I made What is a tree? for the Midsummer Arts Festival at Aden Country Park, near Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire, on Sunday 19 June. It’s a set of poems on botanical labels attached to trees around the park. The poems aim, as in a riddle, to provide an initially puzzling, but also recognisably accurate, description of the tree in question.
Below are some notes about the ideas behind the poems.
(1) Recognisable by its black buds, the ash is one of the last trees to leaf in spring.
(2) The beech’s smooth bark has made it a favourite for inscriptions over the centuries; these expand as the tree grows.
(3) Their branches used for besoms in the past, birches create an environment favoured by many plants, fungi, moths and birds.
(4) To encounter a cherry was considered auspicious and fateful.
(5) The elder’s branches don’t burn well; its flowers don’t have a very pleasant smell, but make a fine drink.
(6) The horse-chestnut is easily recognisable at different times of year.
(7) Lime flowers attract bees in numbers.
(8) Planted outside houses to fend off evil spirits, the rowan’s red berries worn as a necklace were considered protective.
(9) The water-resistant resin in the wood of the Scots pine makes it good for boat-building; rosin (a residue from pine wood) is used for treating the bows of stringed instruments.
(10) Spruce wood was used in early aircraft construction, including the Wright Brother’s Kitty Hawk.
(11) A non-native tree, it’s unclear when the sycamore first arrived in Scotland. Its wood produces much heat when burned, while trees that show a ‘flame’ patterning in the wood are favoured by violin makers.
(12) Yews are often found in churchyards. The middle two lines are taken from Wordsworth’s poem ‘Yew Trees’.
With thanks to the Friends of Aden Country Park for commissioning this work.