Unusual Trees to Look Out for (1)

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Unusual Trees to Look Out for (1)

Sciadopitys verticillata (Sciadopityaceae), Umbrella Pine 165/025

Sciadopitys is from two Greek roots, meaning (YES!) ‘umbrella’ and ‘pine’.  Verticillata means ‘whorled’.  A native tree of Japan, there called Koyamaki, it is said to be rare now.

“The Koyamaki was chosen as the Japanese Imperial crest for Prince Hisahito of Akishino, currently third in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne.” – Wikipedia.

It was introduced by John Gould Veitch into Britain in 1860.  As you might guess from its appearance, it’s not a pine at all.  It’s the sole member of the family Sciadopityaceae, and is a living fossil, having been present in the fossil record for 230 million years – the first known examples appearing in the Triassic period.  At one time it was more widespread; fossils have been found in northern Europe.  Research using infrared microspectroscopy has revealed that some of its close family members among the Sciadopityaceae are the source of Baltic amber.  (It used to be thought that the amber was from members of the Araucariaceae and Pinaceae families.)

A spider and ant trapped in Baltic amber. The small stellate hairs are from the amber tree.

It has no close relatives, although it was formerly classified as a member of the family Taxodiaceae. (Demonstrating these matters of classification to be even more fluid, recent research has shown the Taxodiaceae to be part of the Cupressaceae family, which includes the cypresses, redwoods, cryptomerias, cedars and others.  Even the usually authoritative International Plant Names Index still shows the tree as being in the Taxodiaceae.)

Our first two photographs are of a specimen tree in Wythenshawe Park, Manchester.  I’ve also spotted a young tree, not much over a meter high, in the botanical woodlands at Portmeirion.

Portmeirion woodlands, 2009

Mature cone, New York Botanical Garden

Sheet from our Grindon Herbarium with illustrations from Louis van Houtte’s Flore des serres et des jardins de l’Europe and articles from The Gardener’s Chronicle and elsewhere.

-Daniel King

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