Saturday, 24 June 2017

Apple Blossom

My camera and I disagree about apple blossom.  We agree that close up the individual flowers with five white petals tinged with pink are among the most beautiful of the springtime tree blossom.  We disagree about the impact the flowering of the apple trees has on the landscape of Milton Country Park in general, and its orchard in particular.

Close up of fully open apple blossom white with pink tinge and underside to petals.
Apple Blossom - 23 April 2017
White petals with pink tinge and underside

This has been a good year for blossom and the orchard has been the prettiest I have seen it. To my eye, the apple blossom was plentiful and stood out from the background.  The camera saw things somewhat differently: the blossom was there, but was only one of a number of elements competing for my attention in the final picture.  

A row of apple trees all in flower
Orchard - 25 April 2017
Apple blossom at its peak. The bare branches and the metal guards
around the trunks seem far more prominent than I remember them

This is not the first time in the course of this project that I have come up against this phenomenum whereby the visual weight of an item is completely reduced, even though the proportion it occupies in the final picture is probably greater than it was in the original scene. It underlines how the brain interprets a picture completely differently from the way it interprets the image formed on the retina by the original landscape. 

View along path with tall apple tree overshadowing the path
Path by Wetlands - 16 April 2017
Apple tree growing by the path
which seemed far more obvious than it does in this image.




A spray of apple buds, pink, almost red with the white petals beginning to emerge
Buds - 9 April 2017
The buds on this tree were a very deep pink, almost red

Over the ages, the apple has featured prominantly in myths and legends, which is hardly surprising given that there is evidence that man has been eating apples for over 7000 years. Here, I want to highlight some of the folklore that is specifically associated with apple blossom.

Apple flower surrounded by spray of partially opened buds.
Blossom - 23 April 2017
Its not difficult to see why apple blossom
should symbolize a woman's beauty

In China, apple blossom symbolises a woman's beauty. In other cultures, the flowers are associated with love, and have been included in love sachets and candles to attract love.  In Wales, apple blossom was laid in coffins to restore youth in the afterlife.

Close up of apple blossom
Apple Blossom - 23 April 2017
Catch a falling petal to bring you luck
Catch twelve for a year of good fortune

I finish with a bit of English weather lore:

If apples bloom in March
In vain for them you'll search;
If apples bloom in April
Why then, they'll be plentiful;
If apples bloom in May
You can eat them night and day.

From that, it appears that 2017 should be a good year for apples!

Further Reading

Fresh Fruit Facts and Folklore
Apple History, Folklore, Myth and Magic
Tree Lore: Apple
Apple Folklore
The Magic of the Ogham Trees: Apple - Quert
Fruit in Mythology

Next : The Wisdom of Dandelions

Saturday, 10 June 2017


In early April, sandwiched between the white blanket of the early plum blossom and the delicate pink and white apple blossom, the willow trees flower.  The narrow leafed white willows gleam gold in the sun from the myriads of catkins curving between the leaves and around the branches like an army of woolly caterpillars.  The goat willow is still leafless, and its plumper, straighter, flowers make the bushes appear as if they have been covered with balls of pale yellow cotton wool. Although the willows are some of the most numerous trees in Milton Country Park, their flowers do not have the impact on the landscape of the massed white flowers of other spring flowering trees.

Close up of a series of curving willow catkins
White Willow Catkins - 9 April 2017
In Scotland, branches of willow catkins were used
to decorate churches to celebrate Palm Sunday.

To the English imagination, the willow is the tree of summer, long hot lazy summers spent messing about on the water.  A role immortalised in its eponymous reference in Kenneth Graham's classic 'Wind in the Willows'. And if not on the water, then sitting in a deckchair watching cricket on the village green and listening to the sound of leather on willow, before eating scones and drinking cups of tea in the interval between innings.

White willow tree covered in catkins gleaming orange in the sun
White Willow - 9 April 2017
This tree with new shoots growing from its broken trunks,
illustrate why willow is a symbol of rebirth and immortality in many parts of the world

Over the centuries, willow has had less happy associations and became particularly associated with grief.  In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forsaken lovers would wear a cap made of willow twigs and leaves.  A couple of hundred years later, willow found its way as a decoration on gravestones.

Close up of a single branch of Goat Willow with catkins
Goat Willow Catkins - 2 April 2017
These catkins in the house are reputed to reduce fevers

Yet for an indigenous tree, known from ancient times, the willow has attracted relatively little folklore or mythology.  The Druids believed that two scarlet snake eggs were hidden in the willow, one contained the sun, the other the earth, from which the universe was hatched.  Celtic tradition holds that the willow is a source of great psychic energy.  

Bush of goat willow covered in catkins
Goat Willow - 2 April 2017
The goat willow catkins are far more conspicuous than the white willow counterparts,
not only are they thicker, but there are no leaves to hide them.
Perhaps, our ancestors did not feel the need to weave stories around the willows, because they were, and still are, such really useful trees.  Listed uses include: cricket bats, baskets, wicker furniture, wattle and daub walls, outdoor furniture, ornamental boxes, doors, fodder and fuel.  This is apart from the medicinal uses of willow, which, we now know, are derived from the salicylic acid in its bark.  Salicylic acid is the active ingredient of Aspirin, and just like Aspirin, willow bark was used to relieve pain and reduce fever, as well as treating a wide range of other conditions including gout, rheumatism, sore throats (as a gargle), skin conditions, whooping cough and catarrh. 

White willow bush covered in seeding catkins
White Willow Seeds - 30 April 2017
By the end of April, willow seeds are well formed
and far more visible than the preceding catkins

But the willow is not only useful to humans, it is a valuable food plant for many insects.  In particular, the caterpillars of  three of our largest moths, the red underwing, the puss moth, and the eyed hawk moth, all feed on the willow.

On a botanical note, I have identified the narrow leaved willows in the park as white willow, but this is by no means certain, as they could equally well be crack willow or hybrids. Similarly, I have used the name goat willow for the broad leaf varieties with only marginally more confidence.

Close up of white willow seeds
White Willow Seeds - 2 April 2017
These seeds will soon blow about the park like snow
and give a fluffy white covering to ground and water.


Other trees in Milton Country Park that have catkins at this time of year include birch, poplar and hornbeam.  The latter is a tree I have never seen, or at least positively identified, until this year.  Even then, I initially confused it with the beech trees: it has similarly shaped leaves and a smooth bark, but the leaves are out earlier than the beech and the flowers are completely different.

Branches of hornbeam with catkins
Hornbeam - 2 April 2017
The hornbeam is associated with clairvoyance, wisdom, and long life.
In some folklore, the hornbeam itself is held to be immortal.

The wood of hornbeam is very hard, harder than oak, and it is this characteristic that gave it its name: in Old English 'horn' meant hard, and 'beam' meant tree. Because its wood is so hard, hornbeam is rarely used for cabinet making as it tends to blunt tools, and is much more commonly used where its strength is an asset: for making butcher's blocks, cog wheels, and striking hammer in pianos. Romans used it to make their chariots.

Close up of a pair of hornbeam catkins
Hornbeam Catkins - 2 April 2017
Fertilised seeds mature and ripen to nutlets
a favourite food of the hawfinch

Further Reading

Mandy Haggith: Willow
Trees For Life: Willow
Kindred Spirit Magazine: Willow Ways
Tree Lore: Willow  
Woodland Trust: Willow, white (Salix alba)

Woodland Trust: Fascinating Tree Facts
SooperArticles: Common Hornbeam Tree

Next: Apple Blossom