On 27 September Orleton and District Gardening Club welcomed Mary Fenton, a self taught photographer and gardener, to give a talk on The Wonder of Trees.  Mary treated the club to a wonderful slideshow illustrating the longevity and beauty of trees, their role in the natural world and the way in which they communicate.

Trees have been around for millions of years and are extremely long lived.  There is an aspen in the USA which has a root system which is 80,000 years old.  The top growth which  is much younger regenerates by a process of clonal growth.  Yew is exceptionally long lived. In Sennybridge, Wales, there is a yew which is 2000 years old and another in Mid Wales which is 3000 years old.  Yews were revered in ancient times because they can regenerate from old wood.

Because the vessels carrying food and water are located just under the bark the heartwood can rot without causing the death of the tree and hollow trees provide a habitat for a plethora of insects, birds, mammals, fungi, lichens and mosses.  A slide showed an avenue of coppiced limes in Gloucestershire in full leaf despite being hollow.  Ancient trees provide a valuable habitat for rare insects such as the Violet Click beetle which is only found in three sites in the UK.  Old orchards in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire provide a valuable source of old wood.  One oak can support 350 species of insects.

We are only just beginning to understand how trees communicate.  Roots of neighbouring trees grow into each other and communicate by means of mycorrhizal fungi.  The Wood Wide Web is slow, electrical impulses travelling at just one third of an inch per second.  There is evidence to show that beeches can support an ailing beech and can drive out competing tree species by making the surrounding area inimical to growth.

Slides of Westonbirt, Batsford, The New Forest and elsewhere here and abroad demonstrated the beauty of trees throughout the seasons and, when they grow no more they leave a legacy of natural sculpture.

Ghislaine Arundale