In the old days, however, most people had an entirely different view of these giant beings. Everywhere on the planet, huge tracts of thousand-year-old forests were ruthlessly cut down by the lumber industry, or to make way for farming or urbanization. Numerous examples of this destructive behaviour are described on the page Folly of Man.
Even today, there are well-educated people who do not appreciate old trees. Danish author Thorkild Bjørnvig (1918-2004) once told me about an incident, which took place on his residential island, Samsø. One of the residents in the local community lived in a farmhouse, in front of which grew an enormous old horsechestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum). One day, Bjørnvig noticed that the tree had disappeared, and he asked the owner why. This was his answer: “For a long time, that tree has been a thorn in my flesh!”
Below, a number of trees are described, presented in alphabetical order according to family, genus, and species.
The fruit is a globular, woody capsule, to 4 cm across, covered in prickles, presumably an adaptation to being attached to the fur of animals, which then spread the seeds in this way. Pictures depicting the capsules are shown on the page Plants: Burs.
These plants were formerly placed in the witch-hazel family (Hamamelidaceae), but has now been transferred to Altingiaceae. They are found from north-eastern India eastwards to China, Taiwan, and Korea, and thence southwards through Indochina to Sumatra and Java, and also in the eastern United States, Mexico, and Central America, with an isolated species in south-western Turkey and on Rhodes. Several species are cultivated elsewhere as ornamental trees.
The generic name is derived from the Latin liquidus (‘fluid’) and the Arabic anbar, which, via the Moors, became ambar in Spanish and amber in English. The generic and common names both allude to the fragrant sap of several species of the genus, which was formerly used in the cosmetic industry.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘flowing with storax’ (a plant resin), like the generic name alluding to the gum.
A close relative, Chinese sweetgum (L. formosana), is presented on the page Autumn.
The generic name is derived from pistakia, the Ancient Greek name of the true pistachio tree (P. vera).
Due to its hardiness, and the attractive autumn foliage, it is widely cultivated in temperate and subtropical areas around the world. In warmer areas, it sheds the leaves in mid-winter. Pictures, depicting this winter foliage, are shown on the page Autumn.
The generic name honours Charles Alston (1685-1760), professor of botany in Edinburgh.
It grows to 40 m tall, with greyish bark, and young branches have numerous lenticels. The leaves, arranged in whorls of 3-10, are glossy-green above, greyish below, obovate, to 23 cm long and 8 cm broad, tip usually rounded. Flowers are white, tubular, to 1 cm long, in dense clusters. The fruit is a pod-like follicle, very narrow, to 40 cm long.
The bark contains a very bitter, milky sap. Bark and leaves are utilized medicinally for headache, influenza, bronchitis, and pneumonia, and the wood is used for making coffins.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘relating to schools’, alluding to the former usage of the wood for blackboards.
In Ancient Rome, ilex was the name of the holm oak (Quercus ilex). In 1753, Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) adopted this name as the generic name of hollies, probably due to the similarity of the leaves of the common holly (Ilex aquifolium) to those of the holm oak. The ancient name of holly was acrifolium, from Proto-Italic akris (‘sharp’) and the Latin folium (‘leaf’), which was later changed into aquifolium.
It is native to the eastern United States, from Massachusetts and southern New York State southwards to northern Florida, and thence westwards to eastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas.
The specific name is Latin, meaning either ‘growing in the shade’ or ‘giving shade’.
Mature trees have straight trunks, in some species to 60 m tall, with little or no branching below the crown. The bark is smooth, pale grey or grey-brown, usually peeling into irregular flakes. Young leaves are often a coppery-red, varying in shape from ovate to lanceolate, whereas older leaves are green, elliptic to linear, leathery and thick. Female cones are huge, ovate or globular, maturing after 2 years.
These trees, altogether 17 species, are found in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, north-eastern Australia, and New Zealand.
Several species yield resin, called kauri gum. The durable timber is excellent for boat-building, and to make guitars and other items.
The generic name is Latin, denoting something notable or precious, derived from Ancient Greek agathon (‘a good thing’), originally from agathos (‘good’).
Today, the largest kauri is found in Waipoua Forest. It is called Tane Mahuta (‘Lord of the Forest’), which refers to Tane, the Maori god of trees and birds. The height of this majestic tree is c. 46 m, its girth is about 15.5 m, and its volume is estimated at 516 m3. In the past, even larger specimens were known. The largest on record, called The Great Ghost, was about 8.5 m in diameter, with a girth of c. 26.9 m. It was consumed by fire around 1890.
When the Maoris settled in New Zealand about 700 years ago, small-scale usage of kauri began. The timber was utilized to construct houses and boats, and for carving. Kauri trees exude a gum through cracks in the trunks, and, over the years, large quantities are built up in the soil beneath the trees. The Maoris used this gum to start fires, and also for chewing, after it had been soaked in water and mixed with the milky juice of common sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus).
A full-scale destruction of these magnificent forests began with the arrival of Europeans in the 1700s and 1800s. Sailors found that the trunks of young kauri were ideal for ships’ masts and spars, and settlers utilized the high-quality timber of mature trees for construction. Kauri gum was also used at a large scale to manufacture varnishes and other products. The gum was obtained through digging or, more destructively, by bleeding live trees. Large areas of kauri forest were also cleared for farmland until as late as the mid-1900s.
It has been estimated that kauri forests once covered between 10,000 and 15,000 km2. Today, a tiny fraction, c. 70 km2, exists, corresponding to 0.5% of the original extent.
Now the kauri is facing a new threat, called kauri dieback. This disease is caused by a fungus, Phytophthora agathidicida, which attacks the trees through their shallow root system, eventually causing their death. There is no known cure for this disease, and its spread can only be reduced by avoiding trampling near kauri roots. (Source: doc.govt.nz/nature/native-plants/kauri)
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘southern’.
Most species are large, with a massive, erect trunk, in some species reaching a height of 80 m. The branches grow in whorls, covered in leathery or needle-like leaves. Female cones are globular, the largest ones to 25 cm across. They contain up to 200 large, edible seeds. Male cones are cylindric, to 10 cm long and 5 cm wide.
The generic name was derived from the name of a Chilean tribe, the Araucanians, who ate the seeds of Araucaria araucana (below).
In a botanical context, a juba is a loose panicle, whose axis falls to pieces. Perhaps this is the case in this species. However, the name may also refer to King Juba II (c. 50 B.C. – 19 A.D.) of Numidia (in present-day Algeria and Tunisia), who had a great interest in plants and often described them.
The generic name is derived from phoinikos, the Greek word for the cultivated date palm (P. dactylifera), used by Greek scholar and botanist Theophrastos (c. 371-287 B.C.), and also by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.). It may refer to the Phoenicians, or to Phoenix, son of Amyntor and Cleobule in Homer’s Iliad, or to the phoenix, the sacred bird of Ancient Egypt. (Source: U. Quattrocchi 2000. CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names)
The generic name was given in honour of George Washington (1732-1799), the first president of the United States (1789-1797).
The scattered growths thrive in oases with springs, but may also be found in drier areas.
The generic name is the classical Latin name of alders. Some authorities connect the name with High German elo (’greyish-yellow’), and with Sanskrit aruna (’reddish-yellow’), referring to the fact that the wood of common alder (below), when cut, assumes a bright reddish-brown colour. The common name evolved from the Old English word for these trees, alor, which in turn derived from Proto-Germanic aliso.
The specific name is derived from the Latin gluten (’glue’), alluding to the glutinous leaf buds and newly opened leaves.
In Norse religion, the birch represented Freya, the Great Mother Goddess, and among Celtic peoples the star goddess, Arianrhod, whose caer (‘throne’) was situated in the Corona Borealis (Northern Lights). She was invoked through the birch to assist in births and initiations.
Previously, the soft birch wood was carved into numerous items, including furniture, cups, bowls, bobbins, cradles, and toys. The bark separates into thin strips, which peels off easily. It is tough, water proof and rot proof, making it perfect as roofing material. It was also utilized to make buckets, baskets, bottles, plates, and shoes, and for writing and drawing. Due to its content of volatile oils, rolled-up bark could be used as torches.
Danish author and artist Claus Bering (1919-2001) once sat on his terrace, writing, and from a large birch tree a lot of seeds and seed scales blew into his hair and his coffee. He was curious to know how many seeds a big birch tree like that would produce, so he chose a twig with average fertility. There were 12 female catkins on it. He plucked these 12 catkins, pulled them apart, and counted the number of seeds in each of them. On average they contained 350 seeds. Then he counted the number of branches on the tree, about 50, each having on average 32 twigs. Now the calculation was simple: 50x32x12x350 = 6.720.000 seeds. An impressive number!
The generic name is derived from Celtic betu (’glue’), referring to the fact that Celts extracted a glue-like substance from birch sap. In certain areas with Gaelic-speaking peoples, including Wales and Brittany, birch is still called bezuenn or bedwen. The name birch is derived from Proto-Germanic berko, in all probability rooted in Sanskrit bhurja, the name of a species of birch.
Several species of birch are presented on the page Autumn.
It is typically between 15 and 25 m tall, occasionally to 30 m, the trunk usually under 40 cm across at breast height. The bark is golden-brown at first, later turning to white and peeling off in flakes. The base of old trees has numerous corky fissures. The twigs are slender and often pendulous, giving rise to the specific name. The leaves are heart-shaped, long-pointed, margin doubly toothed. They turn a lovely yellow in autumn.
The name silver birch refers to the white bark, which peels off in strips, whereas the name warty birch alludes to the twigs having a rough surface due to numerous resinous ‘warts’.
It is likewise widespread and common in Eurasia, but is more northerly, found from Iceland, Ireland, and Portugal eastwards to eastern Siberia, southwards to the Caucasus, northern Iran, and southern Siberia.
The specific name is derived from the Latin pubes (’downy’), like the common name alluding to the downy twigs.
In former days, birch populations in Arctic regions were regarded as a subspecies, tortuosa, of the downy birch. However, genetic research indicates that it evolved from hybridization between downy birch and dwarf birch, and today most authorities regard it as a variety of the former, named B. pubescens var. pumila.
Inflorescences are yellowish, male catkins slender, to 10 cm long, appearing before the leaves. Female catkins are solitary or 2-3 together, to 5 cm long and 1.2 cm broad when in fruit. The nutlet is ovoid or ellipsoid, to 3 mm long, with membranous wings to 3 mm wide.
This species is very common in mountains, from Afghanistan eastwards to western China, often forming pure stands at altitudes between 2,500 and 4,300 m.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘useful’. Locally, the wood is used for building construction and as firewood. The bark is used as roof cover, and to make paper, and is also burned as incense. A paste of the bark is utilized for wounds and burns, a decoction of the bark for jaundice and earache, a paste of the resin for boils, and also as a contraception remedy. The foliage is lopped for fodder.
The generic name is the classical Latin name of hornbeams, probably derived from Proto-Indo-European kar (‘hard’), alluding to the hard wood of these trees. The common name is from Middle English hernbem, hern– of uncertain meaning and origin, bem a corruption of the German baum (‘tree’).
This species is found in the major part of Europe, from England, Denmark, and southern Sweden southwards to the Mediterranean, eastwards to western Russia, the Caucasus, and northern Iran.
The hard wood was formerly utilized for various items, including cog wheels in mills, pulleys on sailing ships, bottoms of planers, shoe trees, and hammers in pianos. Today, it is mostly used as excellent, slow-burning firewood.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘birch-like’, alluding to the catkins, which resemble those of birch trees (Betula).
Hazels have simple, rounded leaves with double-toothed margins. The flowers appear very early in spring, before the leaves. Male catkins are pale yellow, to 12 cm long, whereas the female catkins are very small, largely concealed in the buds, with only the bright-red, small styles protruding. The fruit is a nut, to 2.5 cm long and 2 cm wide, surrounded by a large, leafy involucre, called a husk, which encloses the nut partly or fully, depending on the species.
The generic name is the classical Latin word for hazel trees.
Previously, this genus was placed in the now defunct family Corylaceae.
Usually, it is a large shrub to about 10 m tall, sometimes to 15 m, typically with many slender trunks clustered together. It prefers sunny places, and specimens in forests are often low and stunted. The ovoid nut, to 2 cm long, is partly covered by the husk.
The specific name was given by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), who took this name from De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, published by German physician and botanist Leonhard Fuchs (1501-1566) in 1542, in which it was described as Avellana nux sylvestris (‘forest nut of Avella’, a town in southern Italy). In turn, that appellation was taken from Naturalis Historia, by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.).
The succession of a wild growth of common hazel is described on the page Nature Reserve Vorsø: Expanding wilderness.
Photosynthesis of these plants is done by the green, soft, pendulous branchlets, and the leaves are reduced to scales, arranged in whorls of 5 to 20 around the branchlets. Male flowers are in spikes along the branchlets, whereas the female flowers sit in spikes on short flower-stalks, which look different from the true branchlets. The fruit is small and cone-like.
The generic name is derived from Casuarius, the Latin name of cassowaries, due to the resemblance of the branches to the feathers of these birds. Both common names refer to the durable wood of these trees. The strange term she-oak arose, when the quality of the timber was equaled to that of the English oak (Quercus robur).
It has about the same distribution as that of the genus, but has become naturalized in many countries and is considered a pest in Florida, Bermuda, and Hawaii.
The specific name means ‘with foliage like Equisetum’ (horsetail), which is somewhat erroneous, as the leaves of this plant are reduced to scales. It must be admitted, however, that the twigs look like horsetail plants.
Most species are native to eastern Asia, with 50 species endemic to China. Others occur in Europe, northern Africa, Madagascar, Indonesia, New Guinea, eastern Australia, North America, Mexico, and Central America.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek eus (‘good’) and onoma (‘name’). It is not clear why Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) applied this name to this genus. The name spindle tree stems from the former usage of the hard wood of the European spindle tree (below) to make spindles for wool-spinning, whereas the name burning-bush refers to the brilliant autumn foliage of several species.
The gorgeous fruits are red, pink, or purplish capsules, opening late in the autumn to reveal the black seeds, which are coated with a fleshy orange layer. These fruits look very inviting indeed, but the seeds contain highly toxic alkaloids, and several cases of poisoning of children have been reported.
The wood of this species is very hard and was formerly used to make butchers’ skewers and spindles for wool-spinning.
A close relative, the eastern burning-bush (E. atropurpureus), is presented on the page Autumn.
The generic name is from the Latin terminus (‘end’), referring to the fact that the leaves appear at the very tips of the shoots. Despite the common name, these plants are not even distantly related to the true almond (Prunus amygdalus). The name alludes to the fruits, which resemble almonds.
Several pictures, depicting the glorious winter foliage of the Indian almond (Terminalia catappa), are shown on the page Autumn.
It is a medium-sized tree, to 20 m tall, with the crown arranged in layered tiers. The bark is smooth, pale grey, with protruding brownish lenticlels in streaks or spots. The leaves are in terminal rosettes, in groups of 4-9, slightly glossy, spatulate, to 7 cm long, with uneven margins. The small flowers are greenish, without petals, clustered in a spike, to 5 cm long. The fruit is a drupe, to 1.5 cm long.
In Madagascar, bark and wood is used for treating dysentery, and also for dyeing and tanning.
The specific name refers to a town in northern Madagascar.
It is distributed in forests, from eastern Nepal eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Indochina to Sumatra. In the Himalaya, it may be found up to elevations around 1,700 m.
It is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental. The wood is used as timber for construction of houses, floors, and boats.
The specific name is derived from Ancient Greek myrios (‘ten thousand’) and karpos (‘fruit’).
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek khamai (‘near the earth’) and kyparissos (‘cypress’) – an odd name, considering that some of these trees can attain heights of 70 m.
Two species are native to Taiwan, the red false cypress and the yellow false cypress, both presented below.
Following the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, Taiwan was ceded to Japan and became a Japanese colony. In 1912, the Japanese government began large-scale logging of false cypresses in the Alishan area, and where the Alishan Mountain Railway today passes through areas at higher elevations, cypress forests once covered the entire landscape.
Soon, the forests on Taiping Shan, Ilan County, and Pahsien Shan, Nantou County, were also opened up for logging, and later also many other areas. An endless stream of cypress logs flowed out of the mountains, to be transported across the sea to Japan, where they were used for various purposes, including pillars for Shinto shrines.
Early surveys estimated that, before logging began, about 20 million ancient false cypresses were found in Taiwan. Of the approximately 300,000 false cypresses at Alishan, which were more than 1,000 years old, all that remains today is a few giant trees, scattered among introduced Japanese red cedar (Cryptomeria japonica).
Large-scale logging of these magnificent trees was continued, even after the Japanese left Taiwan in 1945 – in fact, right up to 1989. Today, the only larger areas of ancient false cypresses are forests on Hsiukulan Shan, central Taiwan, and on Chilan Shan, Ilan County. (Source: Chang Chin-ju, Ancient Giants of the Forest – Taiwan’s False Cypresses)
This species is slow-growing, but when left in peace it may live for at least 2,000 years and grow to enormous dimensions, to 60 m tall with a trunk diameter up to 7 m. The bark is reddish-brown, vertically fissured. Adult leaves are scale-like, to 3 mm long, tip pointed, green above and below, with an inconspicuous band of pores at the base, in which respect it differs from yellow false cypress (below). Leaves on young plants are needle-like, to 8 mm long, soft and bluish-green. The cones are ovoid or oblong, to 1.2 cm long and 8 mm across.
It is threatened by habitat loss and excessive felling for its valuable timber.
In 1544, when the Portuguese first saw Taiwan from the sea, they named it Formosa (‘beautiful’). Since then many plants and animals, which were described from specimens collected on the island, were named various forms of this word.
Yellow false cypress grows to 40 m tall, with a trunk diameter up to 2 m. The bark is reddish-brown, vertically fissured. Older leaves are scale-like, to 1.5 mm long, green above and below, the underside with a white band of pores at the base, in which respect it differs from red false cypress (above), tip acute (unlike the blunt tip on leaves of C. obtusa). Leaves on seedlings are needle-like, to 8 mm long. Female cones are globular, to 9 mm across (smaller than those of C. obtusa).
Apparently, the generic name honours two persons, Scottish physician James Cunningham (died 1709), who introduced this genus into cultivation in 1702, and British botanist Allan Cunningham (1791-1839), who collected plants in Brazil and Australia. In 1839, he died of consumption in Sydney, only 47 years old.
In the wild, its occurrence is restricted to Taiwan, the Fujian Province in south-eastern China, and a few locations in northern Laos and Vietnam. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2017), it is endangered in the wild.
The specific name is a Japanese surname, but I have not been able to find out who is being honoured. The English name refers to a mountain in Taiwan, Luan Ta, where this species was first found in 1908.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek kyparissos, the classical word for the Mediterranean cypress (C. sempervirens).
It is distributed from Kashmir eastwards through the Himalaya to south-eastern Tibet, growing in dry areas, mostly on calcareous soil, at altitudes between 1,800 and 3,300 m. Its foliage is often burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines.
The specific name is derived from the Latin torulus, diminutive of torus (‘swelling’), presumably alluding to the furrowed bark.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek hesperos (‘western’) and kyparissos, the classical word for cypress.
Due to the strong winds that blow in its native area, this species often becomes stunted, with an irregular trunk and a flat-topped crown. In sheltered places, it may grow up to 40 m tall, with a trunk diameter up to 2.5 m. The foliage is bright green, smelling of lemons when crushed. The leaves on older trees are scale-like, to 5 mm long, whereas young trees up to one year old have needle-like leaves, to 8 mm long. Male cones are very small, to 5 mm long, whereas female cones are globular or oblong, to 4 cm long, with 6-14 scales.
The specific name is derived from Ancient Greek makros (‘long’) and karpos (‘fruit’).
The status of this species is disputed. Some authorities, including Kew Gardens, regard it as a separate species. Others maintain that it is a mere variety of the more widespread Gowen cypress (H. goveniana).
Under all circumstances, not much is pygmy-like about this tree, as it may be able to grow to a height of 43 m, with a diameter exceeding 2 m. The specific name may refer to the small cones.
There are various theories as to the origin of the generic name. Some authorities claim that it stems from the Latin iungere (’tie together’ or ’weave’), referring to the use of its branches in baskets and fences, whereas others maintain that it is derived from juvenis (’young’) and parere (’to produce’), referring to the fact that juniper bushes constantly are renewed by new shoots.
The words gin and genever are derived from Juniperus, attesting to the usage of juniper fruits in these beverages.
It may grow to a large shrub, but is often prostrate, and may at once be identified by it needle-like leaves, to 1.3 cm long, which have a sharp point. The cone, to 8 mm across, is bluish-black when ripe, often with a bloom.
Common juniper is much utilized in folk medicine, and also plays a substantial role in folklore, described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘common’.
This species is found at altitudes between 2,100 and 5,200 m, from Pakistan eastwards through the Himalaya to south-western China. Its foliage is burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines, and the fruit is utilized in traditional medicine for fever and headache.
In former days, Native Americans used the bark for a variety of purposes, including beds, and ate the cones both fresh and in cakes. The gum was smeared on wounds as a protective covering. Tea made from the leaves was given to women to calm their contractions after giving birth. The Navajo would sweep their tracks with boughs from the tree, so that death would not follow them.
The specific name is derived from Ancient Greek osteon (‘bone’) and sperma (‘seed’), alluding to the hard seeds of this species.
The specific name is derived from Ancient Greek pseudes (‘false’) and sabina, the specific name of the savine (Juniperus sabina). Thus, the name means ‘the false savine’, presumably due to its similarity to the savine.
It is distributed from Pakistan eastwards across the Himalaya and southern Tibet to Myanmar and the Yunnan Province, at elevations between 1,800 and 4,600 m.
Wood and foliage are burned as incense at Buddhist shrines.
Strictly speaking, the specific name means ‘bent backwards’ in the Latin. However, in this connection it means ‘bent downwards’, alluding to the pendulous branches.
The etymology of the generic name is disputed. Some authorities maintain that it is derived from Ancient Greek libos (‘tear’) and kedros (‘cedar’), referring to the resin that oozes from the trunk. Others suggest that it is derived from the Greek libanos (‘incense’), and again kedros.
It was named in honour of British botanist and explorer John Carne Bidwill (1815-1853), who investigated plant life in New Zealand and Australia, discovering several species new to science. In 1851, while marking out a new road in Queensland, Bidwill got lost and was without food for eight days. He eventually succeeded in cutting a way through the scrub with a pocket hook, but never properly recovered from starvation, and died in March 1853, 38 years old. (Source: Serle, P. 1949. Bidwill, John Carne (1815-1853). Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus & Robertson)
This discovery caused a sensation in botanical circles around the world, and the species was called ‘a living fossil’. It is a large tree, growing to 50 m tall, and it is among the few conifers shedding its foliage in winter. Today, it is a popular ornamental in cooler areas around the globe.
The generic name is composed of Ancient Greek meta (‘near’), and the genus name Sequoia (Californian redwood, below), indicating that it is closely related to that species. The specific name is composed of the genus name Glyptostrobus (Chinese swamp cypress), and the Greek eides (‘like’), thus ‘resembling Chinese swamp cypress’.
This species was originally named Taxodium sempervirens in 1824 by Scottish botanist David Don (1799-1841), but was moved to a new genus, Sequoia, in 1847 by Slovakian-born Austrian botanist, numismatist and sinologist Stephan Ladislaus Endlicher (1804-1849), also known as Endlicher István László, who was director of the Botanical Garden in Vienna. He never explained the reason for choosing this name. The specific name is derived from the Latin semper (‘always’) and virens (‘green’), thus ‘evergreen’.
The following quote of Scottish-American writer and environmentalist John Muir (1838-1914), from 1870, is cited in the book John Muir: His Life and Letters and Other Writings, edited by T. Gifford, Mountaineers Books, 1996: “Do behold the King in his glory, King Sequoia! Behold! Behold! seems all I can say. Some time ago I left all for Sequoia and have been and am at his feet, fasting and praying for light, for is he not the greatest light in the woods, in the world? Where are such columns of sunshine, tangible, accessible, terrestrialized?”
Most people of that period did not share Muir’s enthusiasm. Despite the fact that their wood is fibrous and brittle, and of little use for construction, thousands of these magnificent trees were ruthlessly cut down, between the 1880s and 1924, even though their commercial value was marginal. The heavy trees would often shatter when they hit the ground, and it has been estimated that as little as 50% of the timber came to use. The wood was utilized mainly for shingles and fence posts, or even for matchsticks. – Imagine! From grand tree to matchstick!
Today, fortunately, felling of this species is strictly forbidden, and a few magnificent groves have been saved.
The generic name is composed of the genus name Sequoia (Californian redwood, above), and Ancient Greek dendron (‘tree’).
Other pictures, depicting these impressive trees, may be seen on the page Plants: Plants of Sierra Nevada.
The generic name is derived from thuia, the Ancient Greek name of the stinking juniper (Juniperus foetidissima), originally from thuo (‘I sacrifice’), relating to the fact that wood of this species was often burned with animal sacrifices by the ancients to add a pleasing aroma to the fire. Why Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) applied the name to this genus is not clear. Maybe he found that the foliage resembled that of the stinking juniper.
Despite the name redcedar, these trees are not related to the true cedars (Cedrus) of the Old World.
It is native along the Pacific coast in south-western Canada and north-western United States, but is widely cultivated elsewhere as an ornamental, especially in northern Europe and New Zealand.
Previously, indigenous peoples used the wood of this species for canoes, totem poles, tools, and other items. Fibers from the bark was used to produce rope, baskets, clothing, and rain hats. Today, because of its aroma and resistance to rot, the wood is used for construction of shingles and siding.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘folded’, presumably alluding to the fan-like foliage.
Many species are utilized for timber, and some were formerly used in traditional herbal medicine.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek di (‘two’), pteron (‘wing’), and karpos (‘fruit’), alluding to the two-winged fruit (see picture below).
This species is one of the most important timber trees of Indochina and is extensively logged commercially. It is threatened by habitat loss, listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is also much exploited for its resin, which is used in traditional medicine, as wood lacquering, and to make boats waterproof. Mixed with beeswax, it is used in bandages for ulcerated wounds. The bark of young trees is taken against rheumatism and liver problems, and is also given to cattle to stimulate appetite.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘winged’, alluding to the fruit.
In Ancient Greek, rhododendron means ‘rose tree’, and, from a distance, the flower clusters of certain species may resemble roses.
A large collection of pictures, depicting rhododendron species from around the world, is shown on the page Plants: Rhododendron.
It is very common in the Himalaya, and in March-April, when the flowering is at its peak, it adds a reddish or pinkish tinge to the forest in numerous places, stemming from millions of flowers. The intensity of the red colour decreases with altitude, and white flowers may be observed near the upper limit of its distribution.
In Nepal, this tree is the national plant, called lali guras (‘red rhododendron’), and the flowers are brought as offerings in Hindu and Buddhist shrines. The petals are edible, utilized for sore throat and cough, and also pickled. Juice of the bark is taken for diarrhoea, dysentery, and cough, a paste of the leaves for headache, juice of the flowers for menstrual problems and dysentery. Juice of the leaves is spread on beds to get rid of vermin, and young leaves are used to stupefy fish in streams. The wood is utilized for making furniture, fences, and charcoal, and as fuel, and dried leaves serve as compost.
It is widely distributed, from Pakistan eastwards to montane areas of northern Thailand and Vietnam, with an isolated subspecies, nilagiricum, in mountains of South India, called Nilgiri rhododendron, and zeylanicum in Sri Lanka. These subspecies are regarded as separate species by some authorities.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘tree-like’, referring to its large size.
The generic name is a Latinized version of Ancient Greek akakia, from akis (‘thorn’), referring to the prominent thorns of the Egyptian acacia (Vachellia nilotica), the first acacia species to be described scientifically.
A number of acacia species are presented on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
Philippine acacia has no true leaves, but phyllodes – winged leaf stalks, which function as leaves. They are scimitar-shaped, up to 11 cm long and 2 cm wide, with 3-5 parallel veins. The wood is very hard and was formerly used as beams in Taiwanese underground mines. Today, it is used to make floors, and to produce charcoal. The plant is also utilized in traditional folk medicine in Taiwan.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘mixed’ or ‘confusing’. What it refers to is not clear.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek delos (‘evident’) and onyx (‘claw’), referring to the central, upright petal, which is slightly curved, hereby resembling a claw.
The leaves are twice pinnate, bright green, growing to 50 cm long, with 20-40 pairs of primary leaflets, each divided into 10–20 pairs of secondary leaflets, not unlike huge feathers. When ageing, the tree may form large buttresses.
It is endemic to dry deciduous forests of Madagascar, but is cultivated as an ornamental in almost all warmer countries.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘royal’ – a suitable name!
The pulp of the fruit is used in cuisines around the world, and in many Latin-speaking countries, a beverage called tamarindo is made from the pulp. It is also utilized in folk medicine, and the juice is used to polish metal.
The generic name is derived from Arabic tamar hindi, meaning ‘Indian date’.
The generic name is derived from kastana, the classical Greek name of the sweet chestnut (below).
Sweet chestnut is widely cultivated for its edible nuts and for its wood. Raw chestnuts are covered by a tough skin, which has an unpleasant, astringent taste. They are usually roasted, which makes it easier to remove the skin. Chestnut orchards are commonly found in Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and elsewhere.
During my stay in the Zagros Mountains in south-western Iran (see Travel episodes – Iran 1973: In the mountains of Luristan), I was told that fruits of the sweet chestnut, which is common in these mountains, were an important food item, when the wheat crop failed.
In his book Flora Danica, from 1648, Danish physician and herbalist Simon Paulli (1603-1680) says: ”Galenus* praises the fruits of sweet chestnut above all other kinds of acorns, which are good to eat. We must point out that we do not agree with Johan Bodæo à Stapel, who, with beautiful and learned comments, has illustrated Theophrastum Eresium;** because he claims that sweet chestnuts are a kind of nuts. However, to us it seems more appropriate to regard them as a kind of acorns, but we do not want to go into detail here. (…)
Those, who hold their health in high esteem, should take care that they do not eat too many sweet chestnuts, because the above-mentioned Galenus also says this about them: (…) Sweet chestnuts, cooked or fried or dried over a fire, are always evil, but above all when they are eaten raw.”
The generic name is the classical Latin word for beech, derived from Ancient Greek phagein (’to eat’), alluding to the edible seeds.
Pictures, depicting beeches, are also shown on the pages Nature: Nature’s patterns, and Autumn.
In the Balkans, it hybridizes with the oriental beech (F. orientalis), which is found in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘growing in forests’, derived from silva (‘forest’).
Male flowers are in pendent catkins, females mostly in erect spikes. The fruit is a nut, called an acorn, which is partly enclosed in a cup-like structure, the cupule, consisting of overlapping bracts, with free tips.
Previously, in large parts of Europe, oaks were sacred trees, dedicated to the highest gods: in Ancient Greece to Zeus, in Rome to Jupiter, in Norse religion to Thor, the god of thunder, and in Celtic religion to Dagda, god of manliness, fertility, and wisdom. Celtic druids often performed their rituals in sacred oak groves, especially worshipping the mistletoes (Viscum album, Santalaceae), growing on the trees.
In Celtic mythology, Blodeuwedd (‘Flower-Face’) is a woman, made from flowers of oak, meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), and broom (Cytisus scoparius).
Oaks are very important timber trees, utilized for numerous items, including boats, furniture, musical instruments, and casks for storage of wine and liqueur, and in former days also for houses and ships. The astringent bark is excellent for tanning. In the old days, acorns were ground and roasted as a substitute for coffee, and they were a most important food for domestic animals, especially pigs, which were roaming the forests in search of them.
In former days, a decoction of the astringent oak bark and leaves was utilized for treating countless ailments, including diarrhoea, frostbite, haemorrhoids, rashes, epilepsy, coughing blood, poisoning, hair loss, volvulus, tuberculosis, and throat infections, to mention but a few. A poultice of fresh leaves was applied to wounds.
The generic name is the classical Latin term for oaks. It probably stems from the name of the Lithuanian god of thunder, Perkunas. The word oak is from the Anglo-Saxon ek, in ancient Germanic aik, of uncertain origin and meaning.
Selections of pictures, depicting oaks, may be seen on the pages Autumn, and Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
It is native to the lowlands of California, from Mendocino County southwards to northern Baja California.
The specific name is derived from the Latin agri (‘field’) and folium (‘leaf’). No doubt, this name stems from a writing mistake, as it should probably have been acrifolia, derived from Proto-Italic akris (‘sharp’) and again the Latin folium (‘leaf’), alluding to the spines along the leaf margin.
It is distributed from Afghanistan eastwards to central Nepal, growing in forests at elevations between 1,800 and 2,900 m. The wood is used for many items, and also as fuel and for charcoal. The foliage is lopped for fodder.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with an abundance of flowers’.
It is a deciduous tree, growing to 40 m tall, leaves dark green, shining, to 14 cm long and 8 cm wide, with 5 or 6 rather small lobes on each side, stalk to 1 cm long. The acorn is to 3 cm long and 2 cm broad.
A picture, depicting leaves and acorns, is shown on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘growing in rocky places’, derived from Ancient Greek petra (‘rock’).
The similar common oak (below) has paler, dull green, deeply lobed leaves with two eared lobes at the base, and its acorns are long-stalked.
It is native to southern Europe, found from Belgium, France, and southern Germany eastwards to Ukraine and the Caucasus, southwards to Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘downy’, referring to the downy leaves and cupules.
It is a deciduous tree, to 40 m tall, with a stout trunk, sometimes with a girth of 11 m. The bark is greyish-brown, vertically grooved on older trees. The leaves are green above, pale green below, oblong or ovate, to 12 cm long and 8 cm wide, very short-stalked, sometimes sessile, with 3-6 rounded lobes on each side and two eared lobes at the base. Male catkins are to 4 cm long, female flowers are small, brown with dark red stigmas, at the tip of new shoots. The acorn is to 4 cm long, ovoid, with a pointed tip, arranged in small clusters on a long stalk.
This tree may live for many hundred years, some specimens estimated to be at least 1,500 years old.
A picture, depicting leaves and acorns, is shown on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘strength’ or ‘hardness’, but the word is of the same root as robhos, which means ‘of a dark colour’. Both words can refer to the dark, hard wood of this species.
The name pedunculate oak alludes to its acorns, which sit on 3-5 cm long stalks. The name common oak is somewhat misleading, as it is less common in England than the sessile oak (above), which is similar, but has darker, shiny, less indented leaves and very short-stalked acorns.
It is native to the Far East, occurring in China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and northern Vietnam, growing in evergreen and deciduous forests up to elevations around 3,000 m.
It is cultivated on a small scale in China, where the bark is utilized for cork production.
The fruit is a large drupe, enclosed in a layer of fibrous flesh, which is edible and sweet in some species. The nuts are dried and ground into a paste, which can be made into a type of bread. An edible oil is also extracted from the nuts. The hard wood is used in construction.
The generic name honours Scottish naval surgeon Edward George Irving (1816-1855), who was an avid collector of plants.
The ellipsoid fruit, to 60 mm long, is known as wild almond or barking deer’s mango. It is edible and sweet, and the large seeds, about the size of an almond, are also edible roasted. The wood is used in construction.
The specific name refers to the Malay Peninsula.
The generic name is derived from the Ancient Greek name of cinnamon, kinnamomon. The Greeks probably learned the word from the Phoenicians, who were great traders, sailing to many places, including the Far East. The name was perhaps ultimately based on the Malay name of these plants.
The brown or greyish bark is rough, with vertical grooves. The leathery leaves are glossy, yellowish-green or greyish-green, bluish-green below, ovate or elliptic, pointed, to 12 cm long and 5.5 cm wide, with a fragrance of camphor when crushed. Inflorescences are stalked terminal panicles, or from the leaf axils, to 7 cm across, flowers tiny, creamy-white or yellowish. The fruit is a globular, one-seeded, fleshy drupe, to 8 mm wide, purplish-black at maturity. The fruits are eaten by birds, which disperse the seeds.
This species is native to southern Japan, South Korea, south-eastern China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, but is widely cultivated elsewhere for production of camphor, which is used as an ingredient in incense and medicine, as a spice, and as an insect repellent. In Ancient Egypt, it was used as early 1485 B.C. for embalming.
The generic name supposedly stems from a native language in Guiana.
The fruit is a fleshy berry, to 3 cm long, which resembles an acorn. It is a popular food item for the endemic laurel pigeons on these islands.
In older days, this tree was sacred to the Bimbaches, the original inhabitants of the island of El Hierro.
It has been introduced to the Azores, where it is regarded as an invasive species.
Inflorescences are large terminal panicles, flowers with numerous stamens and 6 petals, which have a long narrow base, similar to a stem, with wavy margins. They come in many colours and have a crepe-like texture, which gave rise to the common name. The fruits are capsules, which are initially green and succulent, later turning dark brown and dry. They split along 6 or 7 lines, to release the numerous small and winged seeds.
The genus was named by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) in honour of a friend, merchant Magnus von Lagerström (1696-1759), who was director of the Swedish East India Company. Lagerström was a keen naturalist, and, despite never visiting Asia, he was able to procure many specimens from India and China, which he presented to Linnaeus. (Source: E. Bretschneider 1898. History of European Botanical Discoveries in China)
It is native to deciduous forests in Indochina, where it is widely utilized for its timber.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘provided with an epicalyx’ (bracts immediately beneath the calyx).
It is native to Japan, Taiwan, China, and the Philippines, growing in forests and along streams, from low to medium elevations.
The generic name refers to French botanist and explorer Michel Adanson (1727-1806), who was the first European to observe the common baobab (below) during an expedition to Senegal. The name baobab is derived from the Arabic buhibab, meaning ‘the father of many seeds’.
It may grow to 25 m tall, in older trees with a very wide trunk, some specimens measuring up to 14 m across, often with buttresses. The bark is grey. Old trees often become hollow, when the central part starts decaying. Elephants (Loxodonta africana) eat the bark and often damage the tree, or may even turn it over. The palmate leaves have 5 or 7 leaflets, sometimes 9.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with fingers’, alluding to the palmate leaves. Folk names include dead-rat tree (from the sausage-like fruit, hanging in a long stalk – the rat’s tail), monkey-bread tree (the fruit is edible), and upside-down tree (the sparse branches resemble roots).
Some species may grow to more than 70 m tall, and some may attain an age of at least 500 years. Some species are grown elsewhere as ornamental trees, and the kapok tree (below) is widely cultivated in Asia for its fruit fibres.
The generic name is from the Taino language, meaning ‘boat’. The Taino used the wood to build dugout canoes.
Trunk and larger branches are often covered with large spines. The largest branches may be up to 1.8 m thick, their foliage forming a crown up to 60 m across. The palmate leaves have 5 to 9 leaflets, each to 20 cm long. Large trees produce several hundred pods, to 15 cm long, containing seeds, which are surrounded by fluffy, yellowish, cotton-like seed hairs, called kapok, which was formerly much used in mattresses.
The specific name is derived from Ancient Greek pente (‘five’) and andros (‘stamen’), originally from aner (‘man’), alluding to the flower having 5 stamens.
These plants were previously placed in the family Sterculiaceae, which has since been reduced to a subfamily, Sterculioideae, in the mallow family.
The generic name was given in honour of French civil servant and botanist Charles Louis l’Héritier de Brutelle (1746-1800).
It is a lowland species, found up to elevations around 700 m, distributed in Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The wood is utilized as timber.
In prehistoric times, linden trees were sacred to many Germanic and Slavic tribes. In the Norse religion, they were dedicated to Odin’s wife Frigg, goddess of wisdom and foreknowledge. Later, lindens were worshipped as a symbol of knowledge, often planted in the centre of the village, where the elders would meet to discuss various issues.
Due to their content of essential oils, linden flowers emit a powerful fragrance, and tea made from dried flowers is a popular drink in many countries, in France called tilleul, in Italy tiglio, and in the Unites States basswood tea. The flowers supply excellent honey, and during the Middle Ages, linden trees were often planted around monasteries and castles to provide honey.
The generic name is derived from the Greek tilos (’fibre’), referring to the use of the bark as bast. The name linden was adopted from the old Norse name of the plant, lind. In Britain, linden trees are sometimes called lime, probably a corruption of lind.
The role of linden trees in folklore and folk medicine is described in depth on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Common linden can grow very old and very large, up to 50 m high. One long-lived specimen was the ’Malmvik lime’, planted as a sapling near the Malmvik Manor, Stockholm, Sweden, in 1618. This tree lived for 381 years, until its remains fell during a storm in 1999. (Source: R. Bengtsson, 2004. The Malmvik Lime: An Historical and Biological Analysis of the Oldest Documented Planting of Common Lime (Tilia x europaea L.) in Sweden. The Garden History Society. 32 (2):188-196)
The largest common linden in Britain is at Aysgarth, Yorkshire, which, in 2009, was 26 m tall, with a diameter of 2,95 m. (Source: O. Johnson, 2011. Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London)
The generic name is the name used by Greek scholar and botanist Theophrastos (c. 371-287 B.C.) for the manna ash (Fraxinus ornus), which has similar leaves.
It is mostly a small tree, but may sometimes reach a height of 35 m. The bark is brown with narrow vertical or slanting grooves. The leaves are long-stalked, dark green, to 50 cm long, twice or thrice pinnate, with ovate or elliptic leaflets, to 7 cm long, margin toothed. The flowers are star-shaped, pink or lilac, to 1.8 cm across. They are arranged in clusters, growing from the leaf axils. The fruit is a drupe, about 8 mm across, light yellow at maturity, often hanging on the tree all winter, unless they are eaten by birds. They are poisonous to humans, but the birds are not affected.
The specific name stems from Persian azad dirakht, meaning ‘noble tree’.
Other pictures, depicting this species, are shown on the page Nature: Invasive species.
The generic name is the classical Latin word for fig.
A number of species are described in depth on the page Plants: Fig trees.
Banyan belongs to a group of fig trees, called strangler figs. Most seeds of these trees begin their life as an epiphyte in a tree, the seed often sprouting in a pile of bird dung, delivered by the bird which ate the fig fruit. Over the years, aerial roots of the young strangler fig grow down to the ground, where they take root, while other roots wrap themselves around the host tree, over time completely enveloping the tree, which is eventually strangled to death. As the trunk of the host tree decays, it leaves the fig tree as a hollow cylinder of aerial roots.
However, banyan may also grow as a large, free-standing tree, to 30 m tall. Hanging down from the branches are numerous aerial roots, which often take root, over time creating a ’forest’ of trunks, all of which are in fact a single individual. The world’s largest tree, by canopy coverage, is found in Kolkata, eastern India (see picture below).
The leaves are broadly ovate, very thick, to 30 cm long and 20 cm wide, the leaf-stalk may be to 7 cm long, but is often much shorter. The fruits are very small, to 2 cm across, orange or red at maturity.
Banyan is much utilized in traditional medicine. A decoction of the leaves is used to treat dysentery and diarrhoea, and a poultice made from young leaves is applied to abscesses. The latex is used to treat toothache, bruises, rheumatic joints, lumbago, and gonorrhoea, and, mixed with sugar, to treat dysentery in children. A decoction of the bark is tonic and diuretic.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘of Bengal’. Strictly speaking, Bengal is the lowland around the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, but in the early period of British colonial India, the term ‘Bengal’ indicated a much larger portion of northern India.
The weeping fig is native to the Indian Subcontinent, eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Indochina and Indonesia to northern Australia, and eastwards to some of the Pacific islands.
In temperate areas, it is a very popular house plant, which can tolerate rather dry conditions.
The specific name is a corruption of the Hindi word banyan – a term used not only for the true banyan (F. benghalensis, above), but also to other large fig trees with aerial roots.
Pipal is indigenous to the Indian Subcontinent and Myanmar, but as is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, and Jainists, it is very commonly planted in areas dominated by these beliefs. Its sacredness is reflected in the specific name, as well as the English name. Pipal is its name in Hindi. Its important role in Buddhism is described on the page Plants: Fig trees.
The leaves are ovate with rounded or heart-shaped base, dark green and rather thin, to 20 cm long and 12 cm wide, with a slender leaf-stalk to 12 cm long. The leaves are shed regularly. The fruits are pinkish-purple with white dots, arranged in large clusters along the branches.
It is native to Indochina, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but is often planted as an ornamental tree elsewhere, for instance in China, Taiwan, and Japan.
This species is found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Indochina, Indonesia, the Philippines, and New Guinea to eastern Australia and many islands in the Pacific.
The fruits are edible and constitute as a major food source in Micronesia and Polynesia. Medicinally, a decoction of the leaves is used as a dressing for broken bones. Ropes are made from fibres of the bark.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘to dye’, alluding to the traditional usage of root and fruits to produce red and scarlet dyes.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek metra (‘heartwood’) and sideron (‘iron’), alluding to the hard wood of several species.
It grows to 25 m tall, with numerous spreading trunks and a crown-spread up to 40 m. Its natural range is coastal regions of the North Island and the extreme northern part of the South Island. Once upon a time, it formed a continuous coastal fringe between the present-day towns of New Plymouth and Gisborne, but by the 1990s, farming and introduced pests had reduced these magnificent forests by over 90%. The durable wood was often used in shipbuilding, since the naturally curvy shapes made strong knees (an angular piece of timber, utilized to reinforce the junction of two surfaces of different planes).
The specific name is derived Latin, meaning ‘sublime’, presumably referring to its gorgeous flower display. Pohutukawa is a Maori word, referring to an unidentified coastal shrub.
These trees or shrubs, comprising about 43 species, are native to the Southern Hemisphere, in Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and New Caledonia. Several species are dominant in temperate forests.
Like oaks (see Fagaceae above), the small, flattened, or triangular nuts of these trees are enclosed in a cupule, a cup-like structure, consisting of overlapping bracts. In this genus, it contains between one and 7 nuts, depending on species.
The specific name was given in honour of French botanist Joseph Dombey (1742-1794), who studied the flora of Chile 1782-1785.
This species is presented in depth on the page Travel episodes – Chile 2011: The white forest.
Its leaves are quite distinct, broadly ovate, to 4 cm long and 3 cm broad, with double-toothed margin, each lobe having two large teeth. The small cupule contains 3 nuts.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘brown’. It may refer to the bark.
The generic name is derived from Proto-Italic fraksinos, originally a Proto-Indo-European word for birch trees. The connection to birches is hard to see.
It usually grows to about 20 m tall, with a trunk diameter to 2 m, but specimens up to 43 m tall, with a trunk diameter to 3.5 m, have been recorded. The bark is pale grey and smooth on young trees, becoming thick and vertically fissured on older trees. The buds are very characteristic, being jet-black. Leaves are pinnately divided, to 35 cm long, having 7-13 elliptic leaflets, to 12 cm long and 3 cm wide, margin toothed. With the first frost they turn bright yellow. The dark purple, tiny flowers are in small panicles. The winged fruit is to 4.5 cm long and 8 mm wide, often remaining on the tree throughout the winter.
In later years, populations of ash in Europe have been much reduced by ash dieback, a disease caused by a fungus, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (previously called Chalara fraxinea). Most trees that contract this disease die after a few years. However, research has shown that some trees have resistance to it.
The specific name is derived from the Latin excelsus (‘lofty’) and ior, a suffix forming adjectives, thus ‘with tall growth’.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek elaia, the classical name of the common olive tree (below).
It is a small evergreen tree or shrub, sometimes growing to 15 m tall, the trunk becoming gnarled and twisted with age. The leaves are silvery-green, oblong, to 10 cm long and 3 cm wide. The white flowers are tiny, borne in racemes from the leaf axils. The fruit is a drupe to 2.5 cm long, initially green, later turning purple.
Olive trees can live for more than 2000 years. Some specimens in the Gethsemane Garden, beneath the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, were young trees, when Jesus wandered in this area.
The role of the olive tree in folklore and traditional medicine is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
The generic name is the classical Latin name of the silver fir (Abies alba), probably derived from the Greek name of the plant, abin. The English name is probably derived from Old Norse fyri, which, however, was the word for pine trees (Pinus).
This species is restricted to the highest mountain tops of Taiwan, at elevations between 2,400 and 3,800 m. It is declining, as many populations have become fragmented, fire being the main threat.
The specific name honours Japanese botanist Takiya Kawakami (1871-1915), who worked as a botanist for the Japanese government in Taiwan from 1901. He collected numerous plants there, and several species are named after him.
This species is very common in the Himalaya, found from Afghanistan eastwards to Myanmar, at elevations between 2,400 and 4,400 m. It is widely used locally, the wood for construction, carpentry, furniture, paper-making, and firewood. The foliage is utilized medicinally for asthma, bronchitis, colds, and rheumatism, and is also burned as incense.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘remarkable’ or ‘admirable’.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek kedros, which stems from an ancient Indo-European word, meaning incense. For millenia, needles and wood of cedar species have been used as incense.
It can grow to enormous dimensions, up to 80 m tall, its huge bole growing to 2 m across, with a circumference of up to 12 m. The bark is rather smooth, with vertical fissures. The twigs are drooping, needles dark green or bluish-green, to 5 cm long and 1 mm broad, borne singly on long shoots, 20-30 together on short shoots. Mature cones are erect, ovoid, to 13 cm long and 9 cm broad, fragmenting at maturity.
Needles and wood are used as incense, and traditional medicine is made from an essential oil in its wood. The wood is also used for constructing buildings, furniture, carts, and boats.
In Hindi, this tree is known as deodar, derived from dev (‘divine’).
Lebanon cedar is mentioned several times in the Old Testament:
Moses told Hebrew priests to use the bark of this tree to cure leprosy. (Leviticus 14:1-4)
Hebrew prophet Isaiah used the Lebanon cedar as a metaphor for the haughty pride of humans. (Isaiah 2:13)
King Solomon ordered the Temple of Jerusalem to be built of cedar timber.
And, finally, the Song of Solomon, 5:15, “His legs are like marble pillars, set in sockets of finest gold. His posture is stately, like the noble cedars of Mount Lebanon.”
The generic name is the classical Latin word for pines, maybe originally stemming from Sanskrit pitu (‘sap’, ‘resin’), alluding to the ample production of resin in this genus.
Female cones are to 7 cm long, dark purple when immature. The seeds are a popular food item for Clark’s nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), and the scales easily break off, when this bird feeds on the seeds. The male cones are scarlet. – Clark’s nutcracker is described on the page Animals – Birds: Birds in the United States and Canada.
This tree is native to montane areas, from British Columbia southwards through Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, with a patchy occurrence in Oregon, Nevada, and California.
It has been classified as endangered by the IUCN.
It may grow to 35 m tall, with a trunk diameter up to 1 m, occasionally to 2 m. The bark is orange-red, thick and deeply fissured at the base, thin and flaky near the top. The needles are in pairs, slender, to 16 cm long, bright green. The cone is stout, to 11 cm long and 5 cm wide, green at first, but over the next two years changing to glossy red-brown.
The name Calabrian pine stems from a naturalized population in Calabria, the southernmost part of the Italian Peninsula. When this pine was first described, the type specimen was from this region. In ancient times, Calabria was known as Brutium, reflected in the specific name.
This tree is very variable, some straight, others crooked, with an irregular crown and a trunk diameter up to 90 cm. It may reach heights of up to 45 m, but is most often much lower. The bark cracks into plates of irregular form. The cones are to 7 cm long, the thin scales having a short prickle. They open at maturity, but remain for a long time on the tree.
It is native to the eastern United States, from Pennsylvania and southern New York State southwards to northern Florida, and thence westwards to southern Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas. It grows in different habitats, from rather dry uplands to wet flood plains.
These peculiar trees are Great Basin bristlecone pines, a species restricted to high-altitude areas in eastern California, Nevada, and Utah. Apart from certain clones, including a creosote (Larrea tridentata) in the Mohave Desert, whose age is estimated at c. 9,400 years, this pine is the oldest living organism on Earth, a few of them being around 5,000 years old.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘long-living’.
Other photos, depicting these remarkable trees, may be seen on the page Plants: Plants of Sierra Nevada.
It is native to southern Europe, from the Pyrenees across the Alps to the Carpathians, and southwards to the Apennines in Italy, and to higher mountains of the Balkans. In the late 1700s and the 1800s, it was widely planted to stabilize sand dunes in Scandinavia, Finland, and the Baltic region, and has become widely naturalized there. In Scandinavia, it is regarded as an invasive plant.
Syrup can be made from boiling buds and young cones.
It may attain a height of up to 25 m, occasionally to 34 m, with a trunk diameter up to 1.2 m. However, it is mostly much smaller, stunted and twisted by the fierce winds blowing from the sea. It can resist drought and often grows on dry, rocky soil.
The needles are in pairs, green or bluish-green, to 16 cm long. Female cones are to 10 cm long, arranged in clusters of up to 5. They are strongly reflexed, with stiff scales that are thin on the side of the cone facing the branch, greatly thickened on the side facing away. Each scale has a stout, to 1.2 cm long spine, reflected by the specific name, which means ‘rough with spines’, derived from murex (‘spike’).
The common name arose, when this tree was first identified near the Mission of San Luis Obispo, California.
The bark is grey or yellowish-brown, fissured on older specimens and split into scaly plates. The needles are arranged in pairs, to 16 cm long, pale or dark green. Male cones sit in dense clusters, to 2.5 cm long and 7 mm wide, yellow when ripe. Female cones are solitary or in whorls of 2-5, to 10 cm long and 4 cm wide, with rounded scales.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘black’, supposedly referring to the colour of the bark. As the bark is mostly grey or yellowish-brown, this name is misleading.
It grows to 30 m tall, in sheltered places in cultivation sometimes to 60 m. The branches point upwards, forming a rounded crown. The bark is grey or brown, with fissures. The needles are bright green, slender, in clusters of 3, to 15 cm long. Female cones are ovoid, brown, to 17 cm long, attached to the branch at an oblique angle.
In its natural range, it is seriously threatened by an introduced species of fungus, the pitch canker (Fusarium circinatum).
The specific name refers to cracks, radiating from a protuberance on the cone scales.
It is common from Afghanistan eastwards to Bhutan and south-eastern Tibet, growing at elevations between 500 and 2,000 m.
It is extensively cultivated, the wood utilized as timber and to make furniture and charcoal. It also yields turpentine. The resin is used in a number of products, including paper, soap, cosmetics, paint, varnish, rubber, polish, and bangles. Tannin from the bark is used in dyeing. Seeds are edible when roasted.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves are used as a diuretic, the oil for rheumatic ailments, the resin for inflammations and various skin problems. In Nepal, the resin is used for gastric problems, and also applied to cuts and wounds. The Tamang people of Nepal make tea from the resin and drink it for cough and chest problems.
The specific name honours Scottish surgeon and botanist William Roxburgh (1751-1815), known as the founding father of Indian botany. He published numerous works on Indian plants, illustrated by drawings made by Indian artists. The word chir has many meanings in Sanskrit and Hindi, one being ‘long-lived’.
It grows to 35 m tall, occasionally to 45 m, with a trunk diameter up to 1 m, rarely to 1.7 m. The bark is thick and flaky, reddish on younger trees, greyish-brown on older individuals. On mature trees, most of the trunk is without branches, which are crowded at the top, forming a rounded crown. The needles are bluish-green, very thin, to 5 cm long, in clusters of 2, occasionally 3 or 4 on younger trees. Female cones are pale brown or yellowish-brown, globular, to 7.5 cm long.
In 2014, the Scots pine was elected the national tree of Scotland.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘growing in forests’, derived from silva (‘forest’).
The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘the false Tsuga’ (hemlock, see below).
It may grow extremely large and very old, sometimes reaching a height of 100 m, with a trunk diameter up to 2.5 m, rarely to almost 5 m. It often lives for 500 years, and specimens about 1,300 years old have been recorded.
The bark on younger trees is grey, thin, and smooth, but becomes very thick and fissured on older trees, sometimes to 36 cm thick. Patches of dark brown bark alternate with paler brown and corky bark. The thick bark is an adaptation to be able to resist fire. The needles are flat and soft, to 4 cm long, often arranged singly, encircling the branches.
Female cones are pale brown, pendulous, to 10 cm long, with persistent scales and long bracts with 3 lobes, which protrude above each scale. This character makes it very easy to identify the tree. A picture, depicting these bracts, is shown on the page Nature: Nature’s patterns.
The specific name was given in honour of Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), who participated, as surgeon and botanist, in an expedition around the world on board HMS Discovery, under the leadership of Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798).
The English name honours Scottish gardener and botanist David Douglas (1799-1834), who explored the North American flora during three expeditions. He introduced Douglas-fir and other conifers, especially pine species, as well as a number of bushes and herbs, into British cultivation. In a letter to Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865), director of the Botanical Gardens of Glasgow University, he wrote, “You will begin to think I manufacture pines at my pleasure.”
Douglas died under mysterious circumstances while climbing Mauna Kea in Hawaii in 1834. Apparently, he fell into a pit trap and was possibly crushed by a bull that fell into the same trap. He was last seen at the hut of Englishman Edward ‘Ned’ Gurney, a bullock hunter and escaped convict. Gurney was suspected in Douglas’s death, as Douglas was said to have been carrying more money than Gurney subsequently delivered with the body. (Source: Nisbet, J. 2009. The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest. Sasquatch Books)
The generic name is the Japanese name of Tsuga sieboldii, whereas the common name alludes to the similarity in the smell of the crushed foliage to that of the poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). The foliage, however, is not poisonous.
A large tree, to 45 m tall, with scaly, grey or blackish-brown bark, alternating with pale yellowish-brown, corky bark. The linear and flat needles are olive-green, to 2 cm long, arranged spirally, grooved on the upperside, with two white stomatic bands below. Male cones are single or in groups up to 5, purple, to 8 mm long. The small, pendulous female cones are reddish-brown, ovoid, to 2 cm long and 1 cm wide.
Taiwan is home to a variety of Chinese hemlock, formosana, which is quite common in mixed broad-leaved forests in montane areas of the island, at altitudes between 1,700 and 3,500 m. Some authorities question the validity of this variety, claiming that it is identical with the type.
This species is very common in the Himalaya, growing at elevations between 2,000 and 3,600 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to northern Myanmar, south-eastern Tibet, and south-western China, with an isolated occurrence in northern Vietnam.
The timber is used for construction, furniture, and foot-bridges, and the needles are burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘shrubby’ or ‘overgrown with thorns’. The connection is hard to see in both cases.
The fruits are very distinctive, ball-shaped, to 4 cm across, consisting of numerous small nut-like achenes, each ending in a spike. They are arranged in pendent clusters, up to 12 together.
The generic name is a Latinized version of Ancient Greek platanos, which was the name of maple trees (Acer). It refers to the maple-like leaves of the oriental plane tree (below). Some North American species are called sycamores, likewise referring to the leaves, which resemble those of the European sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus).
It is distributed from the Balkans and Turkey southwards to Jordan, but may be a native as far west as Italy, and as far east as Kashmir, where it is very commonly planted up to an elevation of about 2,400 m.
The bark is used medicinally.
The trunk is to 1 m across, usually divided into two or more large trunks splitting into many branches. The multi-coloured bark may be white, tawny, pinkish-grey, or pale brown on younger trees, becoming darker on older trees. The palmately divided leaves, to 25 cm long and wide, have 3-5 pointed lobes. The species is deciduous, the leaves turning a beautiful golden or orange in autumn. The globular fruit is to 1 cm across.
The specific name refers to the inflorescence, which is a raceme.
It grows to 25 m tall, trunk erect, mottled due to the outer bark flaking off, exposing the smooth, white inner bark. The palmate leaves, to 30 cm long, have 3 to 5 deep lobes, to 15 cm wide, margins entire or with tiny teeth. The flowers are red, solitary or in pendent racemes. The fruits are brown, to 3 cm across, becoming fluffy late in autumn due to a tuft of long hairs at the base of each achene.
The specific name honours American botanist Charles Wright (1811-1885), an avid collector of plants, who mainly worked in Connecticut, Texas, and Cuba.
Some authorities claim that it originated in Spain in the 1600s, where the two mother species were planted side by side. Others point to the Royal Tradescant Arboretum, southern London, where John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662) was a gardener. P. occidentalis as well as P. orientalis are mentioned from this arboretum, so the hybrid possibly originated here, as indicated by the name London plane.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek zizyphon, perhaps borrowed from zizafun, the Persian word for Z. lotus.
The fruit is tasty, eaten dried, candied, pickled, and as so-called ber butter, and also taken as a beverage. It is very rich in vitamin C. Ripe fruits are dried in the sun, ground, and kept for out-of-season. In Ethiopia, the fruits are used as fish poison. The flowers yield honey.
The wood is hard and yields excellent timber, used as well lining, and for boats, tools, and legs for bedsteads. It is also used as firewood and makes good charcoal. In certain African countries, the thorny shrubs are made into corral fences to protect livestock. The seed oil can be utilized as excellent biodiesel. Indian jujube is also widely used in folk medicine, described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
The specific name refers to Mauritius, where this plant was first collected.
Most species have white flowers, some pink or red. The fruit is a pome, berry-like, with a swollen receptacle, enclosing 2-5 carpels.
The generic name is derived from the Latin cotonium, i.e. cydonium malum, ‘the apple (or quince) from Kydonia’, a town in Ancient Greece, situated on the northern coast of Crete, near present-day Chania.
It is found in the Himalaya, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Bhutan and south-eastern Tibet, growing at elevations between 2,200 and 3,400 m.
In Nepal, the fruit is eaten to treat blood deficiency.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘growing in cold places’.
The fruit is a drupe, with a fleshy outer layer and an inner hard stone, enclosing the single seed.
The generic name is a Latinized version of the Ancient Greek name of the plum tree, prounos.
Like other names, including the German Kirsch and the Italian cerasa, the English name cherry stems from the Latin cerasus, which was adopted from the Greek kerasos, the ancient Greek name of the cherry tree. Cerasus was also the ancient Roman name of the modern town Giresun, situated on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, from where cherries during the Roman Era were exported to Rome.
The specific name, derived from the Latin avis (‘bird’), relates to the fact that various bird species love cherries.
The role of wild cherry in folklore and traditional medicine is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
This species often produces an abundance of fruits. If they are not picked by people, they remain on the tree, until they are over-ripe and fall to the ground. Wild birds are not at all able to eat all these berries, which often lie almost in layers on the ground beneath the tree. Rotting cherry plums are much praised by butterflies and wasps. Pictures, depicting the fruits, are presented on the page Autumn.
Leaves are simple, lobed, or pinnately divided. Flowers are in clusters, and the fruit is a pome, with a swollen receptacle, enclosing 2-5 carpels.
The name whitebeam is from Middle English witbeam (‘white tree’), alluding to the colour of the hairs on the underside of the leaves of some species. The alternative name mountain-ash refers to the leaves of some species, whose leaves resemble those of the common ash (Fraxinus excelsior).
The generic name is the classical Latin word for whitebeams, rooted in the Indo-European sor (‘red’), alluding to the fruits of most species.
It is most common in southern Sweden (hence its common name), and also occurs on scattered locations in Estonia, Latvia, south-western Finland, and northern Poland, and on the Danish island of Bornholm. It is often planted elsewhere, especially along roads.
The leaves are broad, mostly heart-shaped, with a long, slender stalk, which is flattened, making the leaf rustle in the wind. Inflorescences are pendent catkins, with numerous tiny flowers clustered around a central axis, each flower surrounded by papery bracts. The flowers are wind-pollinated, seeds fluffy, spread by the wind.
Several species display brilliant yellow foliage in the autumn, examples of which are shown on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
The generic name is the classical Latin word for poplars. The common name cottonwood alludes to the fluffy seeds. The name aspen is derived from Old English æspe, originally from Proto-Germanic aspe (‘shaking’), alluding to the fluttering leaves of European aspen (P. tremula).
It is distributed from Pakistan eastwards across the northern Himalaya and southern Tibet to northern Myanmar and the Yunnan Province, growing in forests, along rivers, and in open areas, found at elevations between 1,500 and 3,600 m.
It is often cultivated in Tibetan areas. The wood is used for construction, branches for roofs, and the foliage is cut for fodder. In Nepal, a paste of the bark is applied to muscular swellings.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘hairy’. It may refer to the leaf-stalk, the underside of the leaves, the bracts, or the seeds.
The inflorescence is a catkin, with numerous tiny flowers clustered around a central axis, each flower surrounded by papery bracts. Catkins are erect, pollinated by bees and other insects.
The generic name is the classical Latin name of willows. It probably stems from the word sal (‘salt’). However, the original meaning of sal was ‘grey’ or ‘smudged’. In the old days, salt was not white, but dirty-grey – just like the colour of the bark of the grey willow (S. cinerea).
In the wild, most willow species do not grow very old. The goat willow already starts decaying, when it is about 50 years old. In nature Reserve Vorsø, Horsens Fjord, Denmark, I followed the decay of an old specimen for 38 years, from 1982 to 2020, when the last remains of the tree had almost disappeared. Pictures, depicting this tree, are shown on the page Decay.
The specific name is derived from the Latin caper (’billy-goat’) or capra (’nanny goat’), indicating that goats are fond of eating the foliage of this species.
The generic name commemorates Spanish apothecary and botanist Juan Salvador y Bosca (1598-1681), who collected animals and plants in areas around the western Mediterranean.
The fruit is edible, with a sweet taste, and is a rich source of calcium. However, it may irritate the mouth, sometimes producing tingling and ulceration. The plant is utilized medicinally, the seed oil and leaves for treatment of rheumatism, the leaves also to relieve cough, the fruit for enlarged spleen, rheumatism, tumours, fever, and kidney and gallbladder stones. The wood is used for construction, agricultural implements, and boats, and locally it is an important fuel.
In Hindi, this species is called pilu, mentioned in the great epic Mahabharata, in the Karna Parva, Chapter 30, v. 24: “When shall I be amongst those ladies, eating cakes of flour and meat and balls of pounded barley, mixed with skimmed milk, in the forests, having many pleasant paths of sami and pilu and karira!” (Sami, also known as shami, refers to Prosopis cineraria, and karira to Capparis decidua).
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘resembling Olea’ (the olive tree). What it refers to is not clear.
A near relative, S. persica, is called toothbrush tree. For centuries, twigs of this species have been used as a natural toothbrush.
These plants, comprising about 130 species of deciduous trees or large shrubs, are widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, with most species in Asia, others in Europe, northern Africa, and North and Central America. Only a single species occurs in the Southern Hemisphere.
The leaves are palmate in most species, and the foliage often turns a brilliant red or yellow in autumn. A number of pictures, depicting this autumn foliage, are found on the page Autumn.
The fruit consists of 2 connected single-seeded units, each with a long wing. When ripe, the fruits are often propelled a considerable distance by the wind. An account of the effectiveness of this spreading is described on the page Nature reserve Vorsø: Expanding wilderness.
The specific name is the classical Latin word for maples.
The specific name is derived from the Latin campus (‘field’ or ‘plain’), probably alluding to the fact that this tree often grows in open areas.
At an early stage, it was introduced to North America, where it is now regarded as an invasive plant in many eastern states. For this reason, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have banned planting of this tree.
In autumn, the foliage attains a bright yellow colour.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘resembling Platanus‘ (plane trees), referring to the angular leaf lobes, which resemble those on the leaves of the oriental plane tree (Platanus orientalis, above).
An example of the effective spreading of sycamore maple is seen on the island of Vorsø, a nature reserve in Horsens Fjord, Denmark. On this island, former fields were abandoned in two steps, in 1928 and in 1978. In both cases, thousands of maple seeds, stemming from a few trees in plantations at the edge of the fields, were spread by the wind. The succession of these maple forests is described in detail on the page Nature Reserve Vorsø: Expanding wilderness.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘the false Platanus‘ (plane trees), referring to the leaves resembling the leaves of these trees.
The generic name is the Latin name of the sessile oak (Quercus petraea, see Fagaceae above), possibly derived from aigilops, the Greek name of an oak with edible acorns. As horsechestnut fruits are poisonous, it is indeed a bit of a mystery, why Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) named the genus Aesculus. However, it must be pointed out that the meal is edible after boiling the fruits, and it was formerly used as cattle and chicken feed.
The common name horsechestnut comes in part from the Turkish name of the European species, at kestanesi, and the horse-part stems from the usage of the fruits to treat ailments in horses, including excessive wind. The American common name buckeye stems from an American indigenous tribe, who called the nut hetuck, which means buck-eye, alluding to the markings on the nut, which resembles the eye of a deer.
An American species, the California buckeye (A. californica), is presented on the page Plants: Plants of Sierra Nevada, whereas Indian horsechestnut (A. indica) is dealt with on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
The specific name is derived from the Greek hippos (‘horse’), and the Turkish name of the plant, see genus above.
The generic name is derived from Hindi madhu (‘honey’), alluding to the honey extracted from M. longifolia (below).
It grows to about 20 m tall, with a trunk diameter up to 80 cm, bark grey or reddish-brown, thick and vertically furrowed on older individuals. The leaves are elliptic or oblong, to 20 cm long. Most of them are shed between February and April, and at this time the musky-scented flowers appear, clustered at the tip of the branches or in the leaf axils. The flower stalks are furry, green or pink, to about 5 cm long, corolla globular, thick, cream-coloured. The fruit is green, egg-shaped, berry-like, to 5 cm long.
The flowers are edible and used to constitute an important food item for various tribal peoples. They yield honey, and are also made into jam, and a syrup, which is taken for various ailments. They are also fermented to produce an alcoholic drink, named mahua, which is an essential part in traditional celebrations. The fruit is an important food item of tribal people in Odisha.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with long leaves’.
These trees have reddish bark, often peeling into large flakes. Needles are linear, flat, dark green above, pale green below, to 4 cm long and 3 mm broad. The cones are highly modified, each one containing only a single seed, surrounded by a bright red, fleshy, berry-like aril, which is edible. The seed, however, is very poisonous.
The generic name is derived from the Ancient Persian word for yew, taxs (‘bow’), indicating that the Persians, and also the Scythians, made bows from its wood. The English name is derived from an ancient Proto-Indo-European word for these trees.
This species can grow extremely old, possibly to more than 2,000 years.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with berries’, derived from bacca (’berry’).
It often grows to a height of 45 m, occasionally to 60 m, and older trees have large buttresses, sometimes to 6 m high. The bark is grey and often shiny. The leaves are stalked, blade heart-shaped or sometimes rounded, to 26 cm long and 20 cm wide, pointed, margin toothed. Both male and female flowers are in spikes to 20 cm long.
The species is deciduous, shedding the leaves for several months, in Indochina often between January and April, in Australia between October and December.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek tetra (‘four’) and melos (‘part’), alluding to the flower having 4 sepals. The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘with naked flowers’.
In fact, Welwitschia is a tree, but most of it is underground, the roots obtaining water 20 m or more below the desert surface. This remarkable plant is described in depth on the page Countries and places: Namibia – a desert country.