One very important aspect of botanical illustration is making a record of important heritage plants and trees.
This is the first in a series of posts I intend to write about important botanical paintings - or opportunities to paint plants to record an important event or a transformation.
Last month it became apparent that an important opportunity may exist in Scotland for those who might like to record an ancient tree that is apparently changing gender - from male to female. This October it grew three red berries!
The Fortingall Yew
The Fortingall Yew is an ancient heritage tree (Taxus baccata) of international importance. It's believed to be one of the oldest trees in Europe and is almost certainly the oldest tree in the UK.
It's estimated to be around 2,000 years old but could be as old as 5,000 years. It can't be aged on the basis of tree rings as the trunk has changed over time. The trunk was measured as being 56 feet by Thomas Pennent in 1769. However the centre has rotted and it has now split into several separate stems or offshoots.
The tree is rooted in Fortingall churchyard between Killin and Aberfeldy in Perthshire.
A tree that is changing sex
The reason the tree has been getting a lot of coverage across the world of late is that it's apparently changing sex!
An article Oldest Yew changes sex (23 October 2015) in the Botanic Stories blog of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh triggered the interest. As it indicates
....the Fortingall Yew is a male tree. Yews are normally either male or female and in autumn and winter sexing yews is generally easy. Males have small spherical structures that release clouds of pollen when they mature. Females hold bright red berries from autumn into winter. It was, therefore, quite a surprise to me to find a group of three ripe red berries on the Fortingal yew this October when the rest of the tree was clearly male.
Apparently gender morphing by yews and other conifers is not unheard of but tends to be associated with the crown - although there are a few species which routinely grow both male and female parts.
In this species gender change is rare. In this particular instance just one branch has decided to be female - and grow three bright red berries in October - while the rest of the tree continues to be a traditional male!
It'll be interesting to see what happens next Autumn and whether the berries appear again.
I suggest botanical artists form an orderly queue next October to paint it!
BBC | Berries show ancient Fortingall yew tree is 'changing sex' (2 November 2015)
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