To follow on from the post ‘Some fungi’, I thought that I would continue in the same vain. It’s taken me a while to collate all the flora that I had photographed over the last year. I had to sift through hundreds of photographs to choose the best examples to republish here. It has been fascinating, learning so much as I went along. Due to the sheer number, I have divided the flora into families. The Rose family is, I think, the most interesting and diverse, from small herbs to large trees.
Here though, I have decided to start with the oldest of our native trees - Pine. Pine trees are survivors of the ice age. Archaeologically, the oldest known fossil dates back 140 million years. Fossils show that wildfires raged through the earliest Pine forests and would have shaped their evolution. Oxygen levels were much higher during the Cretaceous period, fuelling intense and frequent wildfires. Pines are well adapted to fire, containing inflammable deadwood that makes them burn easily. They also produce cones that will only germinate after being scorched, ensuring a new generation of trees are seeded after the fire has passed.
Natural Pine forests are a haven for Red squirrels, our native squirrel, otherwise decimated by the larger, American Grey squirrel introduced by the Victorians from 1876. Plantations, however, are devoid of life.
The cones form in a clockwise spiral pattern, following the Earth’s journey around the Sun.
Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
One of the most common Pines, it has been grown on plantations for many years for its wood, particularly for pulp and timber products. The sap is used for tar, rosin and turpentine. The resin used to be used for sealing wax, oiling violin bows, as pitch to seal boats and ‘brewers pitch’ to seal beer casks.
The resin is used for burns, wounds and dermal complaints. It is a powerful bronchial disinfectant and makes an excellent inhalant to ease respiratory problems, soothing irritation of the mucous membranes. It is antiseptic, an expectorant and tonic for the bladder and kidneys.
The resin can also be used as an incense gum. Purify and cleanse living spaces during Winter to clear negative energy. Adding the oil to your bath will also help with easing the stress of arguments and dark thoughts.
William Wordsworth wrote of the inspirational qualities of Pine:-
My thoughts become bright like yon edging of pines
On the steep’s lofty verge,how it blackened the air!
But touched from behind by the sun, it now shines,
With threads that seem part of His own silver hair.
The pine nuts are edible, as are the cones, bark and twigs. They are an essential ingredient in pesto alla Genovese. The soft, moist, white inner bark beneath the woody outer bark is very high in vitamins A and C. It can be eaten raw in slices as a snack or dried and ground up into a powder for use as a flour or thickener in stews, soups and other foods.
Young, green pine needles can be steeped in boiling water and drunk to help with urinary tract infections. Pine water is also recommended for depression, particularly with over-sensitivity and will help to build confidence.
Corsican Pine (Pinus nigra)
Scots Pine (l) and Corsican Pine (r)
Corsican Pine is the closest relative to Scots Pine, often growing with it, and has all the same qualities.
Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
Everybody’s favourite Christmas tree. The Latin name describes it as a Fir or like a Fir. Abies means ‘to rise’. The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is a Norway Spruce.
It is esteemed as a tonewood for stringed and woodwind musical instruments.
The cambium is used in the production of Mont d’Or cheese. Spruce beer was drunk to prevent and even cure scurvy.
Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)
Douglas Fir (l) and Sitka Spruce (r)
Named after the community of Sitka in Alaska, it is the largest of the Spruces. Its thin bark and shallow roots make it susceptible to fire and strong winds.
The wood is widely used in piano, harp, violin and guitar manufacture, as its high strength-to-weight ratio and regular, knot-free rings make it an excellent conductor of sound. It is also an important material for sailboat and aircraft wing spars.
The roots can be heated and plied to make cord. As with other Pines, the pitch is used as glue and caulking.
The newly grown tips are used to flavour spruce beer or boiled to make syrup.
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
The Latin name ‘pseudo-tsuga’ means ‘false-hemlock’ and despite its common name, is not a true Fir, either. The pine needles are used in baths as a hygiene freshener or drunk as a coffee substitute. As with all Pines, it has the same medicinal qualities.
Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)
Growing up to a height of around 190’, it is the largest of the Hemlocks. It often grows with Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce. Its thin bark and shallow roots make it susceptible to fire. Trees growing along riverbanks reduce erosion.
Look for Western Hemlock when foraging for mushrooms. It has an ectomycorrrhizal association with a number of edible fungi, particularly Chanterelle.
It is farmed mostly for paper. The fibres are also used to make rayon. The bark is used as a tannin for tanning leather. It can also be boiled to make dark red dyes to make fishing nets and lines less visible to fish.
European Larch (Larix decidua)
Larches are incredibly hardy, being able to survive temperatures of -50°c.
The wood is used largely in the building of yachts. Larch poles are famed and widely used for fencing. They are also prized as bonsai.
The needles are the only known food for Case-bearer moth caterpillars.