Thursday, April 12, 2012

Shocking Pink

Today's Guardian Country Diary, which describes the impact of a sudden snowfall in Teesdale last week, also features the opening of the new season's cones on larch trees.

























Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:William_Wordsworth_001.jpg

Lakeland poet William Wordsworth - he who "...wandered lonely as a cloud ..." and admired "...hosts, of golden daffodils..." - disliked larch trees intensely, considering that they disfigured his beloved Lake District landscape. Planting larch, for its fast-growing valuable timber, became very popular amongst landowners during his lifetime.


Wordsworth had nothing good to say about its foliage, complaining that "In spring the larch becomes green long before the native trees, and its green is so peculiar and vivid, that finding nothing to harmonise with it wherever it comes forth, a disagreeable speck is produced". He did rather grudgingly admit that he found its juvenile cones attractive, though, writing "...it must be acknowledged that the larch, till it has outgrown the size of a shrub, shows, when looked at singly, some elegance in form and appearance, especially in spring, decorated as it is then by the pink tassels of its blossoms". 


Wordsworth and the late, great forester Alan Mitchell (1922-1995) who was always equally forthright in his opinions, would never have established a meeting of minds if they had lived in the same era. Mitchell described larch as "...amongst the most valuable and decorative of all the trees we grow". He also drew attention to its value to our native wildlife: "Larches attract a variety of birds", he wrote, "crossbills feed on the seeds available to them from August while their staple diet of Scots pine seeds is not yet ready; tits feed in summer on caterpillars and aphids and in the winter on aphid eggs; redpolls, siskins and bullfinches nest in plantation trees, and buzzards and ravens in the spreading tops of big, old trees. The light, deciduous foliage allows the persistence or development of the pre-vernal herb layer so prized under oakwoods: bluebell, bugle,sanicle,wood-sorrel, and grasses, and their associated butterflies and other insects". (1)



On the tree, if not on its place in the Lakeland landscape, I tend to side with the pragmatic forester and naturalist rather than with the romantic poet ... but then, I rather like those shocking "pink tassels" and those bunches of new needles, like lime green shaving brushes ..... but maybe that's all to do with growing up in the 1960s, when psychedelic art was all the rage.... although, even then, I would never have chosen those colours for a shirt and tie combination.


1. Alan Mitchell. Alan Mitchell's Trees of Britain (1996) HarperCollins. ISBN 0 00 219972 6

14 comments:

  1. I'm wondering whether you could help with an ID. I've posted a picture of a flower on an oak tree. I had thought it was a Turkey Oak but, seeing the flowers, I'm not so sure . . .

    http://goo.gl/DOjLc

    My tree book is annoying in that it has pictures of flowers for some oaks but not others.

    I realise just the flower may not be enough - but it might, at least, be possible to rule out some possibilities?

    Incidentally, I've never seen an acorn on this tree - though the leaves are very clearly oak shaped.

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  2. Phil, Larch power, man, we're all just children of our time! There's many a poet from times past that wouldn't have looked out of place in the 60s. Regards, Graeme

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  3. A fascinating post, particularly since I was observing a Larch (intermittently) when I took part in the Tree Year Project in 2011.

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  4. Hi Lucy, Looks like it could be Turkey oak but it might be a hybrid between that and another species like cork oak ... I think Lucombe oak is one such, that might have hairy acorn cups ...........

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  5. Hi Graeme, while we are on the nostalgia trip, I seem to remember a Monty Python sketch about the larch ....

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  6. Hi Caroline, Your pictures certainly underline Alan Mitchell's assessment of the tree as a wildlife asset. Lovely woodpecker pictures!

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  7. An excellent boatbuilding timber, too - cobles up your way use it for planking, I believe.

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  8. There's nothing else around in the countryside here that's quite that colour lotusleaf

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  9. Larch is incredible poisonous to cattle and animals in general. Just a small amount is lethal to them. Otherwise, I am very fond of larch too! We have had an woodpecker at our larch back home where I am from, and those were really rare there. :)

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  11. Hi Knock on Wood, it's a very graceful tree, isn't it? very attractive in autumn too, when the needles turn yellow.

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  12. Hey!
    I discovered something awful.. It was Taxus baccata, or yew, that´s so horribly poisonous! I am so sorry to have been mistaken! :S
    And yes, I agree, Larch is graceful indeed!

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  13. Hi Knock on Wood, I think that it's only the pink cup around the seed of yew is the only part that isn't poisonous - to birds, at least!

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