This is the flower and the tree that grabbed my attention on my monthly trip to the Botanic Garden in Cambridge. As it happens the flower is of rather imposing stature, while the tree is of quite modest proportions.
Yucca-Leaved Beschorneria - Beschorneria yuccoides
This bizarre Trifid of a plant resides In the Systematic Beds with its 1½ metre long, blood-red flower-spikes waving threateningly against the blue sky!
In fact it's a much more peaceful plant than it looks and unlike most spikey-looking specimens it doesn't stab you at all. It's actually a member of the Asparagus family and comes from high in the mountains of Mexico. but seems equally at home here on a grassy lawn in Cambridge.
Equally oddly although it sends up such a large, brightly-hued stalk the flowers which it bears are quite small, unimpressive and green.
As the red starts to fade it produces some very appealing shades that I can't resist photographing. As well as the one in the Systematic beds there's another (which I take to be the same species) growing over by the Glasshouse Range where it looks over the shoulder of visitors who sit to consult their map.
And so from the strange and exotic to something a little more familiar....
The Laburnum tree is seen in many gardens, both large and small, throughout these islands and is probably more easily recognised (at least when it's flowering) than many indigenous trees.
The Laburnum came originally from SE Europe and Asia Minor but does just fine in the British climate and has been grown here for centuries. The long, dangling bright-yellow flowers (racemes we're supposed to call them) give the tree its poetic name "The Golden Chain Tree".
The heartwood of the tree is a dark chocolatey brown while the sapwood is a creamy colour and it was traditionally used as an inlay on expensive furniture. Musical instruments could also be made from it and it used to be a favourite material for making the chanter and drones of the Highland bagpipes, though tropical hardwoods such as African blackwood later became popular. Nowadays a lot of bagpipes use Polypenco, a type of high-grade plastic, in their manufacture.
There's no record of bagpipers or bagpipe-makers suffering any ill-effects from the wood, though all parts of the tree are said to be poisonous. There was a big scare about this in the 1970s and Laburnum trees were cut down to avoid the perceived danger to children. However there are no recorded deaths from Laburnum poisoning and it seems that the threat was much exaggerated - household cleaning fluids and cosmetics containing far more toxic substances.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an important engagement with a lonely, attractively-sited bench...…