Last week our neighbourhood lost one of its oldest members. Its loss will have gone un-noticed by many, perhaps most; perhaps a few will have rejoiced in its passing. I thought I would write something in the way of a valedictory.
Here it is last summer.
The same scene today
We have lost a hawthorn tree, certainly 12o years old, perhaps more. It was old, and much of it was dead, though still standing. On a windy day last winter, part of it collapsed onto the pavement (narrowly avoiding a parked car). I cleared it away and threw the branches back into the hedge. I marvelled at its resilience, and its quality of quietly just getting on with life without anyone paying too much attention to it. The house isn’t lived in, so the tree had escaped any resident desire to tidy up, remove or improve.
Old hawthorns are some of our most valuable yet under-rated trees, because – to many – they are not “proper” trees. But given half a chance they can grow into magnificent individuals. They can support upwards of 150 different kinds of insects and can also be valuable hosts for lichens bryophytes and fungi. Their flowers are beautiful even if their scent is a little musky. It’s easy to see why people in the past saw them as magical. In many ways they still are.
I mentioned resilience – and though the tree has been cut down, its stump remains. Knowing how difficult it is to get rid of hawthorn (it is a robust invader of unmanaged grasslands) I expect to see shoots appearing in the Spring. Though the tree is gone, I hope it will return.