unfinished business

We are in a quiet break between two Arctic air streams-most unusual for this early in a Wiltshire winter. On Sunday we took a walk in thawing woods and were intrigued by the number of trees seemingly caught by the fierce approach of winter, before autumn had packed its bags and left. Many of the oaks are left carrying the desiccated brown remnants of their summer canopies, a phenomenon I am familiar with in beeches, but have seldom observed so widely on the oaks hereabouts. I have not been able to find reference to why this has happened this year in particular but seems not to be exclusive to Wiltshire. Travelling up and down the M5 to Devon recently has shown many other trees in the same state across Somerset and Devon,  suggesting the rapid fall in temperature and prolonged cold spell are important factors. Has anyone else noticed this?

Further on our walk I was captivated by the distant sight of poplars. I had read a very interesting post about Black poplars (Populus nigra ssp. betulifolia) here and had my eyes open for them. The ones in this picture are almost certainly Lombardy poplars, of tall and fastigiate habit. They are also  Populus  nigra, but ssp. Italica, introduced into the Uk in the 1750s. The native Black poplar is one of Britain’s rarest trees and as they hybridise freely, pure specimens are hard to find and require DNA fingerprinting 1. to identify with certainty. I read that North Wiltshire has a high proportion of female trees *2 so I will be continuing to look for them. Inspired by the sight, I painted them. You can see here.


1.The role of DNA finger-printing in the conservation of the native black poplar. Stuart A’Hara, Sam Samuel and Joan Cottrell British Wildlife Dec. 2009.

2. Vascular plants in Wiltshire 2009, Sharon Pilkington, County Recorder for VC7 and VC8


2 thoughts on “unfinished business

  1. We have a large oak tree in our back garden. It often holds onto some leaves into early January, but I am really surprised to see just how many leaves it still has now – I thought that the frost and snow would bring them all down, but no. I’d love to know why!

    1. I think sometimes the process of leaf fall just gets interrupted, as it has this year, and I am guessing it has something to do with temperature. Nice to hear from you Lu.

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