Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Friday, 16 November 2012


One of the delights of autumn is the way the skies swing between grey and blue. How a plant 'looks' (it's emotional appeal to humans) is closely connected with how brightly the light shines. There's something cheerfully heart lifting about crisp colours and lots of easily discerned detail. When colour and detail vanish, texture tends to vanish too. We are left with shape and awe.

Silhouettes of the 'keys' of the tree (seeds) twigs and branches against a grey sky.
November 15th 2012
Immediately - a problem with ID.
Is this the top of a sycamore or maple?
Looking around for an answer, I've come across a tree called
Sycamore Maple
(Acer pseudoplatanus)
Descriptions suggest we might not only confuse this maple with sycamores
but, in some seasons, with plane trees too.
Confusion comes easy!
Meanwhile, I don't know what this pretty tree is.

This is one of my favourite times of year and, although I realise it would be boring to have non-stop silhouettes, I'm always pleased when these newly re-revealed structures of the natural world re-appear against the sky.

One large and several small leaves of the tree silhouetted against a grey sky
November 15th 2012
This is very top of the tree above.
Asking if anyone knows its identity
would have made more sense when it still had leaves!
BUT - once one knows . . . 
being able to identify a tree from its winter shape would be a handy skill,
don't you think?

As ever, I'm aware I have taken these very same pictures before - same plant, same angle, same blank grey sky. It's almost like the annual school photo. The subjects up, fix their smiles and - zam, that's them to put in the album. Once I like something, I tend to get stuck on it. When I see the same shape as last year, I find it oddly heart warming. But, this time, old scenes have given me a new idea.

The silhouetted of old blackberries on bramble against a grey sky
November 15th 2012
This blackberry loop is hanging from the elderberry tree I'm 'following'.
The clump is so well covered with ivy and brambles, I missed it shedding its leaves!

When I'm trying to identify a plant or tree (and this can be a very ordinary plant or tree, I rarely come across anything exotic) I plough around blogs and ID sites and, of course, upload pictures to Ispot (which I can never plug enough!). But it's often difficult to draw things together. There's a real leaf here, a drawing there, a diagram of tree shape, a flower alive but not what it looks like when it dies. Very hit and miss - and will remain so. Apart from all the other practicalities, every leaf is different. Each tree has a history written in its bark.

Blackthorn leaves, twigs, branches and thorns.
November 15th 2012
These are blackthorn leaves.
Blackthorn belongs to the plum family. In summer, its leaves are glossy and dark green.
Its autumn transformation is startling, more so than in trees like sycamores whose
autumn leaves, apart from a change in colour, aren't much different from their summer selves.

The range of plants and trees I cover in this blog is very, very narrow. The challenge of this is to keep it interesting. The advantage is that I have a lot of pictures of the same ones at different times of year. Even then, there are glaring gaps. I may photograph the same branch every autumn because I welcome the re-emergence of its shape . . . but miss the bark every time round. Even bark changes. A sudden downpour and its colours are altered in seconds.

Hawthorn leaves silhouetted against a grey sky.
November 15th 2012
Hawthorn leaves.
In spring, hawthorn leaves are a delightful light green.
The blossom (May) comes later and tends to hog attention till the autumn
when the berries (haws) steal the show.
Meanwhile . . . don't forget the leaves!

So . . . a new discipline. I'll look for a way of gathering pictures of individual varieties of plants into separate, easily accessible albums. I tried doing this with elderberry a few years ago by giving it its own blog. The project foundered. And the labels in the side bar aren't a lot of use if help is needed with ID because they link to posts, not pictures.

Dead Buddleia flowers and leaves silhouetted against a grey sky.
November 15th 2012
I'm a fan of buddleia bark.
(I'll have to look out old pictures - and add some new.)
I like dead buddleia flowers (like these) - but not when they're live -
their florets are packed so densely, there' something disconcerting about them.

The discipline in this is double. First, it might be boring. Indexing takes a special kind of mind and a lot of time. The other - and this simultaneously enlivens my interest and makes me feel guilty because it highlights the gaps . . . why do I not have more pictures of bark? But . . . . I'll see what I can do . . . and if you have experience of drawing things together in this way and have advice - please do share it if you are willing.

Gorse branches silhouetted against a grey sky
November 15th 2012
Gorse against a blue sky spells summer heat and picnics.
It's grey-sky shape has a starkly different atmosphere.

A sad addendum.

As UK readers (especially, I think, those of us in England) will be all too aware - our Ash Trees are under threat from a fungal infection called Chalara fraxinea (Ash Dieback). Potentially, it can kill almost all our ash trees (Think Dutch Elm Disease).

The tops of ash trees silhouetted against a grey sky
November 15th 2012
Two Ash Trees.
When the undergrowth pulls back a bit for winter, I'll see if I can get closer
to show you the trunks as well as the top-most leaves!

The picture above shows the edges of the tops of two young ash trees. We are all being asked to keep an eye out for Ash Dieback. This will be a new kind of tree following - a sombre one. Do click this Forestry Commission link . Towards the bottom of the Forestry Commission page, there's a short video. If you have a moment, do, please, watch it. It's both interesting and important. Important because the only way to stop the spread of this disease is by taking out affected trees. Specially interesting beause it shows not only the external signs of the disease (the leaves, the lesions) but what is happening inside the wood too.

* * *
Tree following symbol
The latest tree following post I know of is
from Gary Web at Compton Verney.
Not only is he following it through its seasons
but a family has adopted it too!

Plane Tree - Autumn 2012

Have you updated your tree?

P.S. All photos in this post are in colour.


Gerald (SK14) said...

sometimes i think i'd like to identify more trees and sometimes i just like to appreciate their shapes.

Anonymous said...

I learnt a lot from this guide - http://www.field-studies-council.org/publications/pubs/a-guide-to-the-identification-of-deciduous-broad-leaved-trees-and-shrubs-in-winter.aspx The trick is really to learn a key characteristic or two that's unique to each species. For example, the 90 degree forks in ash trees, or the "finger and thumb" shaped buds on lime trees; you soon get to know the general impression of size and shape of each tree.

In the first picture, the chunky pair of buds in the bottom, middle immediately suggested sycamore to me - think you're right in your identification :)

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

So sorry to hear about the threat to ash trees!

I sympathize with the difficult of identifying deciduous trees in winter. And in my case it seems like it's always around now that I think, "I should get out my Sibley's guide to trees and identify some--oh..."

HansHB said...

Great post, perfect B&W photos!

Leovi said...

Delicious ... I really like this poetic backlight. Wonderful photos ...

Birgitta said...

So interesting! So great in b&w!

Diana Studer said...

I was going to suggest Pages to pull your scattered photos together, but I see you use pages already.
Odd - I can see a top row of four pages, and 2 more almost hidden in the bottom row.

Martha Z said...

Your skies are like mine today, grey with little texture. You found a good use for those grey skies, though.

Diana Studer said...

OK - I can just see some ghostly red tops of letters, if I mouse over, it takes me to - http://looseandleafy.blogspot.com/p/what-is-tree-following-and-list-of-tree.html

RURAL magazine said...

Lucy, you have given us a lot to branch out and think about, good post.

I try and find different angles, lighting, and ways of showing the plants and surroundings here. Love your gorse bush shot.

We have Mountain Ash trees here they look pretty much like the ones that you showed, I am going to have to look that disease up.


Joy said...

You have made marvellous use of grey skies in the life of trees. Never thought of favourite trees before but yes I have a few including a blackthorn that I think must be very old as it has almost as much woolly lichen as branches.
For what people are photographing now and help with identifying I like http://www.wildaboutbritain.co.uk/pictures/
Nice blog.

Anonymous said...

Id or not they are so beautiful in bw. I'm sorry I also don't know my trees unles otherwise identified by others :D

Rowan said...

One of the things I love about winter is the silhouettes of trees against the sky, I also take photos of bark though I don't think I've ever posted any. There are one or two trees that I can identify just by the bark now. The variety is huge once you start looking.

colleen said...

What a beautiful meditation on grey skies, silhouettes. leaves, bark and trees. I think there is real strength in focusing on just a few aspects of a landscape and how they change over time. Thank you.

(BTW - Did you watch "Everyday" on Channel 4 this week? An entirely different examination of change, but focusing on the lives of the family of a prisoner. It was amazing.)

Donna said...

So it appears ash trees around the world may be extinct as the beetle from Asia attacking our trees will kill them all as well...I love photos of my trees during the seasons and from many angles against blue and gray skies.

Down by the sea said...

I love you photos of silhouettes they look so striking against the sky. Thank you for the link about the ash trees. It's frightening how quickly it spreads. I now know what to look out for.
Sarah x

Patrick's Garden said...

I think you're too hard on yourself. Some of these images have nice composition especially the blackberry hoop on the elderberry tree. Don't feel you ever have to ID yourself for being an amateur. We're all still learning aren't we?

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this informative post, and looking at the photos. Flighty xx

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