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A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham. This is an extract from a piece called ‘The British Oak’, written for the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society newsletter, September 1991.

Oak is Britain’s national tree. Hearts of oak were our ships and an oak tree appears on the head of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society notepaper. Yet how many of us can tell the two native British oaks apart – or even realise that there are two? …

We have the Lowland Oak, [in Wales] predominantly in the Vale of Glamorgan, and the Upland Oak, predominantly on the Coalfield hills. If you live along the South Border Ridges backing Cardiff – Pentyrch or thereabouts – you will have both, and also a wide range of hybrids between, so you may be excused a certain degree of confusion.

160903 Oak painting Mary Gillham

Mary Gillham’s 1962 watercolour of a hybrid oak

The Lowland or Pedunculate Oak has stalked acorns and unstalked leaves [as in my photo, left below]. (A peduncle is a flower of fruit talk and the name applies to these.) The ‘proper’ name was formerly a neatly descriptive Quercus pedunculata until some egg-headed boffin decided to change it to Quercus robur, which seems to mean very little.

The Upland, Durmast or Sessile Oak has stalkless acorns, sessile, or sitting directly on the woody twig, and stalks to the leaves, which taper to the base instead of terminating in two ear flaps [as in Mary’s photo, below right]. The ‘proper’ name of this was Quercus sessiliflora until (probably the same) taxonomist changed it to a meaningless Quercus petraea.

These scientists do so like to make things difficult for us. Well, yes, so does Mother Nature. I, too, live on the Border Ridges, so my oaks have stalks to both acorns and leaves. That’s the sort of thing which happens with all this indiscriminate sexual intercourse!

For the full story about the Mary Gillham Archive Project, check out our website, https://marygillhamarchiveproject.wordpress.com/  and follow our progress on Facebook and on Twitter.

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