Sprawling giant 

July 5th 2018

Clearing a weedy vegetable bed in my garden at Nedd recently, I stopped for a breather and noticed, across the burn, a patch of white amongst the trees on the adjacent croft.  I did not get the chance to chase it up for several days, but on 28thMay went over to investigate.

The lower parts of the croft (NC137320), which formerly belonged to our good neighbour the late Colleen MacCrimmon, house a number of really large old trees, as elsewhere on the shores of Loch Nedd.   In this case what I had seen was the massed flowers, just beginning to go over, of a truly ancient bird cherry Prunus padus.  The short main stem is at least 40cm in diameter, but it divided many decades ago into four large branches, each itself about 20cm across.  These branches are now, in old age, sprawling horizontally on steeply-sloping ground not far above the sea.  However, their distal parts rise into the low canopy, where they flower profusely.

There are a number of large bird cherries in the Nedd and Glenleraig woodlands, but they are only sparsely distributed across the rest of the parish, often as single multi-stemmed trees on watercourses, as at Stronechrubie and Ledbeg.  This individual may be the largest of them all, but we need to measure some more to be sure.

I had noticed that planted bird cherries in my garden rarely bear much fruit, and a close look at that across the burn suggests why.  Instead of green berries which later mature to black, the flowering panicles were producing elongated creamy-white galls, which I recognized as the fruiting bodies of the fungus Taphrina padiTaphrina species are a small group within the so-called cup fungi or ascomycetes, all obligate parasites of trees, shrubs, herbs and ferns, which often produce very striking galls, such as the red tongue gall of T .alnion the female cones of alder, which is now quite widespread in Assynt.

Ian Evans

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