Atocha Botanical Garden - Madrid Spain

The interior of the old part of the "Atocha" Madrid central train station is now an indoor botanical garden. This indoor tropical jungle was inaugurated in 1992 and covers an area of 4,000 square meters. There are about 7,000 plants from 260 different species in the garden as well as a pond with Goldfish and turtles. I first visited this garden in the Spring of 1994.

The garden is located where the old train landings used to be. There are paths that criss cross the garden and several cafes around the sides. Most of the plants are tropical species and a good number of them are palms. Some of these palms are so tall that they reach almost to the roof of the domed building. The image below is of the "Travelers Palm" that is native to Madagascar. In most outdoor settings this pseudo palms leaves tend to shred like a Banana tree but in this indoor garden the leaves are all intact and much more impressive.

The image below is of the Queen Sago (Cycas circinalis) which is similar to the King Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta).
In the swamp like pond at one end of the garden there are several Baldcypress trees (image below) as well as several Malabar Chestnuts.
Some other tree species in the garden include the Blue Jacaranda, the Fiddle Leaf Fig, the White Bird of Paradise, and the Rubber tree.

The Atocha train station is still the main central train station for the city of Madrid with access to the local Metro, the suburb light-rail "Renfe Cercanias", regional trains, national "Talgo" trains and the "Ave" bullet trains that go to Barcelona, Sevilla, Cordoba, Malaga and Toledo.

Edible Chestnuts vs. Horse Chestnuts

This is a post about which chestnuts you can eat and which ones you cannot eat.

To tell the difference between an edible chestnut (from Castanea Sativa) and a non-edible chestnut (Horse Chestnut or Buckeye) you need to take a close look at the pod that the chestnuts grow in. Once the chestnut (seeds) are out of their pods they can look very similar to each other.
The pod of the edible sweet chestnut has a sort of "porcupine" look to it with thin prickly spikes that point out in all directions and form a sort of thicket where you cannot see anything but the spikes. These are green while the chestnuts are forming and then turn brown when the chestnuts are mature.  Handling these pods without gloves can be quite tricky.

The chestnuts from a Horse Chestnut or Buckeye on the other hand have short bumpy spikes on a smooth ball shaped fruit where you can see the surface between the spikes. As you can see in these images there are a lot fewer spikes which are also shorter and less pointy than those of the edible chestnuts.

The leaves are also very different. Those of the Horse Chestnut and Buckey are palmate with five leaflets like the one in the image below.

Tree Aid - Improving the quality of life in rural Africa

I recently came across the website of a non-profit organization by the name of "Tree Aid". This organization has been working in Africa’s rural drylands, in some of the poorest regions of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana and Mali, where forestry centered development interventions can alleviate poverty sustainability.

"TREE AID" is helping villagers in Africa to learn how to use and care for their trees, to know what to sell and how to sell it, learn to build and run a business so they can be self-reliant" - Zoe Wanamaker CBE
I am impressed by the idea behind TREE AID and I find it to be a convincing way to improve the basic quality of life for rural African communities. When trees area properly cared for they can be a sustainable source of food, medicines, essential oils, shade, firewood etc. A community without trees is a community without hope.

In support of TREE AID I am going to place this banner in the left column of this blog with a link to their website. I would encourage anyone interested to check this interesting organization out.


Weeping European Beech - Fagus Sylvatica Pendula

The Weeping European Beech is a cultivar of the tree species "Fagus Sylvatica". The "weeping" refers to the fact that the ends of the branches hang down in a limp "pendulum" sort of fashion. All weeping tree species variants have species names that end with the term "pendula". The Weeping Willow is probably the most famous of all weeping tree species.

The tree in this series of images is located in the Finch Arboretum near Spokane, Washington. The Finch Arboretum was established in 1949 and is comprised of 65 acres of land .
The image below is a 19th century illustration of the European Beech that is now in the public domain.

Hybrid Strawberry tree - Arbutus x andrachnoides

The Arbutus x andrachnoides is a naturally occuring hybrid of the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) and the Greek Strawberry tree (Arbutus andrachne) that is found in Greece and Cyprus. The pictures in this post however come from a tree in the Madrid Botanical Garden.

The leaves and flowers of this hybrid are quite similar to those of the "Madrono" (Strawberry tree) but the bark is quite different. For one it is quite flacky and the outer brown, paper thin layer peels off to reveal a lime green with brownish patches, smooth layer beneath.


This hybrid is grown mainly for ornamental purposes and not as a fruit bearing tree as it is not known to produce nearly as well as the Arbutus unedo.

European Ash - Fraxinus Excelsior

The European Ash tree (species: Fraxinus excelsior) is a medium size tree native to most of Europe and quite common in Spain where these images were taken. They are relatively common in pasture land in the northern half of Spain where they are used along stone fences and also for poles and firewood using the "Pollarding" method of tree management. The tree in the image above looks as if it has been Pollarded at some point although the branches look as though it has been a number of years since this took place and the tree has been allowed to grow without being trimmed back like many of the others in the area.

The leaves of the European Ash are pinnate compound with 5-11 leaflets. The individual leaflets have serrated margins and measure about 2 inches long and less than 1 inch wide.

The image above shows the newly forming flowers. Below is a picture of the samara like seeds that occur in clusters that look similar to those of the Boxelder maple when they are hanging dry on the tree in the spring.



I found the 1885 illustration below in Wikipedia under a public domain license.
Several of the the images in this post are from the town of "Alameda del Valle" north of Madrid. The word "Alameda" means "a stand of Alamo trees". In this context "Alamo" is the Spanish name of the "Populus nigra" tree.

Sculptured Cypress Trees - Retiro Park

In the "El Parterre" section of the "Parque del Buen Retiro" in Madrid Spain there are a series of sculptured trees that look like something out of a Dr. Sues book. I was not sure what species of tree they were but upon closer examination I found them to be Mediterranean Cypress trees (Cupressus sempervirens). This tree species is most often found with its columnar form but as you can see from these images it can be shapped into almost any form.
The "Parterre" section of the park is quite close to the Prado museum and has a classic French garden type layout with several other notable tree species. In the image below the large tree on the right, tht is a bit brown in color, is a Montezuma Cypress tree (Taxodium mucronatum). It is the most famous tree in the Retiro park and is believed to be close to 400 years old. The other two evergreen type trees to the left are are either Atlas or Himalayan Cedar trees.

Not to far from this part of the park is a crystal palace with a large pond that is the home to several Baldcypress trees (Taxodium distichum).

Bald Cypress in the Retiro Park of Madrid

Located in a large pond in the "Retiro" park in Madrid, Spain are several fine specimens of Bald Cypress trees (Taxodium distichum), also called Swamp Cypress or Baldcypress. These trees are growing in a man made pond in front of a crystal palace that was built in 1887 to house an exposition of plants from the Philipines. It was patturned after the Crystal Palace that was built in London in 1851.

Today the crystal palace stands empty execpt for an occasional exposition of art etc. The pond in front of the palace with its Swamp Cypress trees is a favorite of turists and photographers. A pathway winds around the prerimeter of the pond and at one point even goes through a cave from where you can look out through the water fall and observe several of the trees.

Bald Cypress trees have a trunk that is quite wide at the base as you can see in the image below. These trees also turn a bright golden color in the fall and are a very pretty sight to behold.
The cones of the Bald Cypress are similar in shape to those of the Common Cypress despite the fact that they belong to different genus.


Not too far from the "Palacio de Cristal" there is another tree from same tree family (genus) that is the oldest and most impressive tree in the park. It is a Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) and goes by the name "Ahuehuete del Parterre".

How to take care of Ficus Benjamina plants

The Benjamin Fig (Ficus Benjamina) is one of the most common tree species that is used as an indoor potted plant. Although it is very well suited to be used in indoor settings the fact that it is a tree requires that it cared for following a few simple tips.

#One - Make sure that your Ficus plant is getting the right amount of sunlight. Ample light is necessary and some direct light for part of the day is fine but avoid a location that exposes to plant to direct sunlight for too long. Also keep in mind that these plants are very sensitive to changes. It is not uncommon for a Benjamin Fig to drop all of its leaves in response to a dramatic change. The trick is to find a good location and then don't move it!

#Two - Take care of your plant' s roots. The two main things you need to worry about are root rot and becoming root bound. To avoid root rot it is a good idea to not let you plant sit in standing water. If you over water and allow the plant to sit in a tray with the excess water root rot may develop which in turn will cause the leaves to start spotting and falling off. Water the plant only when the soil is almost dry, make sure the moisture gets to the roots but don't allow the excess water to collect at the base of the plant. In between these waterings you can also keep the plant happy by misting it every few days or so. To avoid the plant becoming root bound it will be necessary to trip back the roots every 3-5 years and possibly change up to a larger pot.

# Three - Keep your plant well fed. It is generally recommended to fertilize a Benjamin Fig monthly during the months that the plant is growing with a basic fertilizer diluted to at least half strength. It is important to feed your plant but it may be equally important to not overfeed it as well.

And remember, your plant is in fact a tree and is trying to become like the one below, so to keep it small and cute in an indoor setting you need to take care of it!


see also...
Fiddle Leaf Fig care tips
Money tree plants

Giant Sequoias at La Granja de San Ildefonso Segovia

There is in Spain a majestic palace at whose entrance you will find standing guard the most amazing collection of giant trees. The palace is located in the town of San Ildefonso in the province of Segovia, which if you are not familiar with Spain, is about an hours drive north-west of Madrid.

The Royal Palace at San Ildefonso was built by king Philip V starting in 1719 and was patterned a great deal on the French palace of Versailles which was built by Philip´s grandfather Luis XIV of France.

There are a great many trees around the royal gardens but in this post I want to focus on two Giant Sequoias near the front entrance of the main palace. Giant Sequoias are not native to Spain but there were most likely brought back to Spain by Spanish explorers who started establishing missions in California in the late 18th Century. The most reliable information that I have found states that the Sequoias of San Ildefonso were planted around the year 1870 which means that they are now about 140 years old.

There are two Giant Sequoias at San Ildefonso. The one on the left in the image above has been called "el Rey" (the King) in Spanish and is 40 meters tall and has a trunk circumference of 13 meters. "the King" is more rugged looking of the two and has the look of having been broken off at the top at some point.

The other Sequoia is called "la Reina" (the Queen) and is 34 meters tall and has a trunk circumference of 9 meters. "the Queen" (image below) is definitely the better looking of the two and has a fine conical shape.

A sign near these trees identifies their species as well as those of the other great trees that stand nearby. I will mention some of these in a future post.

Ten Tallest Tree Species

#1 Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)
  • Hyperion: 379 feet (115 meters)
  • Helios 376.3 feet
  • Stratosphere Giant 370.5 feet
  • Mendocino Tree: 368 feet
#2 Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans)
  • Centurion: 101 meters
  • Icarus Dream: 97 meters
  • Mount tree: 96 meters
#3 Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
  • Doerner Fir”, (previously known as the Brummit fir), 99.4 meters
  • Cathedral Grove: 76 meters (249 feet)

#4 Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)
  • Carmanah Giant: 96 meters (315 ft)
  • Quinault rain forest (191 feet)
  • Giant Spruce of Cape Perpetua (185 feet)
#5 Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
  • Redwood Mountain Grove: 94.9 meters
  • Diamond Tree: 87.2 meters
  • Hart Redwood: 84.8 meters
  • General Sherman: 84.2 meters
#6 Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus)
  • Tasmania: 90.7 meters

#7 White Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis)
#8 Noble fir (Abies procera)
  • Goat Marsh Research Natural Area: 89.9 meters ( Mt. St. Helens National Monument)
#9 Alpine Ash (Eucalyptus delagatensis)
#10 Yellow Meranti (Shorea faguetiana)
runner up - Shining Gum (Eucalyptus nitens)
  • Tasmania - 84.4 meters

Tallest Hardwood Tree in the World

A new champion hardwood tree has recently been discovered in Tasmania, Australia. Standing at 101 meters tall the newly found Giant has been named "Centurion". The tree is a "Swamp Gum" (Eucalyptus regnans) and was discovered by Tasmanian forestry staff using an airbord "LIDAR" laser scanner.

While this tree is not the tallest tree in the world it is the tallest hardwood, the tallest flowering tree and the tallest tree in Australia. The world´s tallest tree is a Coastal Redwood by the name of "Hyperion" which is 114 meters (379 feet) tall. After the Coastal Redwood the Eucalyptus regnans in the world´s next tallest tree species.

The "Centurion" tree in Tasmania is located just 5 km from the Tahune airwalk. The discovery of this tree has been very exciting for forestry officials in Australia as it is the only hardwood tree in the world that stands more than 100 meters tall.

Other tall "Swamp Gum" trees in Australia are...

Icarus Dream - 97 meters
Mount Tree - 96 meters
Damocles - 93 meters
Medusa - 92 meters

Money Tree Plant - Pachira Glabra

One of the most common indoor potted tree plants is the "Money tree" (also known as the "Lucky money tree" or the "Bonsai money tree" or even "French Peanut"). There is considerable confusion it seems as to the species of tree that these "money trees" belong to. They are almost always listed as being "Pachira aquatica" in nurseries and plant shops. The truth however is that there are several species in the pachira genus that are used to make the braided money trees and in my opinion the most commonly used is not pachira aquatica but rather parchira glabra (sometimes called Bombax glabra or Bombacopsis glabra).

The differnce between the p. aquatica and the p. glabra can be easily seen in the fruit and the flower. p. aquatica has a flower with redish stamens while the p. glabra has a flower with creamy white stamens. The fruit of the p. aquatica is woody brown with a rough texture while that of the p. glabra is green and has a smooth surface.

These two distinctives are of little use however if what you are trying to do is identify a potted money tree plant that in all likelyhood will never have neither flower nor fruit pod. This leaves just the leaves as the source of differences to determine the true species.

One of the reader comments on my previous post about the p. aquatica tiped me off to the difference. The venation of the p. glabra is more horizontal with respect to the petiole while the p. aquatica is slightly more angled. From my observations the leaflet shape is also slighly different with the p. glabra being a bit more long and pointy and the p. aquatica a bit more round and less pointed.

The images above and below are from a braided money tree plant that was planted in the Torrremolinos botanical garden "molino de inca". I happend to come across it when it had fruit that was mature enough to check the color and texture.

Links to pachira glabra sites...
http://www.montosogardens.com/pachira_glabra.htm
http://www.kartuz.com/p/80057/Pachira+glabra.html
http://www.esalq.usp.br/trilhas/fruti/fr04.htm