What does it take to be a tree of note?
Is it to be a one-off example of a particular species represented in the park? In that case the English walnut close to the bowling green would qualify. Although it is a fine example of a tree, I am not sure I would include it as a tree to keep a particular eye on.
So are we looking for trees that need to be observed in some way? And do they need to be observed at a particular time, and why? There are a number of trees that would come under this category and the usual reason is for producing flowers.
The Campbell’s magnolia produces magnificent flowers in early March and is the only one of its kind in the park. Those are two good reasons for including this as a noteworthy tree.
But most of the trees in the park produce flowers, why aren’t they noteworthy? They perhaps are in their own way, such as the cherries. But more en masse than as individual trees. The cherries fill the park with colour in Spring but it is no one individual tree that does it. Same with the Horse chestnuts, even though they go on to produce conkers which gives them merit in the Autumn too.
There are other trees whose flowers are more specialised and unusual than the ordinary blossom of fruit trees. One such tree would be the Handkerchief tree or Dove tree or Ghost tree, whichever you like to call it; Davidia involucrata. As well as producing unusual flowers it too is a one-off in the park and noteworthy as an unusual specimen tree. It is a tree to keep your eye on through April into May. It is then that it produces its pom pom like flowers that are surrounded by white bracts and these bracts give the impression of handkerchiefs hanging in the tree.
The tulip tree, Lirodendron tulipefera, produces unusual flowers. Unusual to the British eye, that is, as they are an American species and the flowers, not surprisingly, are tulip shaped. There are three of them somewhere in the park. I would certainly like to see them flower and would go out of my way to make sure I do, but are they any more noteworthy than the two Weeping beech trees that grace the pondside? I think they both have their merits.
I doubt that this page is going to be a definitive list, but I am sure many trees will get a mention. Some of them, like the Handkerchief tree and Tulip tree will be for a brief show of beauty whereas another tree such as a Weeping Willow or Weeping beech may be for its graceful form. Another may not be for a characteristic of the species but for an individual trait such as the gnarly, burr covered English oak at the fork in the path just below the basketball court. An English oak is not special but this particular one just has a lot of character that as someone said “makes it look like it came straight from Sleepy Hollow”.
The handkerchief tree begins to flower in late April. Its flowers have no petals and are made up of compact clusters of male flowers with many purple anthers. These look like knobbly spheres. The striking thing about them, however, is that they are surrounded by two uneven, white bracts. These hang below the round flower looking a little like handkerchiefs. They are not petals but a sort of modified leaf.