Today I met with Alex Davey, a very helpful guide into the deep time of trees. As well as a reading list, she has pointed me to several of the weirdest and most wonderful plants in the garden, of which this is one.
Welwitschia mirabilis is found only in a narrow strip of Namibian desert, where it gains its sustenance from little more than fog. I went there once. I wish I had known to look for this strange plant. It’s a relic of ancient times, a species unlike anything else on earth, and it has probably changed little for 200 million years or more. It is basically just two leaves, which grow on and on. In the wild they become shredded by the desert winds. Cosseted in a glasshouse, they curl and brown, like the fingernails of Oriental aristocrats who wanted to show they need do nothing for themselves.
Male and female plants are separate. This one is thinking about flowering. Someone described them as trees driven underground by the desert climate.
Welwitschia is one of a weird group of living fossils, plants that evolved in ancient, ancient times, called gnetales. Here’s another, an Ephedra, from Chile. I was shown another from California, so these are not quite so obscure, but still weird and ancient.
Their nearest relatives among our Scottish native trees are the conifers, pine and yew, so it feels appropriate that pine is tomorrow’s tree.
Today’s tree is elder, and we celebrated with a lovely workshop, growing poems from cuttings: single words (we made acrostic poems with Elder) and lines and phrases clipped from poems about a range of trees. By the end of the session, several were taking root, some coming into full leaf, some even blossoming!
Here are some of the clippings we thought lacked promise, but together, well, what do you think?
No nursery man would sell you an elder
These flowers without leaves
Of course, berries
Make a fine wine
Crimson red to russet yellow
How I laughed
Just a touch of air in the birch trees
And here’s Jamie Sutherland’s acrostic.
The Perfectionist’s Elder Poem
Reckon you can do better? Feel free to post a comment!