Archive for March, 2012

Chewing on gums, by Westonbirt’s learning and participation team

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

This Easter, Westonbirt’s learning and participation team have created two great family events, with an Easter Challenge (3 – 6 April) and an exploration of Jurassic Plants (10 – 12 April) on offer for families. Trails amongst the trees and craft activities make this the perfect spring day out – here’s a taste of some of the amazing tree facts you’ll find on the trails!

People have enjoyed chewing gum since ancient times. Some of these gums were made from resin and latex from certain kinds of trees such as this Liquidambar or sweet gum tree.

The oldest known chewing gum is a lump of birch bark tar that was found in Finland with teeth marks. It is believed to be over 5,000 years old!

For centuries the ancient Greeks chewed gum made from the mastic tree, using it to clean their teeth and sweeten their breath and the Aztecs used chicle sap from the sapodilla tree.

Native Americans showed the colonists of New England how to harvest and chew the gum-like resin from spruce trees. In 1848 the first commercial chewing gum was developed and sold, made from spruce resin.

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The early gums did not hold their flavour and it was not until 1880 that this was solved by adding sugar and corn syrup to the gum, with peppermint being the first flavour.

Useful links
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum
More about Westonbirt’s family events

Prehistoric Plants, by Westonbirt’s learning and participation team

Friday, March 30th, 2012

This Easter, Westonbirt’s learning and participation team have created two great family events, with an Easter Challenge (3 – 6 April) and an exploration of Jurassic Plants (10 – 12 April) on offer for families. Trails amongst the trees and craft activities make this the perfect spring day out – here’s a taste of some of the amazing tree facts you’ll find on the trails!

From our earliest ancestors to today, people have looked to trees to provide sweet treats in their diet.

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Honey has been a natural sweet for thousands of years. An 8,000 year old cave painting has been found at the Araña Caves in Spain, depicting a honey gatherer.

Honey was one of the only sweeteners available before sugar was mass produced in the 1800s. It was so highly valued in the past that in the 11th century it was often used as a form of currency, with German peasants paying the lords with honey and beeswax.

Come back in the summer, take a walk down Lime Avenue, and you will be able to hear a buzz in the air as hundreds of bees visit the lime tree flowers.

Lime Avenue_FC Picture Library

You can buy lime honey today produced in the lime forests of Europe. It takes 120,000 bees to produce just 1 kg of honey and each bee produces 1 tablespoon of honey in its lifetime.

Useful links
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum
More about Westonbirt’s family events

Spring Colour Watch Blog, cherries in Silk Wood, by Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager

Friday, March 30th, 2012

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Take a detour from Silk Wood’s spring seasonal trail stops along Palmer Ride or The Link, and you can check the progress of the Cherry Collection. Buds can be found on most of the trees here – some are already in bloom but the full show will be seen as we go into April.

Looking good at the moment are the cherry plum cv, Japanese cherry, Yoshino cherry and Prunus subhirtella stellata.

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The cherry plum provides an added palette of colour with its rusty red leaves. Many of the flowers on this specimen have already blossomed, but a few dainty light pink ones remain amongst the coloured leaves.

Lots of buds are still to open, so the Cherry Collection has plenty to offer for a while yet. You can find out more about Westonbirt Arboretum’s cherries on the Forestry Commission website.

Keep an eye on the Westonbirt Facebook page for regular updates on Westonbirt’s spring colour throughout both Silk Wood and the Old Arboretum. This week, tiny woodland wildflowers and the first of the bluebells are starting to appear – dainty gems amongst the shade.

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Don’t forget that Westonbirt Arboretum is offering half price admissions every Wednesday in April and May, so you can visit for £4 adults, £3.50 concessions and £1.50 child admission. There will be guided walks on Wednesdays at 11am so you can see the best of spring colour with our knowledgeable volunteer guides.

Useful links
More information about spring at Westonbirt
Find Westonbirt’s trees on the interactive map
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Spring Colour Watch Blog: Magnolias come up trumps, by Gina Mills, Marketing Officer

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

magnolia sprengeri 'diva'
This week’s Spring Colour Watch Blog focuses on our magnolias. Our champion magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’ heralds the start of spring each year for many of our regular visitors and this week came up trumps, blooming to coincide with the official start of spring along with many other specimens.

There are many specimens of magnolia sprengeri which have a mass of large pink blooms at the moment. From a distance they pack a real punch of colour – around the Savill Glade and Circular Drive area of the Old Arboretum the high branches of many of our taller specimens reach in to a bright blue spring sky, giving tantalising glimpses of what is to be discovered around each corner.

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For those who like their blooms equally impressive in size, but of a subtler colour, look out for magnolia dawsoniana and magnolia campbellii. These flower on a grand scale and again, the sheer quantity of blooms is immense. Many of the magnolias with smaller blooms seem to be holding off on a full display for now – but on Main Drive you will see the hybrid magnolia x loebreri ‘merrill’ putting on a good show.

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Of course, the star of the show this week is our champion magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’. The blooms are a brighter shade of pink than many other magnolias and are eagerly awaited each year by staff and visitors alike. ‘Diva’ or the godess magnolia, is not only a champion, but a specimen of special historical significance, being a specially cultivated variety of a species collected as seed by the famous Gloucestershire Victorian plant hunter, Ernest Wilson, during an expedition to Western China.

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This weekend will be a great time to visit this first magnificent flush of magnolias. There will be more to come in the next few weeks from specimens in the further reaches of the Old Arboretum. Elsewhere onsite, the first few Silk Wood bluebells have been spotted – another milestone in the arrival of spring, which we will keep you updated on in the coming weeks.

Keep an eye on Westonbirt’s Facebook page, where more magnolia images will be appearing.

Useful links
More information about spring at Westonbirt
Find Westonbirt’s trees on the interactive map
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Spring Colour Watch Blog: things to look out for in the Old Arboretum, by Gina Mills, Marketing Officer

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

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This week, we look at some of the sights along the route of the seasonal trail in the Old Arboretum, from hellebores in shady spots, to the bright rhododendrons and azaleas which are now emerging.

The hellebores on Main Drive are all too easy to miss. Luckily, the second stop on the Old Arboretum seasonal trail halts nearby at the 2011 planting of Rhododendron schlippenbachii.

Although these historic royal azaleas are not in bloom – and in fact may not flower this year due to their youth – if you turn around you’ll find a delightful selection of hellebores, in a selection of colours from cream to purple, close to the ground just across the path.

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Although Rhododendron schlippenbachii may not bloom this year, many other azaleas and rhododendrons are starting to appear, from the relatively small, delicate, pale pink blooms of Rhododendron ‘praecox’ to the larger deep red blooms of Rhododendron ‘Melissa’ Grex.

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It is worth taking a slight detour from the trail to take a look at Rhododendron ‘Melissa’ Grex, as at the moment you’ll see black plastic wraps on the branches. This is a form of propagation called air layering which enables us to grow new saplings from our historic trees and shrubs. Take a look to your left as you pass Dukes Cut Gate on the seasonal trail.

Many other interesting specimens have started to come into their own this week.

Firstly, Illicium simonsii, which you may recognise from a recent ID challenge on the Westonbirt Arboretum Facebook page. Look out for these pale yellow flowers which can be found just before the second stop on the trail, off Main Drive – the flowers are quite small so if you want to make sure you don’t miss this plant, search the Westonbirt Interactive Map before you visit, or pop into the Great Oak Hall to use it and get a location.

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Further along the trail, as it heads along Mitchell Drive towards the final stop, there are a few hidden gems. You’ll need to keep an eagle eye out in the direction of the road to spot the small flowers of Magnolia stellata ‘rosea’ which have started to appear.

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Small and star shaped, this magnolia is one of the first to bloom this year, with many other burgeoning buds to be found throughout the Old Arboretum, not least on our champion Magnolia Sprengeri ‘Diva’. Watch this space for updates on that one – it is probably the most famous of Westonbirt’s magnolias, and for good reason!

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This week’s misty weather has led to some interesting effects for photographers to capture. This katsura tree, also just off Mitchell Drive, is well known for its heady candyfloss scent as the year progresses. Pink spring shoots combined with lichens and moss are already a feast for the eye. Drops of moisture caught on a cobweb add a glittering effect.

Useful links
More information about spring at Westonbirt
Find Westonbirt’s trees on the interactive map
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Spring Colour Watch Blog: signs of spring in Silk Wood, by Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Willesley-Drive-Silk-Wood-hSigns that spring has started are all around in Silk Wood – but for the time being these are not the obvious shows of colour, but green shoots, buds and the early stages of blossom.

Silk Wood is beautiful when its carpets of bluebells are in full show. Walk along The Link this week and you’ll see green bluebell shoots under the trees and amongst the grass. The excitement of the colour these will bring in a few weeks will really get a spring in your step!

Bluebells sprouting The Link Silk WoodPrimrose The Link Silk Wood
The Link stretches from Palmer Ride to Broad Drive – as you go along the freshly laid woodchip path you will also see other early spring wildflowers such as primroses.

Further along in the Cherry Collection a few of the specimens such as Prunus cerasifera Purple flash and Prunus cerasifera ‘Hessei’ Cherry plum are blossoming.

Prunus cerasifera Purple Flash in Cherry Collection Silk Wood 3Prunus cerasifera Hessei Cherry plum in Cherry Collection Silk Wood 2
There’s still much more to be seen in the Cherry Collection in the weeks to come, but the beauty of these few specimens already in flower remind you of why the Japanese celebrate these trees so heavily in spring.

As we track the progression of autumn colour across the country, the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the public track the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) as it moves northward. This tracking of blossom is monitored and relayed to the public as part of the nightly weather forecasts!

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Another of the cherry family, Cornus mas or Cornelian cherry stands tall at Skilling Gate, waiting to greet visitors into Silk Wood, or bid farewell as they leave.

Useful links
More information about spring at Westonbirt
Find Westonbirt’s trees on the interactive map
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum