Two months have passed since I featured the Camperdown elms of Old St Pancras churchyard. In the last post, I’d belatedly tuned in to the fact that a Wych elm was in fact growing just opposite the Umbrella elms, ‘Clotho’ and ‘Lachesis’, that I’d been studying. Recently I took an even closer look at it and believe that this was once a Camperdown elm.
To understand this phenomenon a quick recap is necessary. Camperdown elms are small, twisted limb, umbrella-shaped, cultivars originating from a mutant elm branch, grafted onto either Wych or English elm rootstock. First cultivated by the Earl of Camperdown’s head forester in the mid 1800s, the original mutant cutting has been the stock for every cultivar since.
I’d also only recently noticed that the adjacent Camperdown tree, ‘Lachesis’, had obvious(!) signs of deviating back to original elm stock, with an upright branch growing out of the umbrella canopy. The same thing seems to have happened with the neighbouring elm, although it’s in a much more advanced state of ‘throwback’. A scarred and amputated right limb is all that remains, coupled with the characteristic trunk burr and (just discernible) limb contortion associated with Camperdown elms.
As the evidence suggests, it is quite likely that the original planting here was in fact a trio of Camperdown elms which makes me wonder about ‘Atropos’, the other fateful sister on the east side of Old St Pancras church. A solitary, diminutive, and like-wise aged tree but still with a full umbrella. Was she originally planted as a threesome?
Although at this time of year, the foliage is showing obvious signs of wear and tear it does not take much detective work to recognise that the distinct holes are evidence of caterpillar foraging. The Camperdown elm leaves may be heavily lined and as rough as sandpaper but this does not prevent predation. In fact the species supports over 80 invertebrates including the dusky-lemon sallow and the clouded magpie moths which specialise in feeding on wych elm. In addition the White-letter hairstreak butterflies are solely dependent on these elms and revisit the same sites. I must check back next July when the adults are on the wing.