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Tree Appreciation Month

Patrick and I were sitting drinking coffee in Queen's Park on a Friday morning back in January. We had brought our watercolours along, and he began painting a prominent tree which stood ahead of us on the hillside. The sun was shining from behind it, so we saw it in silhouette, bare January branches against a clear blue sky.

When we got up to leave, I suggested that he go show the tree its portrait, which he did. We looked at the tree more closely, and tried to identify what it was, which was difficult as it didn't have any leaves on it. After some examining of the bark as well as the leaves on the ground, we decided that it was an oak tree.

I'd taken a workshop back in the early autumn about how to make natural ink from oak galls, and ever since then, I've been trying to find oak galls out in the wild, to no avail. We learnt that it's best to pick them in the winter, as oak galls are made by oak gall wasps for them to lay their eggs in, and if you pick them too soon, there may still be wasps inside.

Painting with oak gall ink at a workshop earlier in the year

Suddenly, we realised that the ground around us was completely covered in oak galls, so we set out picking them all up to dry out and make some ink out of. All of this because he had painted a tree and we wanted to find out more about it. So we decided to look at more trees around the park and see if we could identify them, in the hopes of getting to know them a bit more deeply (and because identifying tree species is part of my assessment for my Forest School qualification).

The Oak Tree

This was the tree we started out with. We first identified it using the bark, which was rough and cracked with deep, vertical creases.

Then we looked at leaves on the ground to confirm. Oak leaves are the ones I'm most confident about identifying, so this was a good clue.

We then discovered the oak galls, which were another solid clue.

The Horse Chestnut Tree

Patrick picked this one as he thought it would be a good tree to climb. He did try, not overly successfully, and then he rolled his ankle jumping down.

The bark was tricky, as it was quite difficult to describe, and also had different colours, textures and appearances on different parts of the tree, a mix between silver, pink, beige, brown and yellow, with cracked scaly plates. We eventually identified it by the presence of large conkers on the ground, and because if its wide and spreading branch structure.

The Lime Tree

This tree was quite difficult to identify. It was in a clump of several different types of trees, including several oak trees, and the leaves on the ground were all mixed up. The most predominant leaves that we found were round, with toothed edges and small point on the tip.

The trunk of the tree was surrounded by green lead shoots, even in the winter, which had small pink buds on them.

The bark had vertical cracks in it, although less deep than those of the oak tree.

The Beech Tree

This tree was particularly solid feeling, in part due to the solid, smooth bark, which doesn't easily peel or chip off.

It had a few dry leaves stuck to it as well, which are easy to identify in the winter by their golden colour. They cling to the tree late through the winter, as a way to protect the young buds.

It was in Queen's Park, just over a year ago, when I first drank birch leaf tea on a winter foraging course, and since then I've noticed loads of birch leaves all around. They're always such a lovely reminder of the abundance of nature and availability of nutrients, even throughout the coldest months.

The Holly Tree

I'm also quite confident identifying holly trees, due to their distinct leaves. They are evergreen, so even in the middle of winter, it was full of leaves, making it easy to pick out.

Holly leaves are smooth and rounded, but when threatened, turn spiky. This is in response to harm or damage, so leaves vary greatly in their degree of spinescence.

Woodland Structures

The following week, I took a trip up to Aviemore, where I got to visit two very different, yet very beautiful, types of woodlands. After spending so much time identifying tree species in a mixed woodland, where there are many different types of trees all together, seeing these two woodlands, which were primarily of a single species, was a sharp contrast.

The Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, Aviemore

This NNR climbs up the craigs behind the Aviemore Youth Hostel, and was a beautiful surprise on a frosty but clear January morning. It's a birchwood, and in late January the silver trees were cast in a purple haze as the buds formed on the branches.

Birch trees have thin silver bark, which can be peeled off. The woods were full of Birch polypores, large bracket fungus which can be used as bandages (and are also just really fun to play with).

As I got higher up on the crag, the trees fell away, until it was just exposed rock, dotted with heather, blaeberry and lichens.

As I descended back down below the tree line, I was struck by the uniformity of it and how beautiful it all was. Unlike in Queen's Park, where all the trees were different and varied, here it was primarily birch trees, silver and beautiful in the January cold.

The purple haze was especially evident from further up above the tree line, as you could look down and see the entire hillside shrouded in purple buds.

The Rothiemurchus Forest

This is an important woodland, as it's one of the largest remaining swathes of Caledonian Pine. While there are other tree species as well, it's predominantly Caledonian Pine, which is quite striking. They rise up tall on the hillsides, often with long, straight trunks, with branches higher up.

Of course, there are the famous 'granny pines', old, twisting trees with fantastical figures, what the species is known for.

They are a coniferous tree, with long, rounded needles coming out.

Their bark is scaly, with layers of different colours that easily peel off.

They had wide-ranging roots, grasping across the soil, in some places forming intricate carpets across the hillside.

They were incredibly beautiful from across Loch an Eilein, their solid reflection shining against the still loch.

As we headed into February, I had a far deeper appreciation of trees and the importance they hold for us. I've always struggled with tree identification, and I've never really considered myself a 'tree person', despite loving the outdoors, and trees being an important part of many landscapes, especially in a forest school setting. As the buds began to appear on the trees and we headed into Spring, I felt more connected to these beings around me, and grateful for their presence in our landscape.


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