonderful world to be discovered around the ash tree.

Above: The countless black buds of the ash, emerging into maroon male flowers, readying for release of pollen.

 


Tree Identification Challenge

Spring tree buds and blossoms. Please send your answers, in clockwise order from top left, via the form on the contact page.

Until next time x

Matt Witt

Matt Witt

Author Matt Witt

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To The Trees