Once there wis a tattie
Once there wis a tattie
I pit it in the grun (I put it in the ground)
An fan I wint tae look at it (And when I went to look at it)
A wee bit shoot I foun (A little shoot I found)
The shoot it grew an grew an grew
An syne became a plant (And then became a plant)
Weel syne I heft't ma tatties (Well then I dug up my potatoes)
An hiv as much as I want! (And I eat as much as I want)
This tree is more of a shrub. It can grow to an average height of 10m and is often seen in hedgerows, squidged between other trees such as hawthorn, holly and ash.
In Scotland it’s known as the bourtree and has long been associated with the mystic. If elder trees grew on farmland, it was considered a blessing and it is said that as it can never be struck by lightning, it is good to have one near your home.
This story about oak trees is a favourite, told to me by Stanley Robertson
In Scotland you might see two different oak trees – the English oak and the sessile oak.
How d’you spot the difference? The English oak has bunches of leaves with no stalks with its acorns on stalks, the sessile is the opposite.
These trees can live to a great age and if they have room, will grow up to 50m, expanding out to give a lovely canopy.
The oak can be found all over Europe; on the west coast of Scotland forests of oak are particularly dense. These wonderful trees can support approximately 500 types of insects. When the leaves fall they form a rich rotting carpet that provides food for many.
Oak has hardwood which has been used for centuries in shipbuilding and house building. Near where I live in Aberdeen, King’s College was built in 1495 on marshland on a raft of oak. Beautiful furniture and long-lasting barrels are also made from oak.
A wee tale….
In my childhood home we had an oak chest, inscribed with the date 1556. It was blackened with age.
One summer I was investigating my ancestry. I went down to Newcastle under Lyme, near Manchester. I visited the church where my mother’s ancestors, the Thicknes family, had been farmers. There was a chapel dedicated to the family in this church, and there, beside it, was a blackened oak chest, which looked exactly like the piece in my home. It gave me quite a thrill. As I put my hand on the smooth wood, it felt like I was touching and connecting with those in my past.
Oak tannin from the bark tans leather and even oak sawdust is used to flavour foods in the smoking process.
Today’s tree is the siller birk, or silver birch tree.
Where I was brought up, there was a ‘queen’ birch tree in my garden, with fronds like hair, that glowed in the light. She grew taller than all the other trees and I loved looking at her through all the seasons.
Time for a tale – how the birch tree came:
Silver birch – how we can use it
The bark naturally peels off the trunk and makes great kindling:
If you want kindling, take only a little – every tree needs its bark like you need skin
If you look round a birch woodland, some trees will have fallen and the heartwood rotted away, yet the startling white bark remains: The bark is resilient and can be made into bowls, baskets and other useful implements
The sap can be tapped from the tree in early March, when winter is waning. It is a refreshing, wholesome water that can be drunk straight from the tree. You can take a little from one tree – but then move on to another. Watch here to see how it can be done simply, without long-lasting damage to the tree: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zc6M5nNNFs
The silver birch tree
The younger tree’s trunk shines white, the older tree’s marked by dark indented areas
Silver birch bark has flat white areas broken by darker areas. As the bark ages, it gradually thickens and darkens from the base upwards:
Silver birch bark
Time for another tale –an Ojibwe legend, ‘How the silver birch got its burns’:
Challenge – can you make up your own tale about the birch tree?
The buds, flowers, leaves and fruit
The small, neat buds of the silver birch lie alternately up the twigs and branches of the tree. In spring the male catkins develop on many of the branches:
As the spring moves into summer, the neat heart-shaped leaves have appeared, the hanging male catkins have released their pollen and the upright female catkins have been pollinated:
In autumn the female catkins have many seeds on each ‘shelf’, which are released into the wind as the catkin dries or falls to the ground: Autumn catkins