• Séverine


Not the type you’d find in a hardware shop, of course. Here, I’m talking about the beautiful tree from Asia: Pterocarya fraxinifolia or Caucasian Wingnut. I first encountered the Caucasian Wingnut tree in the gardens of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, last October. This sprawling tree, with deeply fissured bark, and compound pinnate leaves was catching some of the tourists’ attention, like mine. As well as taking endless photos of the tree, I took a pic of the descriptive board as a botanical note to self to find out more about it. Internet trawling revealed that the Caucasian Wingnut is part of the Juglandaceae or Walnut family, and is one of 6 species in the Wingnut genus. They also have the dubious privilege to qualify as relict trees. This means that in their native regions they used to be much more widespread, but due to environmental pressures, such as climate change, loss of habitat or urbanisation, they are now under threat. Iran’s prehistoric Hyrcanian forest is one such habitat and was designated World Heritage site by UNESCO last year. Back in January, In my quest to discover more about trees, I joined an inspiring walk around Wythenshawe Park, organised by the Manchester Field Club led by contagious enthusiastic and expert botanist Debbie Wallace. The first tree we observed was an unwieldy specimen with some remnants of pendulous winged fruits: a Caucasian Wingnut! In pure botanical mode, with hand lenses, we observed closely its naked buds. Indeed, no bud scales to protect the coming season’s growth, just hairy folded leaves in minute fan shape. More recently, local arboriculturalist and friend, Pat Walsh, tested me by asking if I could identify an unusual tree in Chorlton’s Beech Road Park. I first noticed the low trunk splitting into 2 main stems, the sprawling habit jarring with the slightly neater Beech trees. And then quickly as other features revealed themselves, such as the catkins and the reddish unfolding leaves, I could acknowledge the presence of a Caucasian Wingnut. As recent events make us all slow down, I am reminded of the many rewards to be gained from a world closely observed. Simply noticing the characteristics of a plant, being able to give it a name and knowing a bit about its history, makes me feel more connected to the world. I’m glad to say that I’m now on nodding terms with the Wingnut trees of Manchester parks.

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