High Close Tree Guide
A little extra detail about the trees on our High Close tree trail.
One particular individual of this species holds the record for being the world’s largest tree. The ‘General Sherman’ in the Sequoia National Park, California may not be the tallest tree, but with a trunk circumference of 31m (103ft) and a height of 84m (275ft) it’s shear volume is staggering. And at an estimated 3,200 years old it’s not doing too badly either.
The name Wellingtonia is often used in the UK to describe this species of Sequoia, though this has fallen out of use around the rest of the world. In somewhat of a Victorian scandal, the species was named Wellingtonia gigantea in 1852 in honour of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington who had died the previous year. John Lindley, professor of botany at University of London had received the botanical samples from William Lobb, a plant collector who had been travelling the US for new species to discover.
The publication of the formal species description was deliberately pushed through to prevent an American scientist Albert Kellogg, from announcing the discovery and claiming the rights to name the tree. Kellogg had planned to honour the first US president with naming the Californian species Washingtonia gigantea, but was waiting for better botanical samples. Kellogg made the mistake of informing Lobb about the tree and then lost his chance.
In another twist, the Wellingtonia genus had already been used to name an unrelated species and couldn’t be used again. So after all that the tree was renamed Sequoiadendron giganteum, and they both missed out.
2. Sitka Spruce
The natural range of this tree is all along the coast of North West America, and is named after the city Sitka in Alaska. Introduced to the UK in 1831 by Scottish botanist David Douglas, its height and graceful shape meant it was one of the first ‘exotic’ tree species to be planted in Victorian parks and landscape gardens. High Close arboretum was created because of the vogue for exotic and unusual species during this era. These tall, evergreen species frame the vistas into the surrounding fell landscape.
Sitka Spruce is used in commercial plantations due to its speedy growth rate, quality and versatility. It takes only around 50 years to reach maximum timber potential. Timber can be used for ship construction, paper making and provide high quality tonewood for guitars. Young Sitkas are even used to make spruce beer, even author Jane Austen brewed a ‘great cask’ of it.
3. Noble Fir
Also introduced to the UK by David Douglas, this fir is a native of the forests of Washington and Orgeon in the US. It was certainly a favourite of Douglas’ when he was out gathering samples "I spent three weeks in a forest composed of this tree, and day by day could not cease to admire it.” It can be recognised within a landscape from its blue-green foliage, cones that stand up off the branches and very symmetrical shape.
The Noble fir is used for interior joinery because of its dense, close-grained timber.
A native tree of Chile, it’s also known as the Patagonian Cypress and is the largest tree species in South America. It is named in honour of Robert FitzRoy, a pioneering meteorologist and captain of the famed HMS Beagle. It’s thanks to this five year voyage with Charles Darwin that specimens like Fitzroya cupressoides bear his name, as Darwin catalogued new flora and fauna discovered along the way.
Unfortunately this species has suffered from exploitation because of its highly prized timber. Light and flexible, a single tree could yield 600 planks for export, and was so valued it came to be used as a local currency in the 1600s when it began to be intensively felled by the conquering Spanish. As well as exploitation as a timber crop, forest fires ravaged huge tracts of the Fitzroya woods of Chile, started deliberately to make space for agriculture. Logging of this species is now illegal, and it is listed as a threatened species.
This tree and several others at High Close have been planted as part of the International Conifer Conservation Programme. The programme aims to establish a network of sites to protect threatened conifer species as well as research conservation and restoration in their native habitats.
5. Western Hemlock
Another species native the northwest America, it is associated with temperate rain forests and not found more than 100km (62miles) from the coast.
Have a look at the underside of the needles. You should be able to see two distinctive white lines, a good way to confirm the identity of this tree. A grapefruit scent comes from the needles if you crush a few in your hands.
The tender new growth needles are rich in vitamin C and can be chewed directly or made into a bitter tea. When citrus fruits had run out on long sea voyages, ships captains like James Cook concocted a recipe combining this bitter tea with a little beer and molasses to cure the crew of scurvy.
6. Grand Fir
Another native to the Pacific Northwest and yet another species described by David Douglas in 1831. There are actually two varieties of grand fir; the taller coast grand fir and the slightly smaller interior grand fir found further east.
The timber doesn’t split when nailed or splinter easily so is most favoured for interior uses. Plateau Indian tribes used the inner bark of this species to treat colds and fevers and many Americans still use this species for Christmas trees or decorations due to the attractive citrus scent of its foliage.
7. Monterey Pine
This species is the most widely planted pine in the world. Despite being highly cultivated through many temperate areas of the world, it actually faces serious threats within its native habitat along the central coast of California. The three main stands of Monterey pine along this coastline are infected with pine pitch canker caused by a fungal pathogen, and face local extinction.
These trees are adapted to a harsh climate. The seed cones have evolved to only be opened by the heat of a forest fire, after which the seeds will regenerate on the burnt forest floor. The roots of the Monterey will grow deep underground to reach water; the longest known was 12m underground.
One native Monterey stand in California is a prime wintering habitat of the monarch butterfly, the insect famed for its thousand-mile migration across North America.
8. Douglas Fir
This species of fir is named after David Douglas, the same Scottish botanist who introduced the Sitka Spruce and about another 250 species to the UK. Thanks go to the Royal Horticultural Society for the sponsorship that funded his expeditions to the Pacific Northwest. Douglas died under mysterious circumstances while climbing a volcano in Hawaii, aged just 35. A small stand of Douglas fir trees marks the site he died on the mountain side.
The scales on the cones have three pointed tips that can be used to identify the species of fir and the trunk has blisters of resin in the fissures of the purple-brown bark. This species is very long-lived, which means they are great habitat for birds and bats that nest in the cavities and cracks that often form over time.
9. Coast Redwood
Native to the Pacific coast of North America, this species claims the title of tallest living species of tree on Earth. The Coast Redwood can grow from seed to a whopping 33m (100ft) in just 50 years. The very tallest redwood measures 115.5m (379ft), nearly three times the height of our High Close individual.
Redwoods have evolved to be incredibly resilient to external forces. Their roots extend up to 50m and intertwine with neighbouring trees helping them withstand strong winds and flooding. With bark up to 30cm thick and rich in tannins they are protected against forest fires, insect damage and disease. In fact redwoods benefit from wildfires, sustaining only minor damage while competing species die off. In Latin sempervirens means ‘everlasting’ or ‘ever green’.
Considered an indicator of ancient woodland (having had continuous woodland coverage since 1600s) pollen records show the small-leaved lime was once a widespread species. This broadleaf species has distinctive heart-shaped leaves and smooth grey bark. The flowers produce a heavy, sweet scent in summer and are loved by bees. Hives near lime trees apparently produce the sweetest honey and the cleanest burning beeswax candles.
Lime trees found in the Lake District are at the northern limit of their range. Rather than relying on seeds for reproduction the lime tree can regenerate through a process called layering. Low branches bow to the ground, re-root and grow from there. The original limb dies off and a new, but genetically identical tree is established. Whole thickets or hedges of lime trees can establish in this way, and are referred to as ‘walking’ across the landscape.
11. Scots Pine
This conifer species is native to the UK, colonising after the last glaciers melted from the mountains here around 10,000 years ago. Growing to around 35m in height, it’s found mainly on poorer soils, rocky terrain and on peat bogs.
Scots pine forms much of the remaining Caledonian Forest, though only around 1% of the original 1.5million hectares of this ancient forest still survives. Most of the loss was due to over-cutting for timber, sheep and deer grazing and fire. Projects have been replanting areas of the Scottish countryside to restore this hugely important habitat, which support capercaillie, osprey, wildcats and pine martens.
The short needles are a blue-green colour and the bark is orange-brown and flaky. Mature trees have a distinctive straight, bare trunk topped by a mass of foliage. Typically they have a lifespan of 150-300 years, but the oldest recorded specimen is 760 years old, found in northern Finland.
12. Japanese Red Cedar
Part of the cypress family Cupressaceae, and as the name suggests this tree species is indigenous to Japan where it is known as sugi.
Sugi is the national tree of Japan, often found planted around temples and shrines. The tree can grow to an impressive 70m height and provides shade to ornamental gardens and their visitors. Around 400 years ago a grand avenue of sugi trees was planted in Japan, it still stands today and consists of a mere 13,000 trees along a 35km stretch.