Happy New Year to you all, I wish you a trouble-free 2023.
I spent a lot of the Christmas holidays walking the local lanes, mountains and canals and acknowledging beautiful old trees – many of which seem to be defying death.
They have the most scant and hollow trucks supporting substantial canopies, and a host of wildlife and it never ceases to amaze me how little of the trunk seems to be needed to ‘sustain life’.
To get a bit more technical, a hollowing trunk is actually natural process and is not necessarily a sign of a poorly or dying tree.
The centre, or ‘heartwood’ of a large tree is dead anyway; it is only the bark and a thin layer under the bark (the sapwood) that is alive.
The deadwood is slowly decayed by fungi, which is perfectly content in the deadwood and will rarely touch the living sapwood.
Of course the trees know what they’re doing – they will have spent years storing up minerals in the wood in the centre of the trunk and when it decays the minerals are released and used again by the tree.
And there are other benefits to being hollow.
A tube is often stronger than a solid cylinder as nature demonstrates with bones, quills, tusks and horns.
So a hollow tube is likely to help the tree react better in high winds, allowing it to ‘give’ with the wind.
Some of these hollow trees will go on to live for another 20, 40, 60 or even 100 years, depending on the species and as long as it is structurally sound.
I also noticed two holly trees still boasting scarlet berries.
Despite it being thought that these ‘late’ berries are bitter and ignored by the birds, there is a far cleverer reason for it.
Cue the mistle thrush. Often referred to the mistletoe thrush by myself as a kid, (and never corrected by my dad, who thought it was ‘funny’), the mistle thrush is indeed named after it’s love for mistletoe berries. It is much bigger and a bit ‘greyer’ than the song thrush, with a longer tail.
And it’s incredibly clever.
The mistle thrush eats seeds and fruit, as well as worms and insects and it’s favourite mistletoe berries.
It is also fond of holly – and rowan – berries and if it finds a tree that is particularly plentiful in berries it will be fiercely territorial and guard this food source closely, so ‘saving it’ for when other sources are lean.
Often two birds will defend the same tree which seems to be better than losing out altogether.
So if you do see a holly tree with berries on at this time of year, if you watch closely, I bet you’ll spot a vigilant mistle(toe) thrush nearby.
Always having had a high regard for my feathered friends, I have never understood the insult, ‘bird brain’ and interestingly research shows it is indeed a misnomer.
Recent findings show that a bird’s brain is in fact packed with many more neurons than first thought and these neurons could endow birds with better sensory abilities and motor skills, including potential functions like reasoning and planning for the future.
Seems a ‘no brainer’ to me!