Dragon’s Blood Trees

Since I chose such a distinctive tree to adorn my website, perhaps I should explain what they are.

 

They’re dragon’s blood trees and grow in the Socotra archipelago, in the Indian Ocean and part of Yemen.

 

I think they look strange but rather alluring and their resin has been used since the ancient Greeks recognised their medicinal worth and colouring properties.

 

The resin is what gives its name to the trees, though why it should be dragon’s blood rather than any other creature I’m at a loss to know.

 

But so useful is this resin that it’s still used in medicines today. It’s also used in dyes, incense and varnish for colouring.

 

The Socotris call the resin emzoloh and it’s believed that Stradivarius used the colour in making his famous violins.

 

Socotra is an interesting place, separated from the Yemen mainland over 30 million years ago. Its isolation has meant that a third of all the species found on Socotra are unique to the island. Imagine that; it must be so interesting to visit.

 

Like many other plants and animals in the world, the dragon tree has adapted to the climate and conditions on the island. It’s umbrella shape shades its roots and its leaves trap moisture from the air during the monsoon season and channel it to the roots.

 

The locals feed berries from the tree to their cattle, though apparently they must only have very small quantities otherwise it causes harm. These people must be close to nature and understand how these indigenous species should be used to help rather than harm them.

 

Let’s hope the western world doesn’t catch on to the benefits of the dragon tree or they’ll be harvested to extinction within a few years I can imagine!

 

As it is, the dragon tree is under threat from climate change as Socotra is much dryer than it used to be. Let’s hope this amazing tree survives and flourishes for generations to come.

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to an old Friend

It’s a sad time when you have to say goodbye to any old friend. This one I’ll miss a lot as I saw him every day.

 

No he’s not a relative or best friend, but my lovely old beech tree. So sad that he had to go but the tree removal was made easier by my mates at a local tree surgery company, who did a great job of tidying up afterwards.

 

I couldn’t watch the proceedings though because that tree had been a constant for me and the garden looks so bare without it.  On the plus side, I get more sun in the morning, but that’s scant compensation for the loss of such a good friend.

 

I don’t know what the birds think but they seem to be dashing about all over the place this morning. Probably looking for the fat balls and nesting box that used to adorn the tree.

 

Ah well, it had to be done unfortunately. We had a storm a couple of weeks ago and several big branches were damaged and one fell on the greenhouse. Didn’t cause a lot of damage, but we were worried that the tree had suffered.  The tree surgeon confirmed that my poor beech tree was dying, so it was kinder (?) to have it removed.

 

I must say they made a good job of it, chipping all the branches and carting off everything else. We don’t have a wood burner or we could have had the larger parts cut for logs.  We kept a couple of bags of woodchips for the garden and I feel that was like scattering his ashes. Oh I’m so sentimental, but I’ll miss old Beechy.

 

We’re going to plant another beech in his place, but we won’t be around to see it mature into a glorious specimen like his big brother.

 

Now I’m looking for a good youngster to replace my boy.  I’m not going to rush this because I want a tree that will be around for the longterm and some of the ones you find in garden centres are just not much cop.  I think there’s an arboretum in Arundel so I may pay it a visit.

 

In the meantime I’m not too keen on looking out of the window because the view has changed so much. These mature trees have so much character and they really shape the countryside and the urban environment we live in.

 

Perhaps I’m what they call a “tree hugger”, but I don’t care because I simply love nature and I don’t think we can do without trees and all the insects and birds that make them their home.

 

Hoping that my next post will be on a happier subject. Meanwhile I’m still in mourning.

Photosynthesis

I like to understand how nature works so I paid attention in biology lessons and have learned about photosynthesis.

 

The cool thing is that plants can make nourishment for themselves by trapping energy from the sun in their leaves. Plant cells contain chloroplasts which enable the plant to make a number of chemical reactions by using the energy in sunlight. Photosynthesis literally means “putting together by light”.

 

Those chemical reactions produce glucose from water and carbon dioxide! As a by-product of the reactions, oxygen is formed – great for all the humans on the planet and one of the reasons we so need plantlife.  Plants use the glucose for their growth, since it’s packed with energy, and they also make starch. Starch is used by the plant as an energy store and to produce cellulose, used in their cell walls.

 

Photosynthesis is the process by which everything on life is sustained because it enables plants to grow, and those plants, either directly or indirectly, feed just about every living thing.

 

So photosynthesis is cool. If only we humans could convert sun into food and didn’t have to eat and grow fat haha.

 

To dive a little more into the technicalities of photosynthesis, 6 carbon dioxide molecules are combined with 6 water molecules to form a single molecule of glucose, plus 6 molecules of oxygen.  All by using the sun’s free energy.  I can’t help feeling there’s a lesson here for scientists.

 

The green colour of leaves comes from chlorophyll, which reflects green light and absorbs blue and red light. It’s the main pigment in the photosynthesis process.

 

Interesting stuff, and that’s why our countryside is so green.

 

Giant Sequoia

When I was young my parents took me to America to see some of the wonders of the world.

 

We visited Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, which were wonderful places and I also vividly remember Bryce Canyon where we saw rocks shaped like a poodle, or Queen Victoria.

 

But one of the things that sticks in my mind the most is the Giant Redwood Trees – the giant sequoia. These trees are amazing, very old and extremely large.  Somewhere I have a photo of my dad standing in front of one.  I used to show people the photo of this magnificant tree and they’d be admiring, until I pointed out Dad standing at the bottom – he looked like a toy!

giant sequoia
Found this picture of the tree with the tunnel

 

Then there was a Redwood that had a huge gap through the bottom, big enough to drive a car through!  I fell in love with those trees and since then I’ve always loved almost all trees. Perhaps not Leyland Cypress, but most others.

 

Actually even Leyland Cypress have their good side. Birds seem to like them, especially pigeons, but they do have a mind of their own and grow very very fast. We made the mistake of planting several in our (admittedly large) garden, and over the years they have completely taken over.  It doesn’t take long, so beware if you ever feel tempted to plant them. But if you want a quick-growing hedge and are prepared to trim it each year, then it may all work out well.

 

Back to the Redwoods though.  The whole family fell in love with these magnificant trees and Mum bought a packet of seeds to plant in the UK.  She managed to raise 4 or 5 of them, much to her surprise.   We had one, but unfortunately the top was accidentally cut off when we had some Leyland Cypress topped. They don’t like that! It died pretty soon after, which was such a shame.

 

Another was adopted by my cousin but he planted it too close to his house, so that didn’t last long either since they grow pretty fast.

 

A third was planted by my parents but I think that blew over in strong winds, and I don’t know what happened to the other two.  Really they belong in the wilds of California and Nevada, where they can grow and spread to their hearts’ content.

 

But there are a few around in Sussex. One is quite close to Gatwick. You can see it from the main road as it towers above all the other trees.  And I think there may be some more mature examples that were planted by Victorian gardeners.

 

If you ever get a chance to go to see the Sequoias, it’s well worth the trip. But there are two types: coastal sequoias, which are still great, and the giant sequoias, which are the masters of all they survey.