Mediterranean Cypress - Cupressus sempervirens

The Mediterranean Cypress tree (species: Cupressus sempervirens) is known by many common names which include; Common Cypress, Italian Cypress, Graveyard Cypress, Tuscan Cypress, Funeral Cypress, Pencil Pine or Spanish Cypress. The Latin name "sempervirens" can be divided into two parts "semper" - always or ever and "virens" - green. Thus the term can be translated as "evergreen".

Seed cones

The Mediterranean Cypress tree is similar to the "Cedar of Lebanon" in that there are references to it that reach as far back as the Greek mythologies. Cyparissus is a mythical figure who was a friend of the Greek god Apollo. According to the myth Cyparissus was transformed by Apollo into a Cypress tree so that he could forever mourn the death of a dear stag that he had slain. Notice the close resemblance between the name "Cyparissus" and the name of the genus "Cupressus".

Polen cones at the terminal ends of the scale like leaves.

As can be deduced from several of the common names of this tree species the "Graveyard" or "Funeral" Cypress is closely associated with cemeteries and mourning. This can possibly be traced back to the Greek myth of Apollo and Cyparissus but the truth of the matter is that many cemeteries in Southern Europe are graced with these trees. The Cypress and the Yew are by far the most common trees in Mediterranean cemetaries.

Scale like leaves

The Mediterranean Cypress has been cultivated as an ornamental tree for thousands of years. It was the Romans who began to spread the cultivation of this tree throughout the Roman empire. It was prized for its columnar shape (although this tree species is not always straight and thin). It is also the source of strong durable wood that was used by the Phoenicians and Cretans used the wood for building ships and by the Egyptians who used it to make sarcophagi.

Cypress oil has a woody, slightly spicy and refreshing masculine smell. The oil is colorless to very pale yellow in color and watery in viscosity.

The Island of Cypress derives its name from this tree and according to at least one legend the Cross the Jesus was crucified on was made of the wood of the Mediterranean Cypress.

Bark of a mature Cypress tree

This tree species is also used in the cultivation of Bonsai trees.

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Best woods for bow making

Yew (Taxus Baccata) The "Longbows" used historically in Europe were made from the wood of this tree species. The wood of the Yew tree is both strong and flexible.

"Yew forests were once common in France and Germany. The wood of the English Yew was used for bows by Celtic and Teutonic warriors, a practice which eventually led to the demise of the great Yew forests of Western Europe. In Teutonic areas the Yew had important symbolic significance."

Pacific (Oregon) yew (Taxus brevifolia) Today the "Oregon Yew" is the Yew tree species of choice for bows made from Yew wood.

Osage orange, Hedge Apple or "Bodark" (Maclura pomifera) A highly prized wood for bow making although its high price might put it out of the price range of some.

Lemonwood also called Degame (Calycophyllum candidissimum) is a quality wood from South America that is used as an economic alternative to Osage or Yew.

Pignut Hickory or White wood - (species: Carya glabra)

Black locust - (Robinia pseudoacacia)
"Black locust is a good bow wood. It performs as good as any wood at smaller widths except for Osage. It also can have a tendency to crystallize on the belly where it is over worked. Any bow made from Black Locust will have to be tillered very well. Any faults in tillering could result in crystals forming."

Black walnut - (Juglans nigra L.)
Black Walnut is used for its beauty as a wood. The striking contrast between the heart wood and the sap wood makes for a great two toned effect.

Other trees used for bows include...
  • Southern red cedar, 
  • mulberry, ironwood, 
  • apple, 
  • sassafras,
  • slippery elm, 
  • white ash, 
  • juniper

Norway Spruce - Picea abies

The Norway Spruce tree (species: Picea abies) is native to most of Europe from the Pyrenees mountains north to Norway and east all the way to Russia and the Balkans. It is widely used as a Christmas tree as it is fairly easy to grow in a wide variety of growing conditions. It is also comercialy exploited for its wood which sometimes sold under the names "Baltic Whitewood" and "White Deal".{1} It is a soft wood that is used in paper production as well as in inexpensive furniture.
This tree species is also widely planted in parks and gardens as an ornamental tree. Among is many cultivars are; Pyramidata, Pendula, Inversa, Cupressina, Viminalis, Tuberculata, Argentea, Finedonensis, Laxa, Cincinnata and Cranstonii. In some regions that tree can reach heights of up to 45 meters (147 feet).
The top image above of the complete Norway Spruce tree was taken in southern Germany near the Black Forrest. The rest of the images were taken in the small ski resort town of "La Molina" that is a few hours drive north of Barcelona, Spain.
The cones of the Norway Spruce are long and thin (they get a bit wider at full maturity when the scales open up to release the seeds). Most of the cones that I have seen are 4-6 inches in length. They are the longest of the Picea genus.
Common names for this tree in other languages; Spanish- Picea común or Picea de Noruega, French - épicéa commun, Italian - picea comune, German - Fichte.

Check out a Norway Spruce tree in Madrid that has been taken over by green parrots.

1. Arboles de España y de Europa, David More and John White, Ediciones Omega. 2003.

Kurrajong trees - Brachychiton genus

This post is a response to a reader comment left by sfk.hooper who made the observation that none of my blog posts about Brachychiton trees had pictures of the whole specimens. I went back and double checked and discovered that he/she was quite right for every one except the B. acerifolius tree for which I did have a picture of the complete tree in bloom. At any rate here are some pictures of six different types of Brachychiton trees showing the whole specimen.
The first image (above) is of three Brachychiton discolor which goes by common names Lacebark tree, Bottle tree, or Bush Kurrajong (I have found that there is quite a bit of confusion on the web when it comes to the common names of trees in the Brachychiton genus.
The second image (above) is of a mature B. populneus tree that is often called the Kurrajong (in my post on this tree I called it the Lacebark Kurrajong but I stand to be corrected if this is not the proper name).
The third image (above) is of the B. discolor which goes by the names Bush Kurrajong or Scrub bottletree.
The next tree (above) is the Brachychiton discolor x acerifolius which is a hybrid that is called "Clarabelle"
The next tree (above) is a B. bidwillii that is called the Little Kurrajong.

The last tree is the B. acerifolius, also known as the "flametree". Follow the link to find out why it is called the Flametree.

Osage Orange by the Eiffel Tower in Paris

On a recent trip to Paris, France I came across a must unlikely tree while wandering around the gardens that surround the Eiffel Tower. I think that I must be one of the very few people who would take less notice of the steel tower and more notice of the trees that grow at its colossal feet. At any rate, one of the interesting trees that I found was an Osage Orange (species: Maclura pomifera). The tree partially blocking the view of the tower in the image above is one of the three trunks of this tree. The picture below is from another angle.

This Osage Orange is located roughly 100 yards from the south side of the Eiffel Tower along a highly transited pathway. I was not really sure what species of tree it was until I spotted a few of the "oranges" in the upper branches and then found one on the ground that had fallen off (below).
The leaves were beginning to change color but most were still green.
Judging from the trunks this tree has been growing in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower for a good number of years. I wonder how many people in all those years have stopped to take notice of it?

European Silver Fir - Abies Alba

European silver fir leaf undersideThe European Silver Fir (species name: Abies alba) has the distinction of being the first tree species that was used as a Christmas tree in Europe. The tradition of using a small conifer tree with decorations originated in the upper Rhineland region of Germany and in the area around Basel, Switzerland. The name Silver Fir I believe comes from the fact that when this tree is viewed from below the white stripes on the undersides of the leaves give the tree a silverish color.
The difference between the European Silver fir and the Nordmann fir (which is now a more common Christmas tree in Europe and is becoming popular in the US) lies in the arangement of the needle like leaves. The leaves of the Abies alba have a flat arrangment as opposed to the Abies nordmanniana which has leaves that grow in all directions from the branch.
European silver fir branchThe tips of the leaves on the European Silver fir are rounded and not sharp which is a plus for a Christmas tree species. Also if you look closely the leaves have a small notch on the ends.
The range of the Abies alba extends from the Pyrenees mountains of Eastern Spain north to Normandy and East to the Balkans. The pictures for this post were taken in the town of "La Molina" in Cataluña (which depending on who you ask is an autonomous region of Spain or a region in its own right that wants to be a nation)

Another tree used as a Christmas tree is the Norway Spruce.

Looking for a new Christmas tree ornament idea? Check out these "Nativity Scrolls"

National Tree of Spain??

¿Tiene España un arbol nacional?

While looking up the national trees of various countries I was surprised to find that I could find nothing for the country of Spain. I could be wrong but the fact of the matter is that Spain may not have a national tree as an emblem.

There are trees that are important symbols regionally

In Madrid there is the Madroño or Strawberry tree (arbutus unedo). If you have ever seen the symbol of the bear standing on its hind legs leaning against a small tree - the tree is the Madroño.

In Málaga there is the Pinsapo or Spanish fir (abies pinsapo). These sightly fir trees only grow in the wild in a small area of the Sierra de las Nieves near Ronda.

In the Basque Country there is the Oak (Quercus robur) The Oak tree of Guernica has been an important symbol for at least 300 years.

In Extremadura there is the Encina or Holm Oak (quercus ilex)

In Jaen there is the Olive tree. When driving through the region of Jean there are places where all you can see is Olive trees all the way to the horizon in every direction as if you were in the middle of a sea of Olive trees.

In the Canary Islands there is the Drago (dracaena draco)
the Canary Island Pine and the Canary Island Date Palm

In Soria there is the Enebro (Sabina) or Spanish Juniper

Does anyone know if Spain has a national tree? If so please leave a comment

Christmas trees in Europe

1. European Silver Fir
The European Silver Fir (Abies Alba) has the distinction of being the first tree species used as a Christmas tree. It is similar to the Nordmann fir except that its needles spread out horizontally. It is native to south central Europe.

2. Nordmann Fir
The Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana) is currently one of the Christmas tree favorites in Europe. It is valued for its beautiful conical shape, its resistance to drought (does not drop is needles as fast as most) and for the fact that its needlles have a pleasant color and are not sharp.

3. Norway Spruce
The Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is another common Christmas tree that is popular due to the fact that it is easier to grow and thus more affordable. Its needles are short and not very sharp although the branches tend to be not as stiff as the firs and its overall shape is not as attractive as the firs.

4. Blue Spruce
The Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) is not native to Europe but has been widely planted and is commonly used as a Christmas tree. It is prized for its blue-green color, its conical shape and its beauty. On the down side it can have sharper needles (not always).

5. Scots Pine
The Scots Pine (Pinus Sylvestris) is one of the few pine tree species that are used at Christmas trees both in Europe and in North America. It has shorter needles than most pines and can have a good conical shape when young.

6. Spanish Fir
The Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo) is rare and thus not used as often for a Christmas tree. It does have a splendid beauty and a great conical shape when young. It is also fairly drought resistant and has stiff branches with short stiff needles. The needles can be a bit sharp however.

Looking for a new Christmas tree ornament idea? Check out these "Nativity Scrolls"

Sessile or Welsh Oak - Quercus petraea

Sessile Oak AcornThe Sessile Oak (species: Quercus petraea) also goes by the common names Welsh Oak or Durmast Oak. The name "sessile" comes from the fact that the acorn is attached directly to the branch without a stem. The common name "Welsh Oak" is used in Wales where it is the national tree. I´m not sure where the "Durmast" name comes from other than that it can refer to several oak species and might be a reference to the dark colored acorn.

The leaves of the Sessile Oak are about 5-7 inches long with lobes that are not too deeply indented and that tapper back towards the stem which is less than one inch long. As you can see in the image above they turn yellow and then brown. I saw one tree that had a reddish tone to it.
Quercus petraea oak treeThe images in this post where taken near Basel, Switzerland where this tree species is quite common. When grown out in the open this tree can form a roundish shape but in the forrest where it has to compete for light it tends to grow quite tall and has a long, straight trunk (image below). This characteristic makes it a valuable timber wood that is both tough and somewhat elastic. Historically is was used for ship building and for wine barrels.

This tree is similar to the Pedunculate Oak (Quercus Robur). One differnce between the two is that the acorn on the Pedunculate Oak is not "Sessile" and has a short stem.

Image above is of the reverse side of the Sessile oak leave. Image below is the top side of the Sessile Oak leaf.
The image below is the bark texture of the Quercus patraea. In Southern Germany, Eastern France and in Switzerland these Oak trees grow in forests along with the European Beech and several maple species.

I´m not totally sure but I believe that the German 1, 2 and 5 cent Euro coins have the Sessile Oak leaf and acorn on the national side. The shape of the leaf matches but I have not seen any article to back this theory up. If you know please leave a comment.

For more Oak tree species check out the Cork Oak, the Holm Oak, the Portuguese Oak, and the English Oak, Pyrenean Oak or White Oak.

Pyrenean Oak "Apple" Galls

The Pyrenean Oak tree (Quercus pyrenaica) is one of the Oak trees that produce "apple" Galls. Galls are round balls (with little horn like bumps - see above), about an inch and a quarter in diameter that "grow" on the new branch growth. There are not, however, a natural part of the tree but rather are the result of the trees defense mechanism against foreign objects.
The galls grow when a wasp lands on the soft bark of a new branch and deposites an egg (or mabye sevaral) into the branch. The tree sensing a foreign object isolates the egg by growing a ball that serves to keep the insect out of the branch. In the picture above you can see both the inside of the gall and a small wasp larvae (at the tip of the knife).

The gall then serves as a protective environment for the wasp larvae as well as a source of food until it is ready to bore its way out of the galls hard outer shell and fly away. The image above shows several of these holes.

The galls on this tree species grow occur in different sizes and some of them do not have the horn like bumps. I´m not sure if these are produced as the result of different insects or not.

The leaves of these trees also seem to have a gall-like defensive mechanism as can be seen in the image above.

Another Oak tree in Spain that produces galls is the Portuguese Oak.