A tree in the (Welsh) jungle – tree following, June


When I chose my tree to follow for Loose and Leafy‘s tree-following meme, I believed I’d thought it through. I knew the smallest of my three birch trees wasn’t going to be covered in blossom or bear useful fruit, but I also knew I tended to overlook it and wanted to take a closer look.

I’ve spotted all sorts of things, like the birch flowers, which I’d not seen before – and how about these?

birch fruitThese are the fruit. I don’t recall ever having noticed birch fruit before…

Their appearance drove me to all my tree reference books, and I think I’m coming to the conclusion that what I have here isn’t the paper birch the Library thought they were giving away, but a downy birch. I need it to be back in early spring so I can compare and contrast the appearance of the newest twigs. This tree does have fuzzy twigs, but are they fuzzier than the two undoubted silver birches I also have?

If it is the downy birch, though, that would explain why it is taking much longer that the others to develop a pale trunk. For a while, earlier, I thought I detected a change, and I do think it is changing – but most of the trunk is still resolutely tawny. Or perhaps that should be orange,

branch and trunk

though it is fading to an orangey-silvery-greyish sort of faded colour at the base. Downy birches apparently take longer to change. I also need to do some more leaf comparisons – they’re definitely not the same – and watch autumn colour. Downy birches have browner autumn colour than silver birches… and can I remember? No, I cannot. However, as one website (Trees for Life, who are trying to restore the Caledonian Forest to glory) says: ‘intermediate forms exist between the two species, with various combinations of these characteristics, and this can make the identification of individual trees difficult.’ Rats.

So much for that. What I didn’t take a closer look at, when selecting my Dubious Birch for stardom, was the situation it was in. Especially after I decided not to mow one of the paths that ran nearby because it was too close to some fritillaries and people kept treading on them.

tree in meadow

(Note the colour of the sea in the background; I feel I have to point that out, just to illustrate the fact that it doesn’t always rain in Wales. Er. Today I can barely see the roof of the Capel.)

When I started sneaking up on the birch, path or no path, to grab quick close-up shots of intimate things like flowers, it was in amongst daffs and primroses. I failed to consider that as the tree grew and developed, the meadow would also grow up and develop, and so would the ex-path. Getting close to the tree now in anything other than dry weather (hah!) means becoming soaked from the waist down by wet meadow.

So I thought I’d take a look at the plants and flowers around the birch, with pride of place reserved for the Heath Spotted Orchids, which appear on the meadow edge. This year I have… TWO. Last year, I had one, and – looking back at the photos – it was much paler. Next year, three?

heath spotted orchid

So here is some of the life around my birch, some of which is almost over – today’s weather should see off the last of the plantain and buttercups and may destroy the fritillary seed heads – and some of which is up and coming, like the hawkweeds and the trefoil and the grasses. I know this isn’t exactly ‘tree following’ in the purest sense, but I’m taking a holistic, environmental, view. And there’s also the fact that if I want to tree follow in a literal sense today – and I couldn’t at the weekend, because of commitments – I will need the sort of gear deep-sea divers wear. Or a swimsuit, and I’m not going out there in me pants. It’s cold.

Click on any one for a slideshow…


18 Comments Add yours

  1. VP says:

    I wish I’d taken your holistic view Kate – I could have treated you to the ox-eye daisies which have spontaneously sprung up on the ‘lawn’. When I say lawn, I mean the area where my watched tree casts its shadow so there isn’t any grass there any more. OK, so they’re not orchids (and how about a mathematical progression to 4 for yours next year?), but I’m pretty pleased to see some flowers there which aren’t dandelions 😉

    1. kate says:

      Yers, I think you have to edit a holistic view, in fact I’m sure you do, or I’d have added in the bonfire heap, the bare patch nearby where we used to have bonfires, the new patch where we now have bonfires, and — the molehill. No!!

      (I’m not sure I should be challenging my orchids. I think they need cosseting instead.)

  2. Pauline says:

    I think in your first photo you have the male flowers of the birch tree which haven’t opened up yet, pollen will be spread by the wind.
    All my different birches had orange/brown bark for the first few years of their life, I’m afraid patience is needed while waiting for the white bark to appear!
    The flowers in your meadow are so beautiful, such a pretty sight.

    1. kate says:

      Hiya Pauline, thanks for this. I’ve given it a few more days, and I’m still tending towards fruit – most of the male flowers were open earlier (the pollen drove me mad), and I don’t remember them looking like this, plus these are unchanging even in our current heat. I think they’d open if they were the male flowers… hope they’re not; I don’t want any more pollen!

  3. Kate I love your meadow, I hope your orchids expand and multiply, I have purple orchids that pop up all over the place once I get rid of the tough grass and sphagnum moss,
    I have downy birches I posted some photos on a post a little while ago I could take a photo of the leaves and add it to my tree following post for you to compare, I like your tall willowy tree mine are all short and stocky, Frances

    1. kate says:

      Hiya Frances, you are so lucky with your orchids – the most I have ever had was three and that was only briefly after an enthusiastic Mowing Incident which we don;t talk about (much)… I’m going hunting your photos – it didn’t occur to me that mine might be downy too, so I didn’t do a comparison. I’ve just taken leaves from all three birches – I know the other tow are silvers – and my Baby is definitely downy.

  4. hoehoegrow says:

    I’ve never even heard of ‘Downy birches’. See the good things that come from the meme ! I love your holistic approach, especially as you have such a variety of wildflowers growing nearby. We have a small group of silver birches and also a specimen ‘Jacquemontii’ and I can’t remember them being anything other than silver, but that is a memory issue rather than a horticultural one !!

    1. kate says:

      It’s a great meme, isn’t it?

      The more I compare Babe to the other birches, the more she (?) looks different – I’d love a group of silvers; my two are lovely but I honestly cannot fit another one in. Sigh…

  5. croftgarden says:

    Whatever species it happens to be it is a handsome tree. Downy Birch is a British native, if the leaves are downy on the underside it is not a Silver Birch. My flora didn’t describe paper Birch (which I don’t think your is) so I found the following from Kew:
    A tree growing to about 30 m tall, paper birch usually has a single trunk up to 60 cm in diameter. The bark of young trunks and branches is dark reddish-brown, but mature trees have smooth, whitish bark, readily peeling from the trunk in thin, paper-like sheets. The leaves are green or yellow-green with a toothed margin and a pointed tip and are dotted with minute, resin-producing glands. Male flowers are borne on hanging catkins up to 100 mm long; these shed copious pollen in April or May before leaves emerge. Female flowers are borne on hanging catkins up to 50 mm long. Winged fruits ripen from August to September.
    Hope this helps, it was fun being distracted from whatever I was going to do.
    Your meadow is developing nicely – great selection of photographs.

    1. kate says:

      Thank you, that’s really really useful – Paper Birch it most definitely is not. Fruits fat caterpillars, nothing remotely winged about them. And my leaves are slightly fuzzy on the underside. Well, the tree’s leaves, but you know what I mean – we have identification! Downy birch you are. Sorry, I seem to have been overtaken by Yoda.

      (I’ve been doing housework. Terrible things happen if you do housework.)

  6. What grows round a tree (or even in its shadow) is part of getting to know the tree itself, Some trees will only grow in certain conditions so the nature of its location is important. Choosing the radius might be a bit of a challenge . . . perhaps the tree has little influence on the bonfire . . . but otherwise.

    Your description of the grass growing up round it made me think of the cottonwood Hollis is following – which is currently only accessible by boat!

    1. kate says:

      That’s definitely got me beat! I shall never, ever grumble about a little excessive growth again. Hm, until next month, probably…

  7. Cathy says:

    Enjoyed reading about your birch (whichever one it is!) and your meadow and all the comments – I have learned such a lot since joining this blogging community, if that’s what it is! Haven’t joined the tree meme yet though, as I haven’t had an ‘ahah’ moment to decide on a tree!

    1. kate says:

      You should definitely join in – I’d barely looked at this birch before I did and now I’ve learned so much too!

  8. wellywoman says:

    Ah, the wet grass that gets you even on a sunny day. I know that well, which is why I’m now sporting the shorts with wellies look. It’s surprising how much water grass retains, even if it’s just dew. It’s too hot for jeans at the moment but the grass at the plot is a bit high and due to hay fever I’m not cutting it. I just need to remember to put socks on – sweaty wellies are almost impossible to get off!
    It’s fabulous what you discover when you focus on something like you’re doing with your tree. I really wish I’d got round to following a tree but other commitments have got in the way this time. I’m soooooo jealous that you have your own orchids. I’m quite addicted to them after discovering our local wild flower meadows. Hope the sunshine is drying out the meadow – maybe you won’t need the wet suit after all. 😉

    1. kate says:

      It’s too hot for wellies here too, but unfortunately I also decided it was too hope for socks. Mine got attached to my legs and it took a strong man to get them off (luckily one was to hand, otherwise I’d still be wearing them – oh, and they finally came off with a mighty farting sound too, so attractive). I’m OK with the meadow for hay fever, but am dreading the flowering of the privet. Hopefully we’ll get it cut in time…

      Next year for the tree meme? I’d never have believed how much I would learn, just from taking note of a tree I’d otherwise walk past…

  9. What a beautiful post. I love your pictures. I am also following a birch tree – 99% sure it’s a silver birch, but it’s very old so I don’t know how long it took for the bark to change. Interestingly, it’s only really ‘silver’ from a few metres up: the lower part of the trunk is black.

    1. kate says:

      I’ve just had a closer look at your tree, it’s a real beauty… how strange about the bark being so dark. My big one appears dark at the base form a distance, but that’s only where it grew like a mad thing and split its bark, a bit like a teenager who suddenly balloons and splits her jeans (don’t ask me how I know, let me just say that I never got half as tall. Quarter as tall).

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