Skipton Girls High School 125th Celebration    Skipton Girls High School 125th Celebration     in association with Cambridge University Botanical Garden

 

In 2011, the 125th year of the school, Skipton began as association with Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

The idea emerged that it would be interesting to use the Garden as a resource for the school and to use it as inspiration to select plants for the Celebration event itself.

Trees, the largest specimens, were the first choice as memorable and long lived plants that could be enjoyed at the celebration, looked upon with great interest and pride in the years to come, and be a new school learning resource.

Four species were shortlisted for different reasons:

The Handkerchief Tree or Dove Tree: Davidia involucrata

The Maidenhair Tree: Ginko Biloba

Holm Oak - Evergreen: Quercus Ilex

Wellingtonia: Sequoiadendron giganteum

 

The Handkerchief Tree or Dove Tree

Place of Origin: Central China and West China Dove Tree

Type: Deciduous and Broadleaf

Family: Davidiaceae

Scientific Name: Davidia involucrata

 

The story of how the handkerchief tree arrived in Britain is a bit like an Indiana Jones adventure, assuming he had an interest in botany! First seen by a French priest called Father Armand David on a trip to China in 1868, it was not actually introduced to Britain for another 35 years, and then only after a quite remarkable sequence of events.

Specimens of Davidia involucrata had been sent to Kew, and nurseryman Henry Veitch expressed an interest in obtaining some seeds from which to grow the tree. In 1899, he commissioned a young botanist called Ernest Wilson to go to China to find the handkerchief tree. Having never been abroad and not speaking a word of Chinese, this presented quite a challenge for the 22-year-old Wilson.

With only a hand-drawn map and a few written instructions to guide him, Wilson set off into the remote Yunnan region of China in search of the single specimen known to exist. On his way, he escaped local bandits, survived a potentially deadly illness and nearly drowned when his boat overturned in a rocky river. When he did finally find the location of the tree, Wilson was mortified to discover that it had been cut down and used to build a house. Fortunately he did find other specimens and sent the seeds back to England in 1901 before going on to spend many years in China, finding hundreds of other plants and fame in the process.

Also known as the dove tree or ghost tree, Davidia involucrata has a subspecies called vilmoriniana. Hardier than the original species, it is also a more common sight in Britain, and is found in parks and gardens, especially in the more temperate west.

 

Further information:

The most striking feature of the handkerchief tree is its ‘flowers’, or more accurately, the bracts, or protective leaf, outside the flowers. The flowers themselves are small and purple but are literally overshadowed by two thin white bracts, one of which is twice the size of the other. These delicate bracts flutter in the breeze providing the tree with its common names. This tree will stand majestically, like a sentinel in Skipton Girls High School grounds.

The tree can reach a height of 20m (65ft) in the wild but does not produce its signature flowers until it is about ten years old. The leaves of Davidia involucrata are a vivid green and are heart-shaped with a fine point at the tip. The flowers emerge in May, followed by dark green fruit in the form of a hard nut, which turns purple when ripe. 

 

The Maidenhair Tree

Place of Origin: China The Maidenhair Tree

Type: Deciduous and Ginkgophyta

Family: Ginkgoaceae

Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba


A large deciduous tree, Ginkgo biloba has developed a resistance to most pests and diseases, allowing it an incredibly long lifespan. One tree in the Shandong province of China is thought to be 3,000 years old. It can be found planted along some motorways in England, for example the A47 near Leicester. It dates back to the dinosaur era, surviving the meteors and subsequent radiation, leaving descendents that live to this day.

Young trees tend to be tall, slender and sparsely branched, with the crown of the tree becoming broader over time. Mature specimens in China have grown to more than 50m (164ft) in height!

The name maidenhair tree came about because the fan-shaped leaves resemble the maidenhair fern (Adiantum). During autumn the green leaves turn a bright yellow then fall quickly in anything from a single day to two weeks.

In traditional Chinese medicine a leaf extract is used to improve health, circulation, memory and attentiveness. Clinical trials have yet to prove conclusive but the value of worldwide sales of Ginkgo biloba is estimated at a staggering half a billion US dollars a year.

Ginkgo have separate sexes, with some trees being male and others female. The male produces pollen cones, while the females have two ovules at the end of a stalk. Once pollination is complete one or both of the ovules develop into seeds. These seeds give off an unpleasant smell - like that of rancid butter - when they fall to the ground, so perhaps unsurprisingly, male trees are often preferred where cultivated. The sex of the trees is impossible to define until they are quite mature.

 

Further information:

About 65 million years ago, fossil leaves from Ardtun Head on the Isle of Mull show that Ginkgo once flourished in what is now the British Isles. Ginkgo fossils of about the same age are also known from places as far apart as North Dakota in the United States, Ellesmere Island in the extreme north of Canada and Spitsbergen in the Arctic Ocean.

Around 10-15 million years ago, Ginkgo grew across the Northern Hemisphere, from Germany to China, and from Japan to western North America. The current native area of the Ginkgo in China reflects a gradual reduction in geographic range, most likely as a result of deteriorating climate over the last several million years.

 

 

Holm Oak - Evergreen

Place of Origin: Mediterranean and South West Europe Holm Oak

Type: Evergreen and Broadleaf

Family: Fagaceae

Scientific Name: Quercus ilex


The holm oak is one of the few evergreen oaks found in Britain and was introduced from the Mediterranean in the 16th century. A hardy adaptable tree, Quercus ilex also produces strong durable timber, thanks to the presence of quantities of tannic acid, which naturally preserves the wood.

Because the English oak has always been so plentiful in Britain, there was rarely a need to use any other oak for timber. But the holm oak has a long history of practical use and the Romans are known to have used the wood for making the wheels of carts and carriages as well as in numerous agricultural tools. This is less common in the Mediterranean today, although it is still popular with joiners in north Africa, for example, Algeria.

The ancient Greeks also held the holm oak in high regard, although more for symbolic reasons than practical ones. The leaves of the tree were thought to be infallible and were used to tell the future. They were also used for crowns to honour people of distinction. The acorn was seen as a sign of fertility and wearing jewellery such as pendants and necklaces with imitation acorns was believed to increase the chances of being fertile.

The acorns of Quercus ilex are smaller than those of our native oaks but are equally delicious to pigs and are an important food for those reared for Serrano ham. Green when young, the acorns sometimes turn a reddish-brown before falling in the autumn. Its Mediterranean heritage means that the holm oak's acorns germinate more readily in the warmer south and west parts of Britain and are less common in the colder north.

 

Further information:

The botanical name for the holm oak, Quercus ilex, literally translates as holly oak. This is because the young leaves of the holm oak have spiny pointed lobes, like holly and 'holm' is an old word for holly. The spiny leaves tend to appear on the lower branches of the tree, and it is thought that they evolved this way to protect the foliage from grazing animals, similar to the holly tree (Ilex aquifolium).

The leaves, which lose their spikes as they grow older, are thick and tough with a dark green shiny upper side and a pale underside. This makes the tree resistant to pollution and consequently ideal for urban life and so holm oaks can often be found in towns. Their Mediterranean origins means that they are also suited to coastal regions and any salty sea spray that collects on the trees is easily washed off the glossy leaves by rain without causing any damage.

 

Wellingtonia

Place of Origin: California Wellingtonia

Type: Evergreen and Conifer

Family: Cupressaceae

Scientific Name: Sequoiadendron giganteum

It may not be the tallest tree in the world but Sequoiadendron giganteum is the largest by volume. The giant redwood, also known as Wellingtonia, is enormous in every respect.

The largest living specimens are found its native California; the largest known is known as General Sherman. At the last count, it stood at 84m (275ft) in height, with the circumference of its trunk at ground level 31m (103ft). It is estimated to be around 3,200 years old.

When it was introduced to Britain in 1853, the species was named after the recently deceased Duke of Wellington. Always on the lookout for new and exciting large trees, estate-owners jumped at the chance of growing another impressive specimen and the Wellingtonia marketing ploy worked wonders. Although planted less frequently now, it is quite common throughout the British Isles, particularly in large gardens and parks.

The speed at which Sequoiadendron giganteum grows can be nothing short of phenomenal. In Italy, a young tree reached a height of 22m (72 ft) in just 17 years. Growth rates depend largely on the habitat and weather conditions and while it can survive in temperatures as low as -30°C, it tends to flourish in a humid environment that has dry summers and snowy winters.

As it has red bark, the giant redwood is superficially similar to the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). However, up close it is quite easy to tell them apart. The giant redwood has frond-like leaves, while the coastal redwood has leaves similar to that of the yew. As the foliage may be out of reach, a quick punch to the trunk should help remove any doubts. If the bark is soft and spongy, it's a giant. If you hurt your knuckles, it's the coastal!

 

Further information:

Sequoiadendron giganteum bears seed cones for reproduction. In comparison to the size of the tree, the cones are tiny, measuring a mere 5-7cm, and take at least two years to ripen. However, many cones remain green and unopened for anything up to 20 years.

Natural bush fires are not as common as they once were but are essential for reproduction to take place. The giant redwood's bark is fire resistant so the tree is left unharmed while the other plant life around it are cleared, a prerequisite for seedlings to grow, helped along by a layer of ash as a seedbed. The heat from the fire also starts the process as it causes the cones to open, dispersing its seeds on the wind.

Aside from being fire resistant, the timber of Sequoiadendron giganteum has little commercial value and makes the widespread felling of this tree in the 19th century all the more sad.

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