There are a fair few Maidenhair trees within the parks and green spaces of Exeter and are easy to identify all year round. Currently this tree is on the endangered species list so further planting of these great trees is great news. It is an ancient tree species and often considered a fossil tree. For quite some time it was classed as an extinct species as only fossil remains were left for study. In 1691 a German naturalist named Engelbert Kaempf discovered living trees in Japan. Further study showed that the Maidenhair trees are native to China and spread to nearby lands. Seeds and samples were shortly sent across to Europe and the rest of the world. In the UK they are usually planted in parks but in Japan they are a very common street tree. Whatever the purpose for their planting - it is great to see them in both urban and park-lands.
The bark of Maidenhair is light brown and furrowed as well as being quite corky. The buds are quite stubby and easily stand out on a clear winters day. The branches and twigs are quite flexible compared to other hardwood species and are often curled rather than straight. On a windy day they are particularly stunning. The Maidenhair tree can live for a very long time - thousands of years in some cases! They can also reach heights of up to 35m when mature. When young the tree is quite slender and narrow but as it matures it becomes broader.
The leaves are fan shaped and are unique - there is no mistaking the leaf of a Maidenhair tree. This is where the nick name 'Fossil tree' is often used because the leaves have been found fossilised from many years ago. The size of the leaves are up to 8 cm long and are a vibrant green during the summer and turn a lovely warm yellow during the autumn. Although the flowers and fruit are both interesting it is the fantastic autumn foliage that is most often talked about.
The leaves begin to turn yellow in October
The young female flowers produce two ovules which are formed at the end of a stalk
The flowers are not very showy and easily missed from a distance. They are typically in flower in April to May. Maidenhair is dioecious so the trees are either all male or all female. The flowers are very different when compared but in most cases the trees are female. The male pollen cones are arranged around a central axis and look a bit like light green sausages. The female flowers produce two ovules which are formed at the end of a stalk. They are erect and look a bit like little creatures with 2 small green eyes on the top! The flowers are pollinated by the wind.
The fruit of Maidenhair looks a bit like a cherry in shape. The colour changes from green to yellow and then a purplish / black as it breaks down. During the autumn the ground will be covered in the fleshy fruit and it can get quite messy! The flesh of the fruit and the seeds are eaten by a wide variety of mammals and birds. It is animals such as grey squirrels that help to disperse the spread of the seeds. The fruit contains butyric acid which has a very strong odour - some people say it smells like vomit. I have never found the smell of the fruit to be that unpleasant but it defiantly has a distinct smell.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
- They are a deciduous tree so shed their leaves for the winter
- They can live for thousands of years in their natural habitat
- The Maidenhair tree is also known as the Fossil tree
- They are native to China and are now planted worldwide in parks, green spaces and streets
- Up until the discovery of living trees in 1691 they were thought to be extinct
- They can reach heights of up to 35m and become more broad with age
- The bark of Maidenhair is quite corky to the tough and furrowed
- The leaves are a distinct fan shape and are unique amongst trees
- The size of the leaves are up to 8 cm long and are a vibrant green during the summer
- During the autumn the leaves turn a mixture of yellow and really stand out
- The flowers are inconspicuous and often missed during flowering season on April / May
- Maidenhair is dioecious so the trees are either all male or all female.
- The male pollen cones look a little like green curled sausages
- The female flowers produce two ovules which are formed at the end of a stalk
- Maidenhair trees are easy to propagate from seed
- They are popular trees for growing as penjing and bonsai
- The first use as a medicine is recorded in the late 15th century in China
- Most Maidenhair trees have two main shoots, one of which is always weaker
- The pollen is dispersed via the wind
- The seeds are dispersed by animals - particularly squirrels
- The fruit is about the size of a plum and starts off green and the then turns yellow and then a black / purple
- The smell of the fruit is said to be quite unpleasant
- When eaten in large quantities or over a long period, the gametophyte (meat) of the seed can cause poisoning by 4'-O-methylpyridoxine (MPN)
- MPN is heat-stable and not destroyed by cooking
- Some people are sensitive to the chemicals in the outer fleshy coating which can lead to blistering of the skin
PLEASE LEAF ME ANY FEEDBACK / COMMENTS
If there is anything out of place or wrong please contact me. Equally if there is anything you wish to add please let me know. The more information we have about Maidenhair the better. Many thanks!