Woodland Watch – Week 10 – 22/05/2013

Another week and yet more unpredictable weather! We’re a few weeks away from summer and finally the woods are looking like they have come completely out of hibernation! This week, there was so much going on around the small area of woodland that I decided to focus on one species in particular that has been changing and developing on a week by week basis.

Common in woodland ecotones and hedgerows, this small tree of the rose family grows quickly and sends out many side shoots and branches which make a sturdy, impenetrable barrier to livestock. Unlike Blackthorn which sends out suckers, hawthorn does not have a large root system and is therefore not greedy with the soil’s nutrients. This encourages many forms of plant life to grow in its vicinity.

The hawthorn trees growing in the woodland are generally found around the borders of the wood within the woodland-meadow ecotone. Last week, the leaves were fully out and enjoying the late spring sunshine.

Young hawthorn leaves in woodland understorey

Young hawthorn leaves in woodland under storey

This week, there is a new development on the larger hawthorn trees in the hedgerows surrounding the woodland. Between May and June, the hermaphrodite flowers are produced in groups of 5-25 together. These can be seen developing now on the trees bordering the woodland. Like everything else this year, they are a little late developing!

Developing hawthorn flowers

Developing hawthorn flowers

Hawthorn blossoms along with its newly opened leaves and in a few weeks the flowers will have five snow white petals set around slender stamens with bright pink heads. Hawthorn blossoms contain both male and female reproductive parts and are fertilized by insects moving between them.

In the summer, the seeds will grow into small green berries which will turn red by autumn. We will watch the hawthorn trees in the wood over the coming months and see how they develop and change over time.

Join us next week for a walk in the woods as we approach the summer seasons.

Woodland Watch – Week 8 – 08/05/2013

Welcome to Woodland Watch week 8. The first thing I noticed on this walk through the woods is the bluebells. The first bluebells emerged several weeks ago now, but today the woodland floor is absolutely carpeted in them and I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of this beautiful, blue, floral carpet.

Bluebells carpeting the woodland floor

Bluebells carpeting the woodland floor

Above ground level, other shrub and tree species are also coming into full leaf. This young hawthorn has progressed from initial bud burst a few weeks ago into its full leaf state now.

Young hawthorn tree in full leaf

Young hawthorn tree in full leaf

In a primitive form of biological warfare, Hawthorn spines can infect animals with pathogenic bacteria – the same bacteria as that which causes gas gangrene. Britain’s hedgerows contain hawthorn for many reasons, including sustenance and protection. Hawthorn was also purposefully adapted into a hedging plant when the peasants were thrown off their inherited land by landowners following the general enclosures act of 1845. Thus the ‘peasants’ tree’ was turned into an instrument of division and derision by political and money minded barons, a barrier hedgerow to keep people off the land.

Another weed emerging all over the woodland floor is sticky weed (Galium aparine), otherwise known as cleavers or the velcro plant among other common names.

Sticky weed among dock leaves

Sticky weed among dock leaves

Most people who have been out in their gardens have come across this annual weed whose seeds germinate in the cool, wet weather of late winter and then grow rapidly into swirly, sticky stems of green that stick themselves to skin, clothing, pets and anything else they come into contact with.the plant is sometimes called bed straw because one of its sweeter smelling cousins (G. verum) was used to stuff mattresses in medieval times.

Join us next week for another walk in the woodland.

Woodland Watch – Week 6 – 24/04/2013

Welcome to the hottest day of the year so far and a perfect day for a walk in the woods! The coppice woodland looked absolutely beautiful today bathed in sunlight which streamed through the open canopy where many of the broadleaved trees have yet to come into leaf.

One of the most welcome sights was a glimpse of bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) flowering amid the wood anemones on the woodland floor. While the leaves have been carpeting the ground within the wood since week 1, this is the first sight of the beautiful bell shaped flowers from which the bluebell takes its name.

The first bluebells of spring emerging on the woodland floor

The first bluebells of spring emerging on the woodland floor

Most bluebells are found in ancient woodland where the rich habitat supports a wide range of species. In the past, bluebells have been employed for a whole host of uses. During the bronze age, bluebell glue was used to attach feathers to arrows and the Victorians used the starch from crushed bluebells to stiffen collars and sleeves. Bees can also steal nectar from bluebells by biting a hole in the bottom of the bell and reaching the nectar without pollinating the flower.

Also visible on the woodland floor is common dock (Rumex obtusifolius). Dock flowers from June to October, so at the moment it is only the spring flush of green growth that can be seen. The main flushes of emergence of dock are March-April and July-October.

Young flushes of dock emerging

Young flushes of dock emerging

 The hazel catkins which were golden and open to distribute their pollen only a few weeks ago have now fulfilled their purpose and are coming to the end of their life. In the last few weeks, the pollen grains released by the catkins have been distributed by the wind. When they land on the female flowers a fine tube carries the male nucleus to fertilise the egg and produce the hazel nuts we see in autumn.

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins

And lets not forget the bramble. Although the thorny stems from last year are still scattered across the woodland, only now are the new fresh leaves coming out. There are over 1000 known species of bramble worldwide and they provide a wealth of food for birds and animals in autumn…Including humans who will enjoy blackberry picking here later in the year.

Young bramble leaves

Young bramble leaves

And that’s it for another week! Join us next week to see what changes are happening in the woods this spring! Send us your own pictures to office@tree-creeper.com or upload them to our Treecreeper Arborists Ltd facebook page. 

See you next week!

Woodland Watch – Week 5 – 17/04/2013

It’s all starting to happen in the woods now. With the warmer weather drifting in, albeit in fits and starts, everything seems to finally be trusting that it is safe to come out of hibernation. This week, everything seemed to be bursting into life, wherever I looked there were signs of spring and listening to the birds singing in the trees and hedgerows passed a beautiful half hour wandering around the woods.

One of the first new plants I noticed on entering the woods was self heal (Prunella vulgaris) starting to flower around the edges of the woodland in the grassy ecotone. Self-heals are low-growing plants, and thrive in moist wasteland and grass, spreading rapidly to cover the ground. They are members of the mint family and have the square stem common to mints. They flower from late spring through to autumn and add another touch of colour to the ground as you enter the woodland.

Self heal growing on the grassy boundaries of the woodland edge

Self heal growing on the grassy boundaries of the woodland edge

Up until today the majority of the trees and lower level canopy remained stubbornly in bud with only the young elder leaves brave enough to emerge. It was good to see the hazel buds bursting into life, showering the woodland at eye level with bright green emerging leaves.

Most of this woodland is comprised of coppiced hazel (Corylus avellana) and in the past hazel has been crucially important as a source of wood which grows into straight poles when cut at ground level (coppiced). Uses include thatching spars, net stakes, water divining sticks, hurdles, furniture,  firewood and many many more. Hazel nuts were prized as a food source in the past, however grey squirrels often strip the trees before the nuts can ripen and be harvested.

Bud burst on coppiced hazel

Bud burst on coppiced hazel

Also starting to come into leaf is the common English wild honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymentum). I was glad to see honeysuckle in the woodland as it is an important plant for dormouse habitat. Dormice shred honeysuckle bark and weave it into a ball to form their nests and although I have yet to spot signs of dormice in this coppice woodland, it is good that it has potential as dormouse habitat.

English wild honeysuckle

English wild honeysuckle

The elder (Sambucus nigra) is certainly the most advanced tree/shrub in the woodland in terms of leaf development now. Also part of the honeysuckle family, elder provides a wealth of flowers and fruit throughout the year feeding a wide range of birds, animals and insects.

Elder leaves are one of the most developed in the woodland so far

Elder leaves are some of the most developed in the woodland so far

And its not just the hazel and elder bursting into leaf, there are a lot of young hawthorn plants making up the shrub layer of the woodland and their bright young leaves are also starting to emerge.

Young hawthorn leaves emerging

Young hawthorn leaves emerging

That’s it for this week. Join us again for a walk in the woods and see what you see on your own walks. Let us know at http://www.tree-creeper.com or send us your photos on our Treecreeper Arborists facebook page.

Woodland Watch – Week 3 – 04/04/2013

A beautiful day for a walk through the woods

A beautiful day for a walk through the woods

I really don’t know where last week disappeared to! I walked through the woods on a beautiful Tuesday last week and then the rest of the week flew by in a whirlwind of work! So, here we are, apologies for the slightly late posting of this entry…Lets go for a walk!

The trees and plants are as confused by the weather as we all are at the moment! Every week the weather could quite easily be doing anything at all, from brilliant sunshine to snow this really has been a spring of extremes! Fortunately, last Tuesday was a beautiful spring day and it was wonderful to see the signs of spring in the sunshine.

Many of the tree buds are still remaining resolutely closed against the cold weather, but a few of the species in the woodland are starting to show signs of emerging leaves. One of the most advanced species in this woodland is the elder (Sambucus nigra), which is by far the furthest along in terms of bud burst.

Emerging elder leaves

Emerging elder leaves

Looking around the woodland floor the nettles are starting to emerge in patches. The common nettle (Urtica dioica) prefers moist fertile soil that has a deep layer of composting detritus therefore the woodland floor with its thick layer of decomposing leaf litter is the perfect habitat for these plants.

Young nettles emerging from the woodland floor

Young nettles emerging from the woodland floor

While nettles are often considered to be a troublesome weed, they actually have a wide range of uses, from tea made from the young leaves to string, rope and fabrics made from the fibrous stem nettles are a wonderfully versatile plant. For more uses for nettles have a look at this website: http://dallia.hubpages.com/hub/interesting-facts-about-stinging-nettles

A couple of weeks ago, we saw a lot of evidence of squirrel activity in the form of hazel nut shells characteristically split in two. Again, there was a wealth of feeding evidence littering the woodland floor, this one tree stump was covered in discarded shells.

Discarded shells on a decomposing tree stump showing characteristic signs of squirrel feeding

Discarded shells on a decomposing tree stump showing characteristic signs of squirrel feeding

However, these shells are not the only indicators of grey squirrel presence. Many of the trees are showing signs of squirrel damage. Grey squirrels gnaw at the stems of trees to get to the sweet sap-filled layers just beneath the bark. If a complete circle of bark and underlying tissue is removed the tree is said to have been ‘ring barked’ which prevents the movement of sugars around the tree and the section above the damaged tissue will die. This typically occurs between late April and the end of July and the damage observed during this walk was clearly caused in previous years. 

Squirrel damaged young tree

Squirrel damaged young tree

Heading a little further down the path, these bright young leaves caught my eye. I am fairly sure they are Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), however my ground level vegetation identification is not my strong point! As the plants develop it will be clear whether my identification is correct or not!

young Arum maculatum leaves

young Arum maculatum leaves

Walking out the other side of the woodland, some of the larger trees around the perimeter have a lot of holes. Many birds and mammals make and use holes in trees, especially in deadwood or weakened wood. It was impossible to see these holes clearly with the naked eye and my camera wasn’t strong enough to zoom in. I made a mental note to bring binoculars with me on future walks! For now, here’s the best picture I could get with my iphone camera!

Holes in mature trees around the perimeter of the coppice woodland

Holes in mature trees around the perimeter of the coppice woodland

So that’s another week in the woods! Join us again next week for the latest developments. Lets hope this good weather holds and the trees can start to really get into spring! See you again next time for a walk in the woods!

Remember to upload pictures of your own woodland walks to our facebook page – Treecreeper Arborists or email them to office@tree-creeper.com . Happy woodland walks!

Woodland Watch – Week 2 – 28/03/2013

Well, its week 2 of Woodland Watch and what a difference a week makes! After a brief visit from the spring sunshine, my walk this week was bracing to say the least! Last week’s soft, muddy paths were frozen solid again and wet patches on the woodland boundaries were frozen into beautiful patterns reminding me of Jack Frost from my childhood games.

"Look out, look out...Jack Frost is about...He's after your fingers and toes"!

“Look out, look out…Jack Frost is about…He’s after your fingers and toes”!

As Tree Surgeons, this late cold spell has both positives and negative effects on our work. Winter jobs such as planting and hedge laying have been able to continue a lot later than in warmer years, but cold weather can affect young spring growth.

Plants can contain up to around 90% water and in cold weather, particularly in frosty conditions, the water in plant cells freezes damaging the cell wall. Frost damaged plants become limp, blackened and distorted. Evergreen plants can turn brown and tender plants can take on a translucent appearance. Frozen ground water is also inaccessible to plants’ root systems and prolonged cold spells in spring can cause plants to die from lack of moisture.

Although the young spring ground plants don’t appear to be showing signs of frost damage, the usually jelly-like Jews Ear fungus which we spotted last week was frozen solid and brittle with a distinctly shiny appearance.

Jews Ear fungus frozen in the early spring frosts

Jews Ear fungus frozen in the early spring frosts

The hazel which makes up a large proportion of the lower canopy level in this woodland has lots of clearly visible catkins. Trees are flowering plants and in hazel (Corylus avellana) the male flowers form catkins such as the one pictured below while the female  are single red/pink flowers. I have yet to spot these tiny female flowers in this woodland but will keep a look out in the coming weeks. Pollination mainly by wind, these catkins do not need the bright colours of other flowers to attract insects to pollinate them.

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins

Hopefully the weather over the coming weeks will warm up and we can look forward to more signs of spring. Until next week, enjoy your own woodland walks and don’t forget to send us your pictures to office@tree-creeper.com.

See you next week.