Hello! I’m back with another top 10 list, so far I’ve done top 10 Hedgerow plants and top 10 UK birds! For this list all of the trees are UK native species!
- Alder (Alnus glutinosa) – Alder is actually a pioneer species as it increases the fertility of the soil. Alder has a symbiotic relationship with with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called Frankia alni. Fond in the root nodules, the bacterium absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. Alder, in turn, provides the bacterium with sugars, which it produces through photosynthesis.
- Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) – I have my own crab apple tree that was given to my parents when I was born which is very special to me! These trees are unique in that they will often grow alone without any other crab apple trees close by!
- Elder (Sambucus nigra) – This tree is fantastic for wildlife. The flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects and the berries are eaten by birds and mammals. Small mammals such as dormice and bank voles eat both the berries and the flowers and many moth caterpillars feed on the foliage.
- Oak (Quercus robur) – One of my absolute favourite trees so much so I could write this whole post about just Oak! The trees are fantastic for biodiversity when solitary but also as part of forests. They provide fantastic hard wood which is used for all sorts of things and parts of the tree were even used in traditional medicine!
- White Willow (Salix alba) – All willow trees were seen as trees of celebration in biblical times but over time they are now often used as symbols of mourning. You see this a lot in poetry and literature, for example in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia dies by drowning near a willow tree.
- Yew (Taxus baccata) – I have written about Yew before which goes into more of it’s poisonous nature. Another fact about Yew trees is that given their dense nature they provide fantastic nesting opportunities for many of our smaller uk bird species, particularly the goldcrest and firecrest.
- Bay Willow (Salix pentandra) – This willow tree has leaves that look like Bay trees hense the name! All willow trees have a history with medicine as Salicilin is found in the bark of the tree. Asprin is derived from this compound but in olden times you could chew on the bark of willow trees to relieve pain!
- Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) – Scot’s pine is the national tree for Scotland and is vital to the unique Caledonian Forest that is a habitat for other rare species such as the red squirrel.
- Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) – Cherry trees are completely stunning and this species is native to the UK! There blossom is fantastic for nature as it’s early source of pollen and nectar. These trees are often used as ornamental plants but the wood is also very pretty and used to make ornamental pieces.
- Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) – This species of tree was planted as protection against witches because this tree has red berries and the colour red was considered the best colour for fighting evil. This species grows well in high altitudes and the wood is strong and hard which makes it great for making furniture.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick romp through some UK trees! The woodland trust has lots of fantastic information on different tree species and where to find them if you are looking for more!
In conservation and biology in general there is a lot of talk over whether a species is native. This can often be quite a divisive issue because when species are not native they can often be removed or not be a part of policy making. This then means that when conservation plans are put into place a decision must be made as to whether a species is native or not.
So how do you decide whether something is in fact native?
A seemingly easy way of doing this is whether a species has been living in a location for a long time. However due to the wonderful nature of the world trying to pick a starting point in time and figure out what was living there can be a tricky task. For example certain plant species have always been in the UK such as Oak trees. They are therefore classed as native. Other plant species have been brought into the UK. This can happen for lots of different reasons whether its because the plant has a medical property that humans can use or it could be that they are just pretty. Many of these species have a specific few years when they were brought in. One example of this is Rhododendron ponticum which was brought in as an ornamental plant from Spain in 1763. Its since become an invasive species and out competes a lot of native species and such its regarded as a non-native species. However some research suggests that this species was growing in the UK before the last ice age. Obviously this was a long time ago but this does then pose the question of is it a native species as it once was many years a go.
It is a complicated question that I couldn’t answer in a simple blog post. However, most native species are defined as species that originated in their location naturally and without the involvement of human activity or intervention. This definition works for the majority of cases but should be called into question every once in a while!
The poisons collection on ThatBiologist continues with the unusual tale of the Yew tree. The Yew tree has a long and complex history and has intertwined itself within human culture. The evergreen tree can be found in the UK as well as over Europe and North Africa. They are also extremely poisonous.
Yew tree’s binomial name is Taxus baccata. Taxus comes from the greek of bow and baccata is latin for berry. All parts of the tree are highly poisonous and the poison remains in the tree even after it has died. (EDIT September 16. Following a comment and some research, not all parts of the plant are highly poisonous however the seeds certainly are!) The poison responsible is called taxine. It can be rapidly absorbed when consumed and without treatment death can occur without symptoms in a few hours of consumption. If there are symptoms they could include a weak pulse or collapse.
Although it is not poisonus to all, the fruits are often eaten by birds and small mammals. The leaves are eaten by catapillars of the satin beauty moth. The Yews dense nature provides an important habitat for birds to build nests in also.
The Yew tree is often a symbol of immortality as well as an omen of doom. This may be due to the longevity of the tree. As the picture shows above the trees are often found in churchyards and there are a few reasons why this might be. Firstly the trees may have been there first, as the yew tree is established within the pagan faith when christianity came about these sites were considered holy. Secondly yew trees were planted over burial sites for plague victims to purify the bodies. Thirdly it could be that the yew trees were planted to stop livestock getting into the churchyards as they would eat the tree and then die. Little bit harsh if you ask me but that might be my farmer side talking.
The Yew trees can be found in popular culture. It is mentioned in the highly popular series of harry potter. Voldemorts wand is made from Yew wood. This links back to the idea of the tree symbolising immortality as well as doom. Nowadays the yew tree is used as a popular hedging plant and chemicals from the tree have been used to make drugs to fight cancer.
That’s all for this episode in the poisons collection. Til next time!