Tuesday, 2 November 2010

In praise of trees

The trees have begun their autumn dance of colours here in the south east. Splashes of yellow, crimson and copper light my journey to work, even when the sky is overcast. First to turn were special cultivars of ash planted around our borough by a tree lover from another generation. A wave of vermillion sweeps across their emerald green canopy from September, creating a stunning visual effect.

Chris Packham has declared 2010 a mast year, producing a bountiful harvest of fungi, berries and nuts: a wild store cupboard for mammals and birds preparing to overwinter and a hearty reward for human foragers. I've enjoyed a few meals of ceps and stinging nettle soup and stashed away jars of blackberry jam and crab apple jelly.

Going to an arboretum to enjoy autumn colours is probably cheating, as most are planted with the Japanese acer palmatum whose deep red leaves outshine our native trees at this time of year. But English beech is the tree I love most in any season, with its sinuous grey stems and, in November, a shower of coppery foliage. It certainly rivals its colourful cousin, the copper beech, whose leaves have the hue of deep burgundy wine - not copper at all.

As Roger Deakin writes in Wildwood, "Trees have the capacity to rise to the heavens and to connect us to the sky, to endure, to renew, to bear fruit, and to burn and warm us through the winter". For me trees are an annual clock to tell the seasons by.

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