INFLUENCE OF SITUATION-HOW TREES ADAPT THEMSELVES TO IT-EFFECT OF AGE, WIND, FROST, AND SNOW-MOONLIGHT
Influence of situation.--As a rule young trees, when cultivated with others of a different species (to nurse them by their shelter in early life), are crowded together to promote straight long timber in the trunks ; for a tree that has not elbow room devotes all its energy to reaching the light above it, and the lower side boughs are weak and dwindle away. When it has overtopped its neighbours, or they have been thinned out, it begins to expand with vigour. Such a tree would present quite a different appearance if grown by itself and permitted to develop naturally. The tall straight trunk would then divide into large boughs at no great height from the ground, and the lateral boughs would spread to some considerable distance from the trunk. In an exposed position a solitary tree is likely to grow squat in form, or to become straggling, denuded of many limbs and scanty of foliage. Others seem unable to push their way into the inhospitable space, and remain short in stature and overcrowded with internal forms shorn close by the wind like overgrown bushes matted, dwarfed, and constrained. But if an exposed position is a calamity for sonic trees, it is life to others ; we find the frail-looking Birch luxuriating in high positions and withstanding the severest cold ; in fact, I understand it is the only species of tree in Greenland, and is a common inhabitant of Russia and Siberia, though in the more northern climates it becomes dwarfed to a mere bush. It is common knowledge that trees have--like all other vegetation--a preference for certain soils, and develop fine or poor specimens in relation to how they are suited ; but it may not have been generally noticed that a wet or dry site has a distinct influence on the colouring of the leaves in autumn.
Trees easily adapt themselves to positions ; a chance seed dropped on a rock will find nourishment among the moss, and the roots-- gripping with a tenacious hold the uneven surface of the stone and pushing their way into the crevices--will reach in time the soil ; and the tree will flourish in spite of such a precarious start in life. A tree overblown can often exist by the few unsevered roots left to it, and can put forth new vertical shoots at right angles to the stem, though its habit. normally would be to bear them at perhaps half that angle. Large poles of Willow are so tenacious of life that, if planted, they will sometimes form roots--just as a small cutting would--and become before long promising young trees. Stacks of Withies are often seen with their buttends in water peppered over with fresh young green,
ILLUS. 46. OAK TREE DEFORMED BY BEING CROWDED
while logs of Elm ready for firewood will sometimes break into leaf. The old stools in the copses of Spanish Chestnut, Oak, and Hazel, though cropped every seven years, yet make a fresh start, and the same season may give forth shoots of four or five feet. in length. If a tree is crowded on one side, it always makes good use of vacant space on the other. Trees that fringe the roadway find elbow-room above it
PENCIL STUDY OF FALLEN WILLOW BY R. V. C.
until they meet one another and form those delightful arches of living green through which the road winds. Trees overhanging a roadway are always pleasing, for their pose accords with their position, and the trunk and lower boughs continue the curved lines of the shelving banks and road. Elsewhere they might seem unbalanced--might seem to be leaning over and sheltering nothing ; we want the road or bridle path to which they are so harmoniously related.
Effect of old age. Some trees in their old age take a totally different
form to that of their younger days--the Scots Pine or Stone Pine, for instance, is cone-shaped when young (then spaces of sky are visible cutting in from the outline to the trunk between the tiers of branches) ; in its old age it might be caricatured as an umbrella ; since all but the upper boughs have decayed, leaving a bare trunk. Again, a Larch no longer remains feathered from tip to base as it grows older, but retains merely the upper part of the cone supported by an immense bare trunk. It is a feature of a well-grown tree that the extremity of each main bough is terminated by a straight line, and a number of these lines go to the building up of the outline shapes. In mature specimens of many sorts of trees these straight lines are practically unbroken, though serrated by the unevenness of the foliage or twigs, and small spaces of sky are seen between them at the edge. In a later period these spaces are widened by the loss of branches and the edges become more deeply cut--gaps appear in place of boughs and symmetry is lost, though a new element of irregular or grotesque forms is gained. These borders of straight edges are a feature of the Elm, Oak, Sycamore among others, but are seldom to be found on a Beech, and are absent in most young trees. A total dissimilarity in appearance between young and old trees, as we see in the Scots Pine, is due to the fact that, unlike most trees, it has not the power to form new boughs below those already grown. As tier by tier the lower boughs decay and fall, the trunk--still increasing in height and girth--is left bare except for those stumps and nodes that mark the position of former boughs. In contrast to this law we may quote the hedgerow Elm, which for every bough lopped from its trunk responds by sending out a new crop of young shoots, and these often form so dense a clothing that the trunk itself is invisible. The branches of a young tree, hastening to reach the limit of the outline allotted to them, make great strides each season, and one finds the vigour of an Elder (or perhaps a shoot from the stool of a Spanish Chestnut) enabling it to form robust shoots some six or ten feet long ; but impetuosity like this cannot be maintained throughout life, and as their span draws near the yearly growth of the twigs may be measured by half inches, and the closeness of multiplied forms is seen instead of the long loose sprays of a former period. In young trees the branches are drawn
ILLUS. 47. THE TOP OF A YOUNG SYCAMORE SHOWING THE REGULARITY OF ITS PAIRED SHOOTS
upwards towards the sky, but presently those formed above them obscure it, and they have to seek the light by spreading horizontally, thus a larger angle between stem and bough becomes an irrevocable feature of maturity. The upward tendency of the branches is a point to be noticed as common to all young trees. The young Birch with stiffened branch formations set at an acute angle shows but little plasticity, and the moulding of the branchlets into the graceful pendant lines to be taken later on is merely hinted at. A Spanish Chestnut or an Oak through early and middle life has a freedom in growing unconnected with its old age. The extreme vigour and preciseness of form in the saplings of an Ash or Sycamore (Illus. 47), the regularity of their paired shoots, their smooth texture, variety of contour, with the regular diminishing in the proportions of the old to the new wood, give pleasure not unconnected with wonder at the exactness of equipment and regulations for growing ; that, if followed, would make each Sycamore exactly like any other Sycamore, and every Ash appear as a twin brother. That this does not happen is chiefly due to an habitual failure year by year of certain buds to perform their allotted part of producing branches as their companions are doing, and these wasters have as great an influence on the eventual shape of the mature tree as
have those buds that bring forth boughs with unfailing regularity- a matter we shall inquire into in detail presently. In a very young tree--despite the want of grace, sturdiness, or complexity, for which it will be noted when fully grown--there is always sufficient character for its identification. The right angles of the Oak may be diminutive, but they exist, and its dislike to forming branches on the under side of a bough is in evidence. Often a branch formed on the under side is crowded out of existence later on as the boughs become horizontal (Illus. 48). A glance at the crowded buds explains the bushiness assumed later on, just as the widely spaced buds of an Ash foretell an open system of branching (Illus. 47). Reference again to the stem of a Birch shows the youngster with a red-brown shining bark instead of the silver-greys, salmon, and pinks we see on the older trees. This difference comes about by the peeling off of the outer bark, so exhibiting the linings previously hidden under it. Twigs on a grown tree have later on to assume a new position for display of their leaves to the light, as their attitude, when free to the air, becomes untenable when shadowed by masses of -foliage above, so they curve and recurve in a way suggestive of human ingenuity--but again we are trespassing on Part III of the book.
Oaks in their extreme old age acquire a pictorial interest quite unrelated to them as trees merely. They are just records of time and the stress of life--gaunt fantastic skeletons, survivors of the time past ; and they are seen at their best under a thunderstorm such as they have for centuries defied, or in the mystery of nightfall when an owl startles the silence and the nightjar flaps ghostly with a warning cry (Illus. 49).
ILLUS. 48. "THE OAK"
The age of these veterans is prodigious. A life of from five hundred to a thousand or more years has been estimated for an Oak--a wonderful age, but surpassed by the Yew, which, if we may credit statistics, has but
ILLUS. 49. THE LAST STAGE
reached middle age at three hundred, and in abnormal instances has lived five thousand years.
Effect of wind--We have spoken of the permanent habit of growth on trees subjected to habitual wind from one quarter, and for an effect of a great storm it might be well to choose such trees as models. The effect of wind on different species is by no means similar ; the slender, Birch boughs bend before it, offering no resistance ; the stiff branches of the Oak and Alder defy it ; Elm boughs sway to it, and the pendent Larch twigs swing in unison. The leaves of the Poplar, Aspen, and Willow flap up and down and also rotate. This latter spinning movement that is so characteristic of the Grey Poplar and Aspen (caused by the twisted axis of the long stalk) would be impossible for the leaves of a Chestnut, nor could it be performed by any leaves attached to the twig by sturdy or short stalks. Trees are often indices of the prevailing wind, by the heeling of the trunks and the straying of the boughs from the windy quarter. Saplings caught in a strong breeze bend till the stem resembles a bow, though the stiffness of the lower portion just prevents a geometrical regularity in the line ; the ends of the supple branchlets to windward cross the stern and stretch out on the lee side. A similar effect is seen on the Lombardy Poplar, though the stoutness of the trunk prevents it taking part in the manoeuvre except towards the apex. The usual appearance of a shimmer of light over the foliage of most trees is of course due to the paler colour of the under side of the leaves being exposed when they are turned over. Nearly all leaves are tinted with a paler hue on the under side, and the texture of the two surfaces is dissimilar. A pure silver is found on the under side in one species of Willow, and many leaves that are dark and glossy on the upper side (Holly, Bay-leaved Willow, &c.) are dull beneath. So we find particular greys that belong to certain trees on a windy day--a grey that belongs to the leaf but is tempered by the colour of the sky. Ruskin, in one of his tirades against the old masters of landscape, attacks Salvator Rosa for letting stiff boughs bend before a storm, and for my part I can listen peacefully to this edict ; but students--to read Ruskin with profit--require as much intelligence in sifting chaff from grain as he showed in his writing. Ruskin should be read for the pleasure derived from style in writing, and for the bias for good that will be gained from any teaching in which sincere homage and adoration of nature is the prevailing note. Modern Painters makes one think, but the first use of the thoughts should be to analyse and debate on the author's dogmas and contentions.
Frost and snow.--If anyone tells you that only broad strong effects in
ILLUS. 50. A FALLEN LARCH
landscape can produce great thoughts in the spectator, go out one frosty morning and look at the Brambles and Whin bushes cobwebbed and heavy with dew, every leaf sparkling under the melting sunlight and throwing blue shadows over the stiff, rimed grass. The man who sniffs at these as " petty details " may be a good picturemaker, but was not born with the artistic instinct. The very quality of the air is a poem and every humble object a picture. Even the droop of the cobwebs overladen with moisture and the thickening of the frost-bound threads will gain a larger significance in their association with the visible atmosphere that makes the background of trees so immense under the golden haze, and the lower film of grey-blue mist cut by rays of palpitating sunlight. Another fairyland--a trifle theatrical, perhaps, though charming--is given to us at intervals when every branch is outlined white with hoar frost, the rime giving delicate shape to the smallest twigs whose form is lost under the somewhat similar appearance of powdered snow. At other times snow lies heaped on the twigs, and the uncovered part looks dark and the white twigs clumsy under their burden--and it looks so chilly and white against the snow-charged sky ! In rough weather drifts hide the boles of the trees that skirt the woods, the exposed sides of the trunks are powdered, the uncovered parts look unusually dark and strongly coloured ; all traces of man are lost then--walls, gates, and stiles lie buried out of sight, and the excursions of the wild life of the woods can everywhere be followed by their tracks.
Moonlight.--Many of the Old Masters, I think, must have studied and brought into their daylight pictures some of that grandeur and mystery that belongs to moonlight. The roadway--that in the daytime was bordered by bright flowers, sparkling leaves and reflected light, where our attention was caught by the cart ruts and hovering butterflies--has become by moonlight a mystic dark tunnel. The roadway passes into banks, and banks into foliage, without a perceptible break--just one immense dark but luminous shadow encircles it, with patches of broken light sufficient in places to explain the roadway, in others just enough to enhance the mystery of it. The leaves close at hand seem sharp against those behind that have taken a pale greyness unrelated to their distance ; but nothing is really sharp, and the scheme is set in dark and grey where the moonlight strikes on some really light object that looms out preternaturally white. Trees seen against the moon lose their detail, but we can distinguish most of them by the loss or comparative sharpness of the outline. Delicate young trees make a broken blur against the sky, the Birches are a haze but suggest an outline, the Oaks and Elms are at a little distance blank spaces of dark with straight-cut edges. Here and there a lighter space on trees behind shows undecided between the trunks, just enough to mark their
LARCH TREES CONTORTED BY A PREVAILING WIND. DRAWING BY R. V. C.
existence, but not enough to prove their reality. The boles of those near are lost in the shadow on the ground. It is just this want of difference between level and vertical forms that is the distinguishing gulf between the day and the night. A wall by day would be a wall until it meets the ground, the shadow on the wall would have its
ILLUS. 51. MOONLIGHT SKETCH IN CHARCOAL BY R. V. C.
colour, and the shadow cast from it over the ground would also have its particular colour and tone, and the one would send reflected colour into the other. By moonlight the shadow passes over both without distinction, though there is a slight variation if the moonlight comes from one side.
In a picture of moonlight allowance must be made for the supposed position of the spectator ; the strong blues that he would see if looking at the scene from a lamp-lit room would not be there without the artificial light that forces them by contrast. One should make a memorandum of those colours that are lost or are well seen by moonlight. I have noticed bright pale yellow flowers such as Evening Primroses easily distinguishable from white flowers at a distance of thirty feet, though some intensely blue flowers were invisible and the colour of pale pink roses could only just be seen. It might be well to take all the colours of the palette (as they would be easy to refer to) and set patches of them on a board one moonlight night, and note the difference in the intensity of colour and tone in each.