The Reading of the Rings
Wet sawdust on top of the stump obscured the annual rings and the final sawcuts
had come from several directions. A scrub with a stiff hand-brush made things a lot
Starting from outside, the red-brown bark surrounds yellow sapwood with brown
heartwood in the middle. The bark brings the leaves’ products of photosynthesis
down to build a new layer of the sapwood each year while the sapwood conducts
water upwards from the roots to the whole tree canopy. Heartwood is dead sapwood
and only contributes strength to the trunk and branches. The proportions are
different in branches (below).
It was clear from the trunk that, in the past, many branches had been trimmed off (below).
The bark started to heal over the stumps, but before this was complete, the wood had
rotted. Bark can only lay down new wood on a sound surface. Poplar is not rated as a
‘durable’ wood, meaning that dead wood does not resist decay well.
Going back to the second picture, on the left is a branch stump which successfully healed
over. The blackened cut surface was partially exposed by a felling cut. In contrast, on the right
is a pocket of rot which started when a branch was cut off. It eventually closed over, but never
quite healed properly, as can be seen (below). A slight ‘witness’ occurs to this day in the bark
surface, although, without seeing the cut stump, it would not be apparent.
Oh, you want to know how old the tree was? The picture (below) shows the rings marked (very faint) in 10’s.
They add up to 110, give or take a few. So the tree started life about 1910. The two healed-over
branches were cut some 50 years ago, around the time that the old fire station was built and
possibly connected with clearing low-growing vegetation in the vicinity of the access road.
Lastly, a piece of branch from up in the tree canopy (below) shows some really good growths of
moss and lichens (pronounced litch-ens or like-ens). Lichens are combinations of a fungus and
an algae living as one organism.
The other side is very different (below).
The first is of the north-facing and damper side, the second, the south-facing and drier side.
Roger Miles, Heath Tree Warden