Tree Lines – Christmas 2000

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Patrick J Nugent is a teacher, environmentalist and author. He possesses a great love for the countryside and for the inhabitants of the nature world, which surround us.

“He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound ’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep “

Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)


 Often you must have seen them

Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning

After a rain. They click upon themselves

As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured

As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.”

Birches (Robert Frost)

In Winter we may retreat from nature but out there we know the giants sleep, waiting to invite us out again in Spring with bursting vitality and colour. Meantime we will entertain ourselves on the ills, and woes, the hopes and sorrows of the World.

Even this melancholy winter mood may be broken by observations on nature. When family discussion wallows gleefully in aches and pains we may point out the curative power of nature. Perhaps the most apt to begin with is St. John’s Wort or Hypericum, used in the treatment of depression, and famous also for its magnificent blaze of gold in a garden.

Eucalyptus essence is increasingly used in treating asthma. Others with strong curative powers include Juglans nigra (Black Walnut), Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair) and certain Crataegus.

Hopefully, the subject begins to think about the garden rather than the ailment. Somebody may help by describing the fine choice of Australian Eucalyptus for flooring the sitting room.

On religion, heavy going and hot tempers may be smoothed by informing the company that a French missionary Pére Armand David ‘discovered’ in 1869 the ‘Handkerchief Tree,’ Davidia involucrata, in China, and sent the seeds back to France, thereby gaining for himself at least a certain mortality. Refill the wine-glasses observing that the Chardonnay was stored perhaps in barrels made from Hungarian, French, or American White Oak (Querscus alba).

The oak, you point out, allows oxygen in and some water and alcohol out. This may impress or depress the audience.

A certain group participation may be in order:

What did David Douglas and Indian Chief Sequoya have in common?

David Douglas gave his name to the Douglas Fir, which he introduced into England in 1826. The Douglas Fir at Dunkeld is 212’ high and is the tallest tree in Britain and Ireland. Sequoya was a Cherokee from Georgia who invented the Cherokee alphabet. He was renowned for his love of nature and respect for the giant redwoods and, hence, the Californian Redwood is named after him.

Name the tallest tree in the world.

Here there is no contest. It is a Californian Redwood (Sequoia semper-virens) called the ‘Howard Libby’ standing in Humbolt State Redwood Park California. In 1968 it is measured 366 feet.

The oldest known specimen, felled in 1934, was dated at 2200 years.

Name the biggest tree in the word.

Again, no contest, It is a close relation of the Californian Redwood called the Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron gigantium). The ‘General Sherman’ at 272 feet high has a girth of 79 feet at 5 feet and a total trunk volume of 50,000 cubic feet. It is generally acknowledged to be the world’s largest living thing. It stands at the Sequoia National Park in Fresno County, California.

Where is the tallest oak in Ireland?

According to Thomas Packenham, it stands at Tullynally, outside Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath, on the Packenham estate. This Common Oak (Quercus robur) stands at 109 feet.

In what way is the Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) unusual?

It is a one-tree family. It is possibly the most ancient tree on earth. The leaf is easily recognised, described as a bears paw or a butterfly. It has strong curative powers, mainly associated with blood circulation. The tree looks miserable in cold exposed sites.

Where is ‘The Shakespeare Tree Garden’?

Not surprisingly it is at Shottery, near Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire, not far from Anne Hathaway’s thatched cottage. It is an arboretum containing all the trees named in the works of Shakespeare.

Link the colours copper, white and green to the following trees; Betula jacquemontii, Acer griseum and Quercus suber.

Birch (betula jacquemontii) has a strikingly white bark. Acer griseum (Paper-bark Maple) has a copper peeling bark. Quercus suber (Cork Oak) is one of a few evergreen oaks.

Thoughts on trees are strangely comforting. Gray wrote his famous elegy in 1751, and it remains a classic:

“There at the foot of yonder nodding beech

That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,

His listless length at noontide would he stretch,

And pore upon the brook that babbles by. “

Elegy in a County Churchyard (Thomas Gray)

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About this record

Written by Patrick J. Nugent

Published here 11 May 2023 and originally published Christmas 2000

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