Tuesday, September 02, 2008

100 Species Challenge: Part 3

Species identified:

1. Daisy
2. Creeping buttercup
3. White clover
4. Selfheal
5. Dandelion
6. Red clover
7. Autumn hawkbit
8. Weeping willow
9. Horse chestnut
10. Sycamore

Rules of 100 Species Challenge
Previous posts

Between our housing estate and the main road is a long patch of green, with a number of trees planted around 35 years ago when the houses were built. The photos of weeping willow and horse chestnut were taken there. The tall sycamore grows on a small patch of common ground in front of our next-door-neighbour-but-one.

Weeping Willow

Scientific name: Salix babylonica
Family: Salicaceae

The weeping willow originated in China, where it grows along the banks of the Yangtse River, and was first introduced into Britain in 1730. The scientific name salix babylonica was given by Carl Linneaus, inspired by this verse from Psalm 137:

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down; yea we wept
when we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst thereof
we hanged our harps
In fact, this is a mistranslation and the trees by the waters of Babylon were not willows, but poplars (which are also part of the salix family).

Weeping willows are traditionally associated with sadness and loss. Napoleon was buried on the island of St. Helena under a weeping willow.

Information: University of Glasgow

Horse Chestnut

Scientific name: Aesculus hippocastanum
Family: Hippocastanaceae

The horse chestnut is native to Northern Greece, and was introduced to the UK via Turkey in the 17th century. In the USA it is known as the "buckeye" and is the state tree of Ohio. There are two suggestions for the "horse" in the name: (1) that the fruit were fed to horses in eastern Europe, and (2) because the leaf scars on the twigs are shaped like horseshoes.

Timber from horse chestnuts is soft and poor quality. Until recently, its main use was in making artificial limbs, because it is both light and not prone to splitting. It is also used to make packing cases. It doens't make great firewood either, as it spits a lot when burned.

The fruit of the tree, known in Britain as conkers, are high in carbohydrate. They can be crushed and boiled to make a meal for cattle and sheep, though apparently pigs will not eat it. Humans also find conkers unpalatable (I've tasted them and they are bitter and unpleasant!) but during World War I it was calculated that for every ton of horse chestnuts harvested to use for animal feed, half a ton of grain could be saved for human consumption. They were also collected by children to use for ammunition. And no, we weren't reduced to firing conkers at the enemy! Acetone was required to produce cordite (explosive), and a method was discovered by which the starch from horse chestnuts could be fermented to make acetone. The scientist behind this was Chaim Weizmann, who later became the first president of the State of Israel.

In autumn British children like to collect horse chestnuts for rather less lethal battles - games of "conkers". These rules are pretty similar to the way we used to play:
Each player has a their conker on its knotted string. Players take turns at hitting their opponent's conker. If you are the one whose conker is to be hit first, let it hang down from the string which is wrapped round your hand. That 9 inch drop is about right. You must hold it at the height your opponent chooses and you must hold it perfectly still. Your opponent, the striker, wraps their conker string round his hand just like yours. S/he then takes the conker in the other hand and draws it back for the strike. Releasing the conker s/he swings it down by the string held in the other hand and tries to hit her/his opponents conker with it. If s/he misses he is allowed up to two further goes. If the strings tangle, the first player to call "strings" gets an extra shot. Players take alternate hits at their opponent's conker. The game is won when one player destroys the other's conker. (The-Tree.org.uk)
Horse chestnut is supposed to be good for venous disorders such as varicose veins, phlebitis and haemorrhoids.

Information: University of Glasgow; The-Tree.org.uk


Scientific name: Acer pseudoplatanus
Family: Aceraceae (Maples)

Not a native tree in Britain, but it has been here a long time - it may have been introduced as early as Roman times. Sycamore is useful ecologically, and can provide food or some other benefit to as many as 150 different animal species. It is the only widespread large tree with insect pollinated flowers, and is an important source of pollen and nectar for bees.

The pale-coloured hard timber is particularly useful for making items that will be used with food - bowls, milking pails, butter churns, kitchen utensils and so on - as the wood does take up smells. It is also good for making wooden floors, furniture and even musical instruments.

Information: The-Tree.org.uk

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