With the detritus created by the monumental upheaval of earth during the mountain building period after the ice melt, windborne seeds from all over the Northern Ice Sheath floated down and buried themselves in patches of earth. The result was that, over time, forests grew. In reality the whole of Strathearn was covered in trees. Among the endemic trees are Alder, Aspen, Birch, Juniper, Oak, Rowan, Scots Pine and Willow, and a few others. Collectively they are referred to as Caledonian forest. Most of Scotland was covered in them however, today, en masse in Strathearn, evidence of them is hard to find. Other trees such as Beech and Larch, which are more individual in nature, were introduced into the area only in the last two or three hundred years.
Thanks to the work of tens of thousands of peoples over the millennia, the ground at the lower levels of the Strath is quite changed from its former appearance. Chaotic wood growth was cut down and used for various purposes. Waterways changed directions leaving ground which was good and fertile for crop growth, and in others, just barren rock with a thin covering of top soil. Two enlightened land owners at Dunira and Aberuchill built substantial drainage ditches to drain their fields of excess water. This created new ground for crop growing. Sadly, however, many trees died, or were cut down in the process.
There were changes in the rivers as well with the River Ruchill originally following a course along Barrack Road in Dalginross where it joined the River Earn to the east of Comrie. One can still see the left-over banks of three of its original water courses. It therefore can be said that, as a result of the foregoing, existing tree, bush and shrubbery patterns were created in a managed way in Highland Strathearn, not in a haphazard way. This collection is by no means complete, and can be added to by interested parties.
It should also be mentioned that most trees are the homes to a vast variety of interesting little creatures such as mites, insects, spiders, weevils, caterpillars, and others. They are tasty morsels for many of the birds in our area and are a fertile feeding ground. Woodpeckers and other species, on the other hand, are quite happy to spend hours looking for their favourites!
During the spring and summer months the trees are alive with new growth and provide a plethora of colour with myriads shades of green, supported by different types and sizes of shapes of their fruit of flowers. They offer hope and joy and wonderment all around. However in the autumn when the temperature drops they begin to change colour, and tint, and shed their leaves presenting a stark and unfed look about them as winter arrives. They appear gaunt and undernourished, although within each lies nutrients of various types and the growing cycle starts again. In the spring when they start to leaf, they take on a completely new majesty. We are fortunate that we have many varieties to study and enjoy. The following is a sampling and I hope you will go out and identify more of them.
Wych Elm–Ulmus glabra-aka Scots Elm - now sadly being killed off by Dutch Elm disease. It could live up to 500 years or so and was used to make coffins, furniture, chests, wheel hubs. Its leaves were sometimes used to feed cattle. In Norse mythology it was said that woman came from Elm!
Wych Elm–Ulmus glabra-aka Scots Elm
Hazel-Corylus avellana – it is a sturdy tree which can live to about 70 years or so. It was a hard wood and good for making walking sticks, barrel hoops, water dowsers or diviners, basketry, and other household furniture, as well as firewood. It was said that witches made their broomsticks from Witch Hazel. It was also said that if you were ever bitten by an adder, then the venom could be extracted from the bite by laying a cross of Witch Hazel on the wound, and muttering a weird incantation. Having met an adder when a little boy at Montillie above Aberuchill, but was not bitten by it, I can tell you with authority, that the last thing on my mind at that moment was thinking about this rather attractive tree! I would not recommend anyone to treat a wound like this using this method of healing!
Oak–Quercus robur–they can live for several hundred years. There are two in the Aberuchill estate, the King and the Queen Oaks, which were planted early in the 17th century to either commemorate the Union of the Crowns in 1603 or the accession of King Charles 1 to the throne in 1625. Oak was the mainstay of Great Britain and was used for the construction of ships, to make hulls and masts. It was also used to make casks, in building structures, making furniture, etc. As the sage once said, “From tiny acorns, mighty oaks grow”
Silver Birch–Betula pendula–this beautiful tree grows throughout Highland Strathearn. It adds colour and, like the Aspens, shines and shimmers when it is in its full glory. Its light silver leaves offer a magic which is surprising for a tree whose use is very limited. It makes good brooms and firewood! Small, but mighty! In Canada I have seen them bend in severe icing conditions with apparently no hope of recovering their natural up right state but, given time, they will.
Silver Birch–Betula pendula
There are many other species of wet trees such as Willow–Salix. They are beautiful when seen close by a pond on a hot summers’ day. However, they had an everlasting thirst and their roots will always search for water, even going through concrete foundation of private homes. The roots can be as long as the height of the tree.
Sycamore – In Scotland it is known as a Plane Tree. The photograph suggests that this Plane tree is 450 years old. It was said that Mary, Queen of Scots nursed her ailing husband, Lord Darney, under it when he was suffering from smallpox. One hopes it gave him some comfort, although he did not deserve much, as was shown several days later when assassins blew up his accommodation at the Kirk o’ Field house. As an added touch they strangled him as well!
The Darnley Sycamore or Plane Tree in Glasgow
Other species of trees have been introduced by the estates during the last two to three hundred years or so. They include:
Horse-Chestnut-Aesculus-hippocastanum – in full bloom, one can only describe them as magnificent. There are located throughout Highland Strathearn and as boys we eagerly anticipated when their seeds would fall off. The seeds were a hard spiky protective shell which had to be prized open. Inside lay the seeds, or chestnuts. These were hard shelled and called Conkers. Conkers became a little boy’s game where a hole was drilled through the nut and a string inserted and tied with a knot at the bottom. Once that was done one could cast down the gauntlet and challenge all comers to a battle between the conkers. By alternating turns one swung one’s own conker down on that of your opponent. The idea was to see whose conker had the hardest shell and take the most punishment. I used to find most of my supply in Dalginross. I understand that today to be politically correct children must wear glasses to protect their eyes when dueling with conkers. I hope this also applies to other sporting events where one throws something, like cricket, or baseball, or football, or rugby.
Beech–Fegus sylvatica - another magnificent tree introduced in the mid to late 18th century. They live till they are about 120 years of age and are a tall bushy tree ideal for standing under when it is raining. This is NOT alright if there is lightning around. If there is lightning do not go near any tree! The avenue of Beech at Aberuchill commands attention and adds to the joy of a walk through the estate. It can be used for making furniture and sundry items such as bowls, etc.
Avenue of Beeches at Aberuchill Castle, Comrie
Hawthorn–Crataegus monogyna – Hawthorn can live for two hundred years and is a sturdy tree. Its colouring is of white blossom and red berries and it offers a distinctive look. In the old days we used to collect hips and haws. Rose hips and haws (the Hawthorn berry) both came out around the same time and both were collected so that we could drop them inside the clothes of our friends. The Haws were itchy to the skin. It was just one of those things that amused small boys.
Walnut–Juglans regia – these produced walnuts which were much prized by squirrels and birds as well as being used as food by people. One has to be careful when opening them as one’s knife has to be sharp and the cut made down the centre of the two halves that make up the nut. There is a stand of them above St. Fillans on the steep climb up to Easter and Wester Glen Tarken.
Ash–Fraxinus excelsior – it can live up to 200 years and is a superb wood for making furniture, baseball and cricket bats and stumps, night sticks for policemen, paddles, rudders, oars and billiard cues. In Norse legend it was said that man came from Ask (Ash). It was also said to be able to cure warts and rickets! I thought a potato and a vitamin D-supplemented diet did that!
Rowan–Sorbus aucuparia–aka Mountain Ash – it is a spectacular tree which can live till about 90 years of age. It has bright red edible berries used for making rowan jelly or jam. The taste was somewhat bitter and tart. The wood is hard and used for making bowls or walking sticks, tool handles. All the birds love the berries and ensure that when they leave droppings, the Rowan will survive as a species. Lady Nairne – the Flower of Strathearn, and a well known Jacobite, wrote a lovely song about its beauty called the Rowan Tree. Its colouring of rich red berries in blossom is one of Nature’s many gifts. It also had odd properties and was revered by earlier generations who were very superstitious. When the old Lechkin farmhouse (it was originally called Torry farm) was purchased one hundred and thirty years ago the new owners found a Rowan bower above the door to ward off, and protect it and them… from the witches! “Rowan tree and red threed (thread) gar the witches come ill speed.”
Rowan–Sorbus aucuparia–aka Mountain Ash
Alder–Alnus glutinosa – they are part of the Birch family and grow along the river banks. They are much in evidence on the banks of Loch Earn and the rivers Earn, Ruchill and the Lednock. Alders can live up to about 150 years or so. They are turned into charcoal which was used in lime kilns much in vogue in the late 18th and throughout the early 19th centuries for the preparation of flax. As a hard wood they were also used for making clogs in Europe. Sometimes it was used in the making of medicines for treating coughs and chills. The flowers of Alders, as with many others, are called Catkins.
Aspen–Populous tremula – mostly called Poplars – it is a beauty of a tree whose leaves shimmer in the breeze. It can live for about 70 years. It is the poor man’s Oak and was used for charcoal for making gunpowder, tanning leather and was also for making barrels. Its bark was used to treat rheumatism, diarrhea, liver
and kidney ailments, coughs, earaches and insect bites. The colouring of Aspen shimmering in the autumn is spectacular.
Aspen–Populous tremula – mostly called Poplars
Amongst the conifers are the following:
Scots Pine-Pinus sylvestris - this handsome tree can grow to about 40 metres and live between 150 and 300 hundred years. Its timber is all purpose being used for manufacturing furniture, building materials, packing cases, tar and sundry goods. It is Scotland’s national tree.
Scots Pine-Pinus sylvestris
Yew–Taxus baccata – can live for three thousand years as evidenced in the Yew tree at Fortingall in Breadalbane some 10 miles as the crow flies from Strathearn. This Yew tree is the oldest vegetation in Europe being about three thousand five hundred years old. It is good for making handles for tools and firewood, however, it is poisonous! Beware! They can be found oddly enough near graveyards although I am not sure if this is significant!! It is said that Pontius Pilate was born there in Fortingall!
Yew Tree at Fortingall (Taxus baccata)
Juniper–Juniper communis – it is not a commanding tree or bush like a pine but rather often has a short trunk with branches which spread. There is a fine stand at the entry to Glen Artney on the south side above Trian.
European Larch was introduced about two hundred years ago. There is a superb example along the south road to Lochearnhead where they flank and make an arch over the road. I believe one of the Stewarts of Ardvorlich brought them in from Norway about two hundred years ago. The russet brown colour on a bright, sharp morning is special. Several can also be seen on Turleum.
Others include that sorry fir, the Sitka Spruce–Picea sitchensis. It was introduced from the West Coast of Canada and planted by estate owners who wanted grant money from the government. It was allowed, and now vistas are lost and ground killed off. A run down the Sma’ Glen will show one the results of this catastrophe. And all only for a wee bawbee…or not so wee maybe!
Sitka Spruce–Picea sitchensis
Monkey Puzzle tree–Araucaria Araucana - One of my favourite trees is in a garden just at the junction where the Ross meets the Back road. It is native to, and the national tree, of Chile. This type of tree was originally introduced to Great Britain about two hundred years ago and was planted mainly by aficionados. Someone who saw it said, “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that” and so the name stuck.
Monkey Puzzle tree–Araucaria Araucana
In leaving this part of our story of the making of our garden we may remember the old Boy Scout poem:
These hard woods burn well and slowly
Ash, beech, hawthorn, oak and holly
Softwoods flare up quick and fine
Birch, fir, hazel, larch and pine
Elm and willow you’ll regret
Chestnut green and sycamore wet.