Friday, October 03, 2008

Early autumn

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was an example of lovely autumn colour. It's a horse chestnut tree not far from my front door.

Unfortunately, this rather fine example of a field maple (I think) right opposite will tell you it's not quite time for autumn yet:

As you can see, still in its summer finery.

Around here all the horse chestnuts took on an autumn colour in about August - you could tell which trees in a hedgerow were chestnuts as they were the only ones which were bright yellow. It was the same story last year. If you look more closely at the leaves you can see the colouring isn't anything to do with autumn at all.

This is chestnut leaf miner damage. It's caused by the larva of a moth which has become absolutely rampant in the south-east of England. It comes from southern Europe, and until recently was minding its own business over there, but in 2002 the first ones crossed the water and turned up here. I believe it's now making its way north.

The Forestry Commission are keeping an eye on it, and they've asked people to let them know if it appears in places where it hasn't yet been seen (a few more dots are ominously appearing on their map each year). Apparently, dramatic though it looks, it doesn't do any damage to the tree, though if it appears at the same time as a nasty bark disease called bleeding canker the combination can be fatal.

It seems to me, though, that if you completely defoliate a tree every year for a number of years, it can't do it much good in the long run. I love horse chestnuts - like most people I played conkers as a kid, and I love the fact that they're so big and strong and sort of ancient English forest-y. They're the sort of trees you use as landmarks, the sort of trees you rely on for your sense of identity and place. So to see them all looking so sick, so early in the year, makes me fear for their future. It feels all wrong, like daffodils in December. If this is global warming, you can keep it.


R. Pete Free said...

It is absolutely heart-breaking. There's a fabulous avenue at Barrington Court not far from here that have the miner and the canker. Most will have to come down for public safety. What will we plant instead?

HappyMouffetard said...

I've seen this too, and it makes me feel so sad. As you say, over a period of time it must weaken the trees and it breaks my heart that future generations might not know the fun of running through the fallen leaves and picking up conkers. I've never seen English elms in all their glory because of Dutch Elm Disease, and couldn't bear to lose the horse chestnuts in the same way.

VP said...

I wrote about it here:

I've interpreted Forest Research's info slightly differently - they say it results in reduced vigour. And I'm concerned it's affecting the tree's reproductive capability.

However, it's nowhere near as bad as bleeding canker :(

The Constant Gardener said...

yes... I'm another one who's never seen a proper elm tree. I was interested to hear there is some acceptance that it's affecting the trees' vigour VP - I've always thought so, despite a rather glib assurance from Alan Titchmarsh when these symptoms first started appearing that it doesn't hurt the trees at all. Mind you that was in an item in Hort Week which was more preoccupied with bleeding canker than leaf miner - as you say, a far more worrying problem.

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