Trees; and tree management

Over the centuries the land has provided. For the first several hundred years of European life the land was the basis of life itself. It was the landowner that ran the show; along with the developing royalty and powerful religious leaders. But the serf, the farmer, and the landlord were the base of the economy for a very long time. Our American countryside is littered with people named Woods, Forest or Forester, Carpenter, Pollard, Cooper, Ash, Atwood, Boyce, Holme, Holt, Marley, Perry, Ryder, Sawyer, Walton, and Woodward — and many more.  These names are all derived from trees and tree management, be it from fruit or forest. These people were the tree cutters and the fruit growers of days gone by. Two of the traditional forest management concepts are still seen in pollarded trees throughout European cities and coppiced woodlands scattered through the countryside.

I am not showing coppicing in the images below, but coppicing is a technique in which trees are cut off at ground level and then sprout many new small “trunks” from the stump or “stool” left after cutting. These sprouts will be allowed to grow years, twenty years or so in some cases, and are then harvested as staffs (staves) or poles and are used (or were used) in building houses and barns or wagons and silos. If they were harvested at five or six or seven years they would be made into handles for farm tools or even wagon tongues. A person with a coppice plot would harvest from a different section each year, eventually rotating back to the first section years later. Coppiced trees could be Alder, Ash or Beech (3-4 year cycle), Hazel, Willow, and Chestnut (7 year cycle), Hornbeam and Oak (50 year cycle!!), or Sycamore and Chestnut (20 year cycles). This was  truly a family, or multi-generational, business.

Oh, the top photo merely shows some of the thousands of flowering rhododendron plants, (a group with a center of diversity in the Chinese Himalayas, but with native populations pretty much all around the Northern Hemisphere), now resident in Denmark. The rhodies and lilacs were in full blow when we were traveling.

Denmark 2018 pollard coppice
Trees are maintained at a specific height for many reasons today. Beauty is one reason but it is also helpful to have smallish, stout trees to better resist storms and wind. But the reasons for tree management go back into deep pre-industrial times. Trees would be cut back and then would produce twigs (sprouts) over the next year or two or three; the sprouts would be harvested and made into brooms, brushes, kindling, and woven into all sort of household containers. One of the most widely used plants for pollarding is/was the willow. The young supple branches could be made into brooms, baskets, or woven into sheep fences. Beech, Catalpa, Linden, Hornbeam, Mulberry, London Planetree, Black Locust, and Horse Chestnut are also commonly pollarded throughout Europe. Horse Chestnut was used a path/road marker (a tree was planted every mile or two or ten and served as road signs) in olden times and is a very common tree in Denmark – and they were in full flower, large white clusters of flowers.
Denmark 2018 pollard coppice
There are a few places where trees are allowed to reach a height higher than the nearby buildings, but this isn’t the usual situation in most towns and cities. Despite the added height these trees are still maintained and have not become “branchy”.
It seems a bit brutal, even cruel, to cut back all the new growth year after year. But, remember that most fruit trees and grape vines are treated in the same manner. The trees are not killed and the new growth is buoyant and rich. Thus the street trees managed this way are lush and luxurious each year; and of a comfortable, homey size .
Denmark 2018 pollard coppice
The new growth is mostly leaves. The branches (sprouts) that do form will be pruned off during the next winter.
The trees are deciduous and are not much more than stubby little fire plugs of a tree through the winter, but spring and summer sees them green, tidy, and all in line. It is management for sure, but over all saves time, money, and property if you consider the damage that wind-torn trees can cause. A penny for prevention is worth a pound of cure I guess. Or maybe not a Pound but a Kroner.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: