Archive for April, 2012

Spring Colour Watch Blog: scented and spiky, by Gina Mills, Marketing Officer

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

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This week the Old Arboretum offers some spiky spring specimens, lovely scented blooms and some historic rhododendrons which are getting a little bigger than the arboretum’s creators intended.
 
The fiercely spiked berberis genus of plants provides a variety of spring colour.

Pictured below left is the rich flame coloured berberis x lologensis barberry hybrid from Argentina, which is hard to miss on your right as you walk between the last two stops of the seasonal trail.

Also pictured is berberis valdiviana which is one of the fiercest I came across this week!

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The most deliciously scented blooms I came across were those of viburnum carlesii, which can be found towards the southern end of Loop Walk, on the footpath that loops off towards the bottom of Jackson Avenue.

The more delicately scented flowers of the witch alder, fothergilla major, are featured as a stop on the Old Arboretum seasonal trail.

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These slow growing American witch alders are named in honour of Dr John Fothergill, who created one of the earliest and most extensive collections of American plants in the 18th century thanks to his patronage of William Bartram, the American botanist, with whom he corresponded.

At an earlier stop on the seasonal trail you will find a rather large specimen of Rhododendron williamsianum from China.

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It is usually described as a dwarf species, but as you’ll see, this 100 year old specimen would fill many of our modern day suburban gardens!

It is unusual amongst the many rare and historic rhododendron hybrids planted in the late nineteenth century by Sir George Holford as it has small heart shaped leaves, rather than the large elongate leaves of most specimens.

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: such a lot of spring!

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

There has been rather a lot going on as far as spring colour watching goes this week. Here are two takes from two members of the Forestry Commission team at Westonbirt on the best of what our 240 hectares have to offer right now…

Unusual flowers and lovely leaves in the Old Arboretum, by Gina Mills, Marketing Officer

Shouting loudest in this carefully planted part of Westonbirt’s landscape at the moment are the rhododendrons. Rhododendron augustinii and R. ‘Prince Camille de Rohan’ are looking particularly splendid and are easy to find near Dukes Cut as you walk along Loop Walk.

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If you are heading down Main Drive, you’ll see a rhododendron blooming right next to a Wellingtonia – you’ll see some interpretation nearby which talks about this tree as ‘our big baby’ – it has rich orangey bark which contrasts with the rhododendron’s purple blooms. Also pictured is the delicate Rhododendron davidsonianum ‘Serenade’, on Loop Walk.

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There are some other unusual flowers to look out for, in the form of hybrid fruit trees such as this magenta flowering hybrid crab apple (Malus x purpurea) near where Pool Avenue meets Jackson Avenue and this willow leaved pear (Pyrus salicifolia) on Holford Ride – named for obvious reasons.

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Aside from flowers, we are now able to celebrate leaves as the arboretum comes into a lush green phase. Look out for our maples, such as this Acer palmatum ‘Momoira Kohya San’ on Loop Walk, or just take a stroll through Acer Glade where many shades of red and green are emerging.

There are also new leaves appearing on the tulip trees on Jackson Avenue – the leaves have a most unusual shape and are a reminder of the green-tinted shade they’ll offer in the blistering summer sunshine later in the year.

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A wander along Willesley Drive in Silk Wood, by Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager

Attention in Silk Wood this week turns to Willesley Drive; the long path leading up from the Plant Centre to the junction of Green Lane and Broad Drive.

The spring seasonal trail takes in the length of the drive. As you wander along, you cannot help but feel that spring is here: fresh, bright green leaves are coming into leaf and the flowering trees along the spring seasonal trail are either in bloom or on their way.

As you turn in from Broad Drive, the first stop on the trail you come to takes in the Yoshino cherry, one of the most popular white flowering cherry trees, and the snowdrop tree.

The close proximity of these two spring flowering trees contrasts with their very different origins.

The snowdrop tree (Halesia carolina) on the left, is a wild woodland species from south-eastern USA, while the Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) on the right, is a highly cultured hybrid resulting from a cross between spring cherry (P. subhirtella) and Oshima cherry (P. speciosa).

The cherry flowers first with almond-scented white flowers, the snowdrop tree will flower in May, its pendulous bell-shaped flowers living up to its name.

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Another flowering cherry greets you further on down the path, the Prunus ‘Shirotae’, or Mount Fuji cherry, which was introduced to Britain in the 1900s – the first specimen was planted at Westonbirt in March 1931. Although it doesn’t survive, there is a tree dating from 1941 which appears to be a descendant, having been home grafted here at Westonbirt.

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A tree just on the verge of coming into flower is the manna ash at the next seasonal trail stop.

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Although similar in appearance to our native ash, this manna ash (Fraxinus ornus) belongs to a group known as the flowering ashes for their showy, insect-pollinated flowers which appear as white plumes in early spring.

It is a smaller tree than our native species and has grey, rather than sooty black buds. The name ‘manna’ comes from the sap that contains an alcohol known as mannitol, which is used medicinally and as a sugar substitute. In Italy, plantations of manna ash are cultivated to produce the substance commercially.

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

Historic Inspiration, by Sophie Nash, Project Officer

Monday, April 16th, 2012

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Many of you who have visited the arboretum recently will have noticed that we have installed a new metal estate fence and gates along the main entrance drive into the arboretum, replacing the wooden fence and gates.

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We have been restoring many of our original historic boundaries over the last few months, as part of the Westonbirt Project.

When the opportunity to replace the wooden fence arose we decided to replace the modern wooden fence with a traditional metal estate fence.

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A metal estate fence is more in keeping with the Grade I Registered landscape and also requires less maintenance.

The new fence has been designed to match some of the traditional Holford estate fencing found on the Westonbirt estate, including parts of the arboretum.

The scrolls and monogram on the new gates reflect some of the detailing of the original Holford gates which are now outside the Forestry Commission office at Westonbirt.

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The original monogram spells out ‘GLH’ for George Lindsay Holford who once owned the Arboretum and Westonbirt House.

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We decided to maintain the idea of land ownership in the new monogram, which spells out ‘FC’ for Forestry Commission, along with ‘2012′ to show the year in which the gates and fence were installed.

The new gates were created by local forge, GLC&R Williams, based nearby on the outskirts of Tetbury.

The new fence will connect to the new Welcome Building once in place. In the meantime we hope you enjoy what we feel is a more appropriate entrance into the arboretum.

Useful links
Work already completed as part of the Westonbirt Project: The story so far
Work currently being completed as part of the Westonbirt Project: What’s happening now
More information about the Westonbirt Project

Before there were bees, by Westonbirt’s learning and participation team

Thursday, April 12th, 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!

Magnolias are thought to be one of the earliest flowering plants. Fossil evidence of the ancestors of our existing magnolias has been found in North America dating from 95 million years ago (late Cretaceous period).

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During the Eocene period (54 – 34 million years ago) the climate became much warmer, meaning that magnolias could spread from North America, across the Iceland-Faroe land bridge to Europe, and then onwards to east Asia.

During this time magnolias encircled the globe. When the climate cooled once more magnolias became extinct in Europe, splitting its range in two between the Americas and Asia.

Magnolia flowers evolved many millions of years before there were bees, butterflies, wasps and flies and so they relied on beetles as their pollinators. The flowers are large and cup-shaped to help heavy clumsy beetles to land!

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

Riverside dining, by Westonbirt’s learning and participation team

Thursday, April 12th, 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!

Many fossils have been found of Platanus leaves and fruits – American sycamore / plane tree – dating back as far as 115 million years ago (late Cretaceous).

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Fossils show that they were once continuous from Asia, Europe to North America. They grew along the banks of rivers and other bodies of water.

Sauroposeidon are thought to have been one of the dinosaurs to include sycamore leaves in their diet.

Today the American sycamore and London plane trees are used as shade trees in urban areas and research is being undertaken to see if they would be suitable as a biomass fuel.

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

Spring Colour Watch Blog: Bluebells! by Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

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Bluebells are the spring buzzword of the moment – and they are out now in Silk Wood!

You’ll spot the odd few on the banks as you walk up Waste Drive, but it’s the paths turning off Palmer Ride where you’ll really see bluebells out in full.

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The best are as you turn onto the Native Tree Trail and The Link. Here you’ll find bluebells scattered amongst anemones, with a few primroses popping up for the occasion.

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Bluebells are a signifier of ancient woodland and can be found across the arboretum, but particularly in Silk Wood where records show woodland activity, such as traditional coppicing, dating back to the thirteenth century.

You can find some great information on bluebells on the Visit Woods website, including some more unusual bluebell facts!

Until the end of May, the seasonal trail in Silk Wood is also host to an exhibition of spring meadow photography by Cotswolds photographer Barney Wilczak.

Barney Wilczak The Link

The exhibition joins up Westonbirt’s Grade I Registered Downs grassland habitat with its trees and woodland.

Snakeshead Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris

The Downs area plays an important role in the landscape design principles of the arboretum and is thriving with native wildflowers and wildlife.

Meadow buttercup, Ranunculus Acris

The photography exhibition aims to highlight the significance of this grassland habitat to visitors on the seasonal trail. Through the Westonbirt Project, Westonbirt Arboretum is working to restore all of the Downs landscape to its original grassland state.

superb lowland hay meadow featuring many common spotted orchids

The trail starts from Waste Gate and follows Palmer Ride and The Link, before turning down Willesley Drive.

Visitors can see images of wildlife and wildflowers found in meadow grassland – including common spotted orchids, cuckoo flower and snake’s head fritillary; mounted with descriptions of why they are central to grassland life.

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
Find out more about Barney Wilczak’s photography and his book The Meadow www.wilczakphotography.co.uk.

The first scent of flowers, by Westonbirt’s learning and participation team

Thursday, April 12th, 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!

During the Late Cretaceous period, as the climate cooled down, the gymnosperms (including conifers, ginkgos) began to decline.

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A new group of plants developed and flourished – the angiosperms or flowering plants. This was the first era which included ‘modern’ plants such as the walnut tree and the first time dinosaurs, such as Apatosaurus, would have smelled the sweet scent of flowers in the air.

The walnut needed the cooler climate of Cretaceous times – many walnut seeds would never have survived in the warmer climate of earlier Jurassic times. Humidity over 70% and temperatures above 25ºC result in rot and fungus that spoils the seed.

Today walnut trees provide an important source of food with over 2.5 million tonnes being produced each year.

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

Living in primeval swamps, by Westonbirt’s learning and participation team

Wednesday, April 11th, 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!

The swamp cypress is a tree that thrives in frequently flooded swamps where they have peculiar root growths known as ‘knees’, which rise above the water. It is mostly likely that these knees help provide support in the shifting currents and soggy ground.

swamp cypress

Fossil evidence has been found dating from Triassic times (248 – 206 million years ago). Later in Cretaceous times between 90 – 70 million years ago, when a shallow sea flooded the central lands of North America, Kosmoceratops dinosaurs would have waded through the primeval swamps grazing on these trees.

The wood is water resistant, know as ‘wood eternal’ and usable prehistoric wood is still found in swamps today.

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

Polar dinosaur food, by Westonbirt’s learning and participation team

Wednesday, April 11th, 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!

Back in Jurassic times, in what is now south-east Australia, the land was 2,000 miles closer to the south pole. It was likely that 3-6 months of the year was spent in darkness with temperatures ranging from -6ºC to 3ºC.

Wollemi Pine

Even in this chilly environment polar dinosaurs such as Muttaburrasaurus survived in this high and hilly countryside, feasting on wollemi pine as they wandered.

The leaf buds of the wollemi are protected through the winter by a waxy polar cap. It is thought that this helped the wollemi to survive the cold conditions and several ice ages!

The oldest wollemi pine fossil dates back 200 million years ago. This tree was thought to be extinct until it was discovered growing in a temperate rainforest canyon in Australia in 1994.

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

Dawn Redwood, by Westonbirt’s learning and participation team

Wednesday, April 11th, 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!

Whilst conifers have been around for 310 million years (Carboniferous), fossil evidence for the dawn redwood only dates back 100 million years.

dawn redwood

It is thought that the dawn redwood forests growing in the Cretaceous period would have provided shade, cover and food for dinosaurs such as Triceratops.

Like many other herbivorous dinosaurs, Triceratops swallowed stones to help grind up and digest the tough plant fibres.

Today the dawn redwood is a critically endangered tree with just a few small and scattered stands left growing in the wild. It is an important riverside tree, as the dense root networks prevent river banks from collapsing.

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