I’ve been meaning to join in with Loose and Leafy and follow a tree for a year, but I’ve been prompted to actually do it by Janet at Plantalicious (hawthorn) and particularly Elizabeth from Welsh Hills Again, who is documenting a year in the life of a rowan. I lost mine in the January storms, and I did love it dearly – but her post pushed me into taking a good look at some of the other trees in my garden. Which to choose? It has to be something that sustains interest, as the idea is to post about it once a month, around the 7th, thus documenting the way it grows and changes. Fruit trees would be obvious but – for me, anyway – kind of not the point (plus my fruit trees do not bear looking at closely).
So I took a walk round, and decided to concentrate on one of my three birches – predictable; I’ve rhapsodised about them before. Incidentally, I’m amazed at how the three birches sailed through the winter storms without turning a hair. But this time I want to look at the least assertive of the trio, the one which tends to get overlooked,
the one in the foreground here.
It’s also the smallest, which means I can get its whole height into shot without climbing the walls or leaving the country. Just.
I won it. Well, I’d have won it whatever I did.
Let me explain – it was a competition at the library: borrow enough books, answer a simple question and win a tree seedling. I entered, but so did fewer people than trees available, so we all got one (and I suspect some people got two). At that time, about eight years ago, it was roughly three feet tall. And I’ve no idea what birch it is – any guesses? It’s got gorgeous orange bark,
but it becomes paler as it gets older, with the newer branches being quite bright and the trunk beginning to mellow to a runny honey colour in places. It could be a form of paper birch, which I guess would tie in to it being a prize from the library. I don’t particularly care – I love it anyway…
The very newest branches are grey and soft and fuzzy, which shows best against the light.
There are plenty of buds but – despite the lovely warm weather – no sign of any leaf action quite yet. There are, however, masses of rather perky catkins:
I’ve never really examined the scaly nature of birch catkins at this stage before… birches, of course, are wind pollinated, and there tens to be quite a lot of pollen when they do go ping, but happily it never seems to trigger my hay fever.
Taking such a close look at this tree is something I hardly ever do, and it will be interesting to follow the its development and change over the year. I do take it for granted – it’s got neither the ridiculous height nor the shimmering bark of its compatriots – and it will be so good to give it the attention it deserves. And it’s set in the middle of the meadow (with a nicely cleared circle around its base; wonder how long that will last), so it will be good to lift my eyes upwards as well as concentrating on the exciting things happening at ground level.
Maybe it’s not so surprising that the birches survived the storms. Their flexibility (in all sorts of ways) has served them well – the oldest known Betula fossils go back to the time of the dinosaurs, just, the Upper Cretaceous. They were probably most diverse about 45 million years ago but they’re not doing badly at present, quite at home in a huge range of habitats. And in my garden. It will be interesting to learn more about them, as well as appreciating this particular – baby – example as the year goes on. And it will also be interesting fighting my way through the meadow towards it as the grasses grow up… and up…