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Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.
-Charles Dickens

Wych elm cousins

For one reason and another, I missed updating my tree post last month and so I made an eager Easter visit to the Camperdown Elms of St Pancras churchyard. I’ve ‘adopted’ these trees for recording in 2012 but do not claim to be an objective observer as the sight of them is like revisiting old friends. They probably are geriatric too, gaining popularity for parks and gardens in the late 19th/early 20th century.

Camperdown wych elm in Old St pancras churchyard

'Clotho' & ' Lachesis', Camperdown Elms of Old St Pancras churchyard

For the sake of distinguishing them if needs be, I loosely refer to the trees as three sisters of Fate,  Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos which appears to fit their unique characteristics well.1 They are in fact Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’, commonly called the Umbrella Elms and noted for their fabulous contortions and short, fountainous stature.

With the warmest March on record I’d anticipated having missed their bursting into Spring growth that was evident in so many of our trees and shrubs. It was with both relief and surprise therefore that  the only notable change I found was a fattening of buds in the fishbone tracery. Since these trees  hold their leaves well into the Autumn it was perhaps not so surprising that they are tardy in donning vernal vestments

camperdown wych elm in April

camperdown elm seedcases

However, closer examination of the Western, sunnier side, showed that some of the trees’ flowers had already been and gone, leaving behind scanty clusters of cascading seedcases.

umbrella wych elm seedcases

Umbrella wych elm seedcases

Wych elms bear insignificant red-purple apetalous blooms, remnants of which are just discernible amongst the hop-like seed ensembles. Flowering is a blink-of-the-eye, hermaphrodite affair appearing before the leaves but I am somewhat puzzled as to why there are so many co-resident buds still unopened. Evidently this is a staggered event but out of curiosity I went further afield to investigate whether or not this only applied to these particular Camperdown Wych elms.

weeping wych elm, brunswick square

Cousin 'Embla' Ulmus glabra 'Horizontalis'

Meet Cousin ‘Embla 2 Looking somewhat glum and careworn, with broken top limbs, is a Weeping Wych Elm in Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury.  Like the Camperdown cousins, this is another cultivar created about the same time and grafted as a pendulous elm suitable for gardens. 3 Ulmus glabra ‘horizontalis’ however has a more spreading and flattened canopy and with a  much larger mature size. High up in the tree trunk bolls there was some evidence of newly emergent leaves but with neither flowers nor seeds within sight, I was even more baffled by the findings.

weeping wych elm spring leaf

weeping wych elm in new leaf

The more I delve into knowledge of these wonderful Wych elms, the more mesmerised I become and what a marvel are the ruby-tipped, sulphurous samaras. With a discernible seed clenched between closed wings, no doubt these little packages will be unpacked in the next post.

camperdown elm seedcases

seedcase samaras

Am linking up to create a forest of posts  with Lucy and others at the  Tree Followers.

1. See post; Wych Elm: sisters of fate
2. In Nordic mythology, Embla is the first female, made from the Elm tree
3. Weeping Wych elm – discovered in a Perth nursery circa 1816 as ‘Pendula’ but usually referred to as Ulmus glabra ‘horizontalis’ to avoid confusion with the other pendulous wych elm of  U. glabra ‘camperdownii‘.
©Copyright 2012 Laura Thomas.
All rights reserved. Content created by Laura Thomas @PatioPatch

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