Common European Alder - Alnus glutinosa

Hidden in the most unexpected places of Extremadura (means "extremely hard or difficult), Spain there some extraordinary swimming holes like the one in the picture above. This swimming hole complete with a great rope swing is about 15 feet deep. But this post is not about the swimming hole itself but rather about the trees the hide it. Lined on both sides of the small river forming a dense green cover are a series of Common European Alder trees (Alnus glutinosa). These tree like water! So much so that if you swim in this water hole and want to get out you are required to use the tree roots that line the bank much like you would use the ladder in a swimming pool. The contour of this natural pool is part rock part tree roots.

The fruits of the Common European Alder (sometimes called "Black Alder") look like miniature pine cones measuring about 5/8 of an inch long (1.3 cm). The trees have both seed (roundish) and pollen (long and thin) "cones" although I am most likely not using the correct terminology here.
The leaves are simple and round to almost heart shaped with pronounced veins and short stems. They also have a somewhat serrated margin as can be seen in the picture below.
In the next image you can see the seed "cones" both when they are green and later when they are dried and open having released their seeds. The ones of the left illustrate the "cone" likeness.

"La Encina" Oak of the Spanish Plains

This is a follow-up to a post I wrote back in January about the Holm Oak (Quercus Ilex) that I will refer to here by its Spanish name "La Encina". After having lived in Spain for almost ten years I have come to the conclusion that this is probably the second most common and important tree in Spain after the Olive tree. The primary reason for its importance, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that it is a source of acorns for the Iberian pig from which a number of very important meat products are made from. The image above is typical of the countryside in the region of Extremadura within the province of Cáceres. All of the trees in the picture are Encinas.

These images (above and below) are from a small Iberian pig farm. These pigs are fairly small and quite dark in color. Being allowed to forage over a fairly large area helps keep them lean. Before the Encina Oaks acorns are in season these pigs are fed melon rinds and various types of grains. When the acorns are in season that feed almost exclusively on the flavorful fruits of the Enicna Oak (the Cork Oak, English Oak and Portuguese Oak are also sources of acorns for these pigs). The slaughter of these pigs for making Jamon Serrano (cured ham) and other meat products is in November-December right after the end of the acorn season.

The Jamon Serrano that is made for these black hoofed Iberian pigs is Spain´s most prized product. Some other meat products that are made from these pigs are Chorizo, Lomo and Paleta. The "Jamon Serrano" is the whole hind leg that has been carefully cured under special conditions in the same way that it been prepared for hundreds of years. The "Paleta" is the foreleg and is less valued (and thus cheaper).

The image below is of a rather large, three trunked, Encina Oak in Extremadura.

More Sweet Chestnut tree pictures

I went on an outing recently in the "Sierra de Tejado Negro" (the Black Roofs Mountains - all the small towns in this mountain range use black slate for their roofs and thus the name). While on a hike near one of these towns I came across a number of Sweet Chestnut trees (Castanea Sativa). In my previous post on this tree species I did not have any good pictures of the fruit forming. In this post you can get a better idea of what the Chestnut fruits look like as they form. In the picture above you can see that part of the flower is still present even as the fruit forms. I saw this a few times at it looks like one Chestnut can form from each flower "prong".

As you can see in the picture above the forming Chestnuts have some pretty wicked looking spikes. They are sharp but not extremely stiff or hard.

The leaves of the Sweet Chestnut are the key to distinguishing it from the Common Horse Chestnut tree that has a similar fruit but a very different leaf.

Along the trail I came across both old an young trees but none so old as the "Sacred Chestnut of Istan" that I have blogged about in the past.

Chinese Parasol Tree - Firmiana simplex

On a recent visit to the Madrid zoo a came across an interesting tree species that I had never seen before. It is called the Chinese Parasol tree and is located right in front of the Baboon exhibit which makes it practically invisible to most visitors as the Baboons have a knack for keeping everyone´s fixed on their rowdy behavior.

So while everyone else was watching the Baboons I was observing the tree that everyone had their back to. I would have guessed that this tree species was related to the Brachychitons if it were not for the sign at the base of the tree that gave away its true identity (see image below). The leaves, seed pods, and tree shape seem very similar to the Kurajongs to me. As it turns out they are both in the same plant family Sterculiaceae.

The leaves of the Chinese Parasol tree (Firmania simplex) are large (30cm) and the ones I saw had three lobes. The cluster of seed pods looked very similar to the Brachychitons. The green bark looked very similar to that of the Lacebark Kurrajong.

From the graphic on the sign below it seems that the opened seed pods are quite different from those of the Kurrajongs. I´ll have to check back on this tree in the weeks ahead to see how the fruit forms.

Japanese Camellia - Camellia japonica

A few months back a came across several Japanese Camellia trees (Camellia japonica) in flower. One had white flowers with pinkish-red strips (in a park in Portland Oregon). The other had flowers with a darkish pink color and had more petals (below). This one I found at Stanley Park in Vancouver BC.
Given the fact that there are about 2000 cultivars of the Japanese Camellia it is very likely that both of these are cultivars and vary somewhat from the original tree species. I call it a tree species even though for some this may resemble more of a large shrub than a tree. In its natural habitat this tree can reach heights of up to 30 feet. The one I found in Stanley Park was about 15 feet tall.

The Japanese Camellia a preferred garden favorite for its rose-like flowers.

Tree of Heaven - Ailanthus altissima

The Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is a Chinese tree that I have seen featured in more than one botanical garden in Spain (in Madrid and in Malaga) but it is also, in my opinion, the most invasive and troublesome of all the non-native trees in Spain. The Tree of Heaven is not an ugly tree, in fact it has some interesting ornamental properties when in flower and when its samaras are forming. It is also a very prolific and fast growing "weed" that is fast propagating itself in virtually all parts of Spain.

One of its favorite places to spontaneously sprout is along the sides of roads and freeways. I think that this is due to the fact that the winged seeds (Samaras) often fall onto parked cars and are then transported along until they fly off the top of the car and end up along the side of the road where they then do what they seem to due best - grow!

This is one of the tree species featured in the "Around the World In 80 Trees" exhibit in the "Jardin Botanico-Hisorico" of Malaga. If you take a closer look and the areas around the tree you will discover that this tree species is making a run and taking over the garden. It seems to like the climate a great deal.
The image below is of a thicket of Ailanthus altissima along the side of a road in Southern Spain.