This month I decided to focus on the solitary ‘Atropos’, which is my name for the third of the Wych elms that reside in Old St Pancras’ churchyard.
The tree bears a significantly long and far-reaching branch on what is otherwise a less contorted and more spindly specimen of Ulmus Glabra ‘Camperdownii‘. As such it represents Atropos , the inflexible and inevitable fate, reaching out to cut mortals down at the end of their their alloted life spans. 1
But that is only myth and this tree is only too mortal, displaying advanced signs of ageing and neglect. Close inspection reveals an array of wounds and decay from broken stumps of limbs, trunk scars and a deep hollowed out gash at the base.
Evidently some years ago, a side sucker emerged from the trunk that is both sign and symptom of a weakened tree. Presumably this is the original elm rootstock and although Camperdown elms are usually grafted on Wych elm (Ulmus glabra), the leaves of this one suggest it is more likely to be one of the alternatives that are sometimes used, either Dutch (U. × hollandica), Siberian (U. pumila) or English elm (U.procera). Interestingly the latter ultimately produces suckers, especially along its root.
All Elm leaves are prominently toothed and have a characteristic asymmetrical base, tapering at the apex to a sudden point. The main discernible difference between the crown and these sucker leaves is one of proportion – seemingly smaller, less robust and pronounced in the veining.
On the westward side of the church, ‘Clotho’ and ‘Lachesis’ the other two fateful sisters are faring a little better as these wyches too are scarred and broken, albeit less so. Despite this, all three trees are forging ahead with energy bursts of Spring green foliage in vibrant textures that are the mark of Wych elms.
There is a sense of expectation in Old St Pancras’ churchyard as rumour has it that the Olympic torch will pass this way. By then summery foliage will have decked the tracery, camouflaging the damaged trunks and contorted branches and transforming U. glabra ‘Camperdownii’ into the eponymous ‘Umbrella elms’. It will be worth the wait in gold! Meanwhile watch this space…and follow the link to Lucy and others at the Tree Followers.