Gateway to the Classics: Trees and Shrubs by Arabella B. Buckley
Trees and Shrubs by  Arabella B. Buckley

In the Park

In our great parks you will find the largest and grandest English trees, besides many which are interesting because they come from abroad. Avenues, of a mile or two miles long, are often planted with one kind of tree, chestnut, beech, oak, horse-chestnut, or lime, while in the open ground the oaks and horse-chestnuts grow into much finer trees than in the fields.

We have not yet spoken of the Lime-tree, but you know it quite well, with its straight, smooth trunk, its bright, heart-shaped green leaves, bigger on one side than the other, and pointed at the tip, and its bunches of yellowish green flowers, which grow on a long stalk coming out of the middle of a yellow-green leaf (2, p. 71).


Arbutus or Strwaberry Tree in Flower and Fruit

Get some of these flowers in July, or some of the round, downy fruit with ribs on it in the autumn when it is ripe. The leaf out of which they grow is called a bract, and is the same kind of leaf as the scales on which the willow stamens, and the pine seeds grow. But in the Lime it has become a long leaf which can be carried by the wind. The inner bark or "liber" of the lime tree is very useful in making ropes, and of all trees the bees love this one, for the flowers have a sweet scent and plenty of honey in their cups.

There is another tree, which is almost as useful to the bees, which blooms rather earlier than the lime. This is the Sycamore, whose clusters of green flowers hang from the twigs in May, before the leaves are quite out. The sycamore is a very handsome tree with large leaves cut into five broad divisions. It is really a kind of maple, very like the common English field maple which grows in the hedges. If you stand under a sycamore in warm weather you will often notice that drops fall from it, and you will find that its leaves are sticky. This is because all maples have a great deal of very sugary juice or sap in them, which rises up and oozes out of the leaves, either from cracks made by the leaf being dry, or because some insect has bitten a hole. You must have seen the little green blight-insects which cling on rose trees and other plants, and suck out their juice. Hundreds and thousands of these, besides other bugs (such as the cuckoo-spit, which you find covered with froth), suck the sap of trees. So through the cracks they have made the sugary juice of the sycamore or the maple oozes out over the leaves.

The fruit of these trees is very curious. It is winged like the keys of the ash, but two fruits grow together, so that the two wings spread out like those of a moth (see p. 73). The wings of the Field Maple fruit are spread more widely than those of the sycamore.

Maple wood is very useful for furniture. A great many of our desks and wardrobes are made from American maple. Maple sugar, which American children love, comes from the sugary sap of an American species.

Another tree which you will find in the park is the Walnut, which was brought to England by the Romans. It is a large, spreading tree with a rough trunk and strong, crooked branches. Its leaves are cut like those of the ash, but they are much larger. They have a pretty red tinge when they are young, and always have a strong smell when they are crushed.


Sycamore Twig with its Fruit

These trees grow so quickly that they are twenty feet high in ten years, and then begin to flower and make fruit. They go on growing till they are about seventy feet high. You can see the long catkins hanging from the tree in April just as the leaves are opening. The stamen catkins are at the tip of last year's twigs. But the little group of flowers which will grow into walnuts are on the new twigs, which have just come from buds. In autumn every boy knows the walnut fruit shut up in the green husk, which stains your fingers brown as you peel it off. When the husk is off you can slip a knife between the halves of the hard shell and split them apart. In doing this you divide the two seed-leaves of the seed, which are the parts you eat; and if you look carefully you will see the little white bud and root, lying between them, at the pointed end of the walnut. Walnut wood is very useful for furniture, for it becomes a deep brown when the tree is old, and has very beautiful veins in it.

There is one more tree or shrub which grows only in parks and shrubberies, about which I must tell you, because it is so pretty. But I am not sure you will be able to find one. It is the Arbutus, or Strawberry tree (plate, p. 68) so called because its fruits look like strawberries. It is an evergreen shrub with green, glossy leaves shaped like a bay leaf and very notched at the edge. Its flowers are bell-shaped and waxy like the flowers of the heath, and they hang on bent stalks. But the curious thing about them is, that the fruits take a year to ripen. First they are a pale yellow, then they grow deeper and deeper in colour till they are a bright scarlet, hanging in twos and threes among the dark-green leaves, just when the tree blooms afresh with its pretty, greenish-white flowers.

Other trees which you may find in the park are the Chili pine, or monkey-puzzle, a tree which bears cones and has such prickly leaves close together, that it would indeed puzzle a monkey to climb it, and the large magnolias and tulip-trees which have such beautiful white and pinkish flowers as large as bowls. But these are foreigners and we must be content with knowing about English-growing trees.

Find the flowers and fruit of the lime tree; the leaves of the sycamore sticky with honey-dew; the winged seeds of the maple and the sycamore; the leaves and catkins of the walnut tree. Open a walnut and find the young shoot inside.

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