We are now fully dug in to our cabin in the woods here at Biblins for what might be our last season; in the cabin that is, not Biblins. I started the morning walks again two weeks ago when we first moved in. It’s less distracting without the dog, Lucy, but I do miss her.
Every year I start determined to log the growth of certain flora through the season, and every year the spring overtakes me. It only takes a couple of days missed for a trip up north say and I'm out of kilter. It’s that time of year when everything seems the same then it catches you out.
I gave up with the ground flowers this morning and just decided to enjoy the walk. It wasn’t long before I was staring at the canopy above. The mile long lane back to the cabin has a great variety of trees both old plantation and self-seeded. It’s over thirty years since I decided that it was a crime not to know our native trees and I haven’t learned a new tree in thirty years, I don’t think, but I have advanced in my identification skills. (I should hope so too!) I am ever looking for new clues and couldn’t help thinking that for a keen tree learner, this is a magnificent time of year to be out learning.
Walking up to the bark and touching is the place to start to step up your appreciation, that’s after learning leaf and tree shapes of your common native trees of course. I used to do a blindfold game years ago, but, when I can, I steel Dave Watson’s idea of a night walk tree id session. For a novice, though, its best to wait another month or two till the leaves are out and confirmation id is easier.
But if you are reasonably confident that bark and shape will confirm your id then find a ride or path where the trees have a little variety and study the canopy. Silhouetted against the bright sky the bare branches will be clearly different one tree from another. Look at how the branches twist and angle in different ways, but the place to start is the tips.
Find yourself an ash tree and see how, though the tree and branches have slender and grace, the branch ends with thick finger tips. This is the leaf bud, black and silky since autumn, soon becoming the large symmetrically leafleted leaf. There may still be some bunches of keys here and there too.
What about the Oak? Slender scratchy sharply angled fingers. The Beach? Young ones might still have last year’s leaves on, but older ones will have opened their mast pods, these fruits standing out clearly. Also the slender straighter fingers with, by now, match stalk like ends, like narrow smoothly pointy finger nails. These are the leaf buds that will open soon. Don’t forget to eat them on that day. Sweet and edible like fresh lime leaves but the tannin comes quickly so don’t wait.
Look for the male catkins on the Hazel too. And while you are looking through to the trunk to double check your id, look for anything green there. Usually just the Holly and Ivy in deciduous woods but you might just spot something you have missed before like honeysuckle.
Of course, don’t forget to look down too. But the winter winds will have swapped the leaves around a little.
The purpose in my walk was to keep re learning edible plant leaves the leaves when they first appear and to follow them into the flowering plant that appears in the books, but often much later in the year. Take care, I set a group off to collect bags full of Ramsons for drying for use through the year (wonderful thrown newly picked straight into the cooling frying pan to sweat while your steak rest and the wine is pored). Of course they came back with plenty of dogs mercury too, they seem to be inseparable here, but also loads of Lords n Ladies, all poisonous of course. There are plenty that are easy to identify and good to eat even now.
So take a look now before the leaves come and change everything again. And while the evenings still come early enough, why not try night id or blindfold id, great fun?