Martin Summers, Forest Ranger at our Cornish site Deerpark, has put together some useful tips to help you do a bit of festive fauna spotting in the forest! Find out which pinecones are from which kinds of trees and learn some interesting folklores about Christmas plants; did you know that the word mistletoe is derived from Anglo-Saxon and originally meant poo-stick?!
Finding firs in the forest
Norway Spruce Cone, Deerpark[/caption]
Norway Spruce - Picea Abies
One of the most famous native evergreens in Europe is the Norway Spruce. It is a large, fast-growing coniferous tree with needle-like leaves that are dark green all over. The bark of a Norway Spruce is smoother than other conifers and they can grow to over 100ft tall. The cones of the Norway Spruce are very long, between 9cm – 17cm, and can be found at the top of the tree. Forest Rangers often find Norway Spruce cones in piles of ‘seed husks’ after squirrels are finished with them.
Norway Spruces are commonly presented as gifts from one country to another; did you know the spruce in Trafalgar Square is a gift from Norway to the people of the UK as a thank you for Britain’s help during World War II?
As well as being one of the most popular species of Christmas tree in the UK, the Norway Spruce is used to manufacture musical string instruments, especially violins due to its resonance properties.
Douglas Fir Cone, Deerpark[/caption]
Douglas Fir - Pseudotsuga Menzies
The Douglas Fir, also known as an Oregon Pine, is an evergreen conifer native to the western part of North America. It’s the second tallest conifer in the world (after Coast Redwoods), growing to around 350ft and can live for 1000 years! Douglas Firs have a lemon-y scent and are one of the main trees used for timber in the UK.
(Don’t forget! When you visit Deerpark, ask Forest Ranger Martin to share his story of the mouse and the Douglas Fir!)
More Christmas forest foliage
Laurel: There are examples of evergreen laurel in our forests, you’ll recognise the glossy, waxy leaves. With reddy black coloured berries, laurel is often used to make wreaths. At Deerpark, you can see laurel in the 19th century “Lost Garden”.
Laurel (Prunus Laurocerasus)[/caption]
Mistletoe, Ivy & Holly
These three plants have been closely associated with Christmas since the Pagan times, when they were bought into homes to ward off evil spirits at the Winter Solstice.
Holly: Holly was adopted from Pagan tradition into Christianity as the plant’s prickles represented the Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore, and the red berries represented the drops of blood made by the thorns.
Did you know? In the Midlands, Pagans believed that holly signified a male influence and that ivy signified a female one. Whichever plant was bought into the house first, that gender would be dominant for the year!
Ivy: Ivy has varying leaf shape depending on how mature it is and how much light it gets. Ivy climbs up walls and trees using its rootlets which attach themselves very well – pulling ivy off a wall can damage the wall rather than the ivy! Although it’s not a gardener’s favourite, Ivy is not a parasite; it flowers during the autumn, providing nectar for butterflies late on in the year.
Mistletoe: The symbol of love in Norse mythology, the Christmas tradition for Mistletoe today is to kiss underneath it! During medieval times Mistletoe was thought to have magical powers that would ward off evil spirits in December and was often burnt in ceremonies once Christmas was over. Mistletoe is in fact a parasite and it’s spread by bird poo. “Mistel” comes from the Anglo-Saxon for dung, and “toe” is derived from tan meaning twig. This effectively makes mistletoe ‘poo-on-a-stick’, making it a little less romantic! Nonetheless, Mistletoe promotes wildlife through berries, nectar and pollen and you’ll often find it in clumps at the top of trees.
Ivy (Hedera Helix), Holly (Ilex Aquifolium) & Mistletoe (Viscum Album)[/caption]
Christmas Time in the Forest
Come to the forest this Christmas to spot all these beautiful plants in their natural habitats. We’re providing guests with their own cabin Christmas tree, all ready to decorate as soon as you arrive! Find out more about Christmas in the forest here.