Trees

and so are Yew…

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Brendel model of Taxus baccata – female flower, fruit (aril)

So here is the last of my botanical, Valentine’s Day posts. I admit this last post is a bit tenuous and I do hope you will pardon my pun.

Looking back over the Valentine’s posts I’ve realised I’ve perhaps not altogether gotten into the spirit of Valentine’s Day with all my talk of wars, slavery and exploitation and I’m afraid with such a tenuous link I will be unable to remedy that now.

However, did you know that the wood from the yew is very springy making it the wood of choice for longbow makers?  I’m sure, therefore, that Cupid’s bow would have been made from a yew.

Cupid

This springy quality of yews meant that they were in great demand until bows were eventually replaced with guns. Unfortunately, yew is also a very knotty wood resulting in a lot of wastage, consequently the demand for bowstaves led to the demise of the great Yew forests of Western Europe.  Here at the Manchester Museum our archery collection consists of over 4,000 objects.

Yews that manage to avoid the chop have the potential to live for a very long time.   The Fortingall Yew Tree found in the centre of Scotland, is believed to be at the very least 2,000 years old and possibly as old as 5,000 years making it  the oldest organism in Britain, and maybe the world!

PUN WARNING

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet
,
And so are Yew.

Please note, Yew trees are NOT sweet, in fact they are quite poisonous!

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

Sticks and bones: Tree study to help orthopaedic surgeons

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As part of  the Manchester Museum’s Charles Darwin: Evolution of a Scientist programme of events,  all the staff  in the herbarium were recently trained to take museum objects connected with Charles Darwin out to community groups.   During the training we were discussing what it meant to be a scientist, and how it was not necessarily about having the all answers but more about asking the right questions.

I was reminded of that discussion today when, looking at the University of Manchester website, an article about a new tree study caught my eye.  The study, being undertaken at the University by Dr Roland Ennos, is looking at why tree branches buckle or split, rather than break cleanly, and how this could help orthopaedic surgeons do a better repair job on children’s broken bones.

What I found particularly interesting is how Dr Ennos came up with the idea for the study.  He said: “I was walking through our local wood and breaking twigs off trees and wondering why they were breaking in these two particular ways. I remembered how difficult it was to break branches for firewood as a cub scout – you can’t break fresh branches, you need to find dead wood.”

It’s all about the questions!

Finally, here’s Dr Ennos singing the praises of trees: 

“…wood is a marvelous material, the best in the world, better than steel or plastic. It is stiff, strong and tough, all combined, and that’s very rare in a material. Steel is stronger but it’s heavier and both that and plastic take a lot of energy to make, which is important when we are facing climate change.

“We ought to return to an age of wood, in my opinion. We have a feel for wood that goes back to our early ancestors, when we used to cut branches off trees to make into spears and other tools. Understanding precisely how it works should help us design the tools of the future.”

Read the full article here.