Planting trees, what’s native to us?20th April 2021
We love trees. But what’s native to us? What other interesting stuff can we dig up?
Let’s first define native. This means tree species that arrived naturally in Scotland without direct human assistance. Most of our native tree and shrub species colonised Scotland after the last Ice Age that ended roughly 9,000 years ago. Seeds were then dispersed by wind, water, and animals.
Galloway Woodlands trees
The majority of our trees are premium-grade Nordmann Firs that aren’t indigenous to Scotland. They grow in the mountains south and east of the Black Sea, in Turkey, Georgia and Russia.
We also plant a small number of Norway Spruce and Lodgepole pine. The former grows in Norway, Poland, and in the mountains of central Europe. The latter is an inland variety of the American shore pine.
Both were introduced to Scotland in the 1800s.
We grow our trees from premium seedling stock only that is then planted in the best soil on our farm and cultivated by hand.
Which are some of Scotland’s most common native trees?
If we included them all you wouldn’t be able to see the wood for the trees so here’s the final cut.
Scotland’s national tree. It matures to up to 36 metres and tends to lose its lower branches with age. The Scottish Gaelic for pine is giuthas and this word crops up in several place names like Allt na Ghuithas in Wester Ross. There are also Anglicised derivations like Kingussie.
Thought to be Scotland’s oldest tree, the yew could be anything from two to nine thousand years old. It grows from 15 to 29 metres tall. Every part of the tree except the fleshy seed cap is poisonous to humans and cattle but not to deer or rabbits. The Fortingall Yew stands within Fortingall churchyard in Aberfeldy and is thought to be between 3000 and 9000 years old – making it one of the oldest living things in Europe.
These tall, domed trees can reach up to 40 metres in height. The leaves are arranged in pairs and the single-winged seeds grow in bunches.
Mature beech trees have a dense canopy. Their husks split to release two triangular edible seeds – or they can be roasted to make a type of coffee. The bark is smooth and delicate enough for lovers to carve their initials into.
The mighty oak tree can reach up to 30 metres in height. Most don’t produce acorns until they’re over the age of 50, which are then carried on long stalks or ‘peduncles’.
The rowan tree’s beautiful red autumnal berries make this graceful, narrow tree easy to spot. It has flat heads of cream coloured, heavily scented flowers and smooth, purplish or grey-brown bark
Birch trees would have been one of the first species to re-colonise when the glaciers of the last ice age receded. They sport triangular leaves and papery, peeling upper bark, and can grow up to 24 metres tall.
Trees in mythology and folklore
These magnificent creations have long been venerated by humans in mythology and folklore.
• Folklore from northeast Scotland warned against using cherry wood (the cherry tree’s another native) for any purpose because it was a witches’ tree.
• Rowan berries can be made into alcoholic drinks and different Celtic people had their favourites. As well as the wine still made in the Highlands, the Scots also made a strong spirit from berries.
• To the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Slavs and Teutonic tribes the oak was foremost among trees. It was associated with the supreme god in their respective pantheons – Zeus, Jupiter, Dagda, Perun, and Thor.
• The ash tree has strong links with the Vikings but has its place in Gaelic folklore too where it’s known as uninnseann. It was and still is renowned for its protective and healing properties.
• In Celtic mythology hazelnuts (the hazel tree usually resembles a shrub but can grow quite tall) are associated with wisdom and poetic inspiration, and the birch is the tree of beginnings, renewal, and purification.