Last month, completely on a whim of the moment, I decided that each month I would scour the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge to find and photograph just one tree and one flower that grabbed my attention. There's no master-plan involved, but this month it just happens that we're "in black and white". First the "black"...…
The Black Pine - Pinus Nigra
If we're looking for a pine tree the obvious place to start is in the Old Pinetum, which was planted at the founding of the present garden in 1846. It's a magical place, especially when sun slants in to illuminate the emerald grass, scattered with pine cones.
The Black Pine is a tree which occurs naturally in various locations throughout Europe and into North Africa. In each of these places the tree has developed in response to local climate and soil-type, leading to several sub-species - Austrian Black Pine, Crimean Black Pine, Causican Black Pine and so on.
It's grown in the UK as both an ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, and for timber in commercial plantations. Some of the regional sub-species are more useful than others for these differing purposes, but most of the main types can be seen in the Pinetum or lining the Main Walk.
In recent years the world's Black Pines have suffered from infestation by a fungus which can kill the trees. In North America this has got out of control and is likely to kill all the Black Pines growing there.
It's another tree which has a beautifully patterned bark demanding lots of photos. I can see my hard-drive becoming cluttered with bark pictures if I continue this series throughout the year! Now lets move on to the "white" element of this month's post....
Snowdrop - galanthus
Apologies to any non-galanthophiles, but we're back with those living sparks of optimism that shine through the winter gloom in the dark days of February - snowdrops.
There are several places in the Garden where there are marvellous displays of these little flowers. The obvious place to make for is the Winter Garden, though in reality you're bound to have seen others before you get there, whichever gate you enter by. The one shown above is Galanthus S Arnott, which as well as being a robust plant has flowers which are said to give off a honey-like scent on warm days. So at least one type of snowdrop attempts to attract insect pollinators at this unpromising time of year.
Top left: Galanthus 'James Backhouse'
Top right: Galanthus plicatus 'Wendy's Gold'
Centre: Galanthus nivalis 'Viridapice' Green-Tipped Snowdrop
Lower left: Galanthus 'Kite'
Lower right: Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' x Galanthus plicatus
Not everyone realises that there are different varieties of this humble flower. Above are just five which were neatly and conveniently labelled, so even an uneducated but enthusiastic snowdrop-lover like me could know what they were.
Like the first Cuckoo heard in Spring, the first appearance of the Snowdrop has always excited comment. This has been very useful in charting the ever-earlier start to the seasons in recent years, so that the Snowdrop Season has moved from late February to mid-January in many places. Occasional very early plants contrive to flower at the end of December, which seems to point towards climate change, whatever the cynics say.
And that is definitely my last snowdrop photo for 2019 - unless I find one in flower in November!