In a recent ecological survey by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust explains how the flora are useful to various species of birds, mammals and insects, some of which are endangered. Sanctuary Wood is home to many different forms of wildlife, but this blog is about the trees and shrubs. They have been fundamental in the therapy work we do here and people have often asked why they feel better after spending time with the trees.
If you have ever read the book ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben, you will perhaps have more of an appreciation that trees, shrubs and plants are in a social network together. If the woods have grown naturally, trees are in multi generational clusters living together, communicating, protecting, supporting and even sharing nutrients who are sick and struggling. The Woodland Trust have recently confirmed that Sanctuary Wood has ‘Ancient Woodland Status‘ which explains the energy felt when standing in the wood. You are standing with a family who love and care for each other and have done for eons. Some people have even opted to spend the night sleeping amongst the trees on our retreats and have had some profound dreams or visions which will be shared on blogs by them in due course.
Colin Kingshot, a floracologist based in Devon, reports hearing the symphony that the plant kingdom produces however on a subconscious level, we all hear it and we are drawn to it naturally to help us stay healthy. That’s why some of us go for walks in the woods when thinking is to be done. Mature trees give off a deep base note which is helpful for grounding. The music changes when bluebells awaken and not many of us can resist a walk amongst the bluebells which is very uplifting. Those that work holistically know the benefits of the plant kingdom and even those that choose only the scientifically proven medicine route know that pharmaceuticals are derived from the plant kingdom. Plants are healing and they have a lot to teach us.
Here are the trees and scrubs of Sanctuary wood:
“Ash: Strength grows from deep roots”
Ash is native to the UK and can live up to 400 years and reach 35m in height. The canopy supports ground conditions for herbs such as dog violet, wild garlic and dog’s mercury to grow, all of which have been identified at Sanctuary Woods. In Mythology, Ash was used to ward off evil spirits. The wood was thought to have medicinal and mystical properties. Ash was known as ‘the tree of life’.
“Beech: Cross the threshold that is challenging you”
Beech is native to the UK and can live up to 1000 years and reach 40m in height. The canopy provides a lot of shade and a dense carpet of fallen leaves, only hardy shade tolerant plants can survive under Beech. Traditionally known as the Queen of the Woods, it was said that no harm would come to a traveller sleeping beneath its branches.
“Blackthorn: Magic is everywhere”
Blackthorn is native to the UK and can live for up to 100 years and reach 6 -7 metres. It is commonly used as a hedging plant, and they are here at Equine Earth. The sloe fruit are used to make wine, preserves and flavour gin. The wood is used to make walking sticks, and traditionally Irish shillelaghs and it also has an association with witchcraft. Blackthorn is known as magical wood, and the wizards choice of staff. When Blackthorn and Hawthorn are found growing together the land is said to be very magical.
Bramble can grow up to 2 metres in height and grow almost anywhere; originally used as barbed wire for boundaries by Ancient Britons. Perhaps our brambles’ ancestors once used them to partition the boundary around the old Roman Villa Lilyhorn located nearby .The blackberry fruit ripens at the end of July and even today blackberry pickers can be spotted collecting and eating the purple fruit. Our ponies love them!
“Elder: From sacrifice comes restoration”
Trees can grow to around fifteen metres and live for up to sixty years. It often grows in woods, hedgerows, on waste ground, and near rabbit warrens and badger sets where the seeds are dispersed after the fruit are eaten by mammals. The flowers are used to make wine, cordial or tea and the fruit used for wines, preserves and in pies with blackberries. The elder has strong associations with witchcraft and transformation in Britain. Collected elder on St John’s Eve (day before midsummer) can protect the twelfth night celebrations, with the proviso that in return for the elder’s strength there must be an exchange, something given up or sacrificed. To sleep beneath the elder tree is to wake in the other-world some say, whilst others claim on midsummer’s eve if you stand underneath it, you will see a faery troop pass by.
Native to the UK, can grow up to twenty metres and live 350 years. The bark is light brown and flaky and with age becomes cork-like. The sap, as with all maples can be made into a syrup. In some parts of Europe, keeping maple branches above the doorway prevented bats from entering the house. Some herbalists recommend the leaves and bark to strengthen the liver.
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) (non-native)
“Gooseberry: The ancestors walked the way before you”
Originating in Finland, the ‘hino red’ variety is easy to grow and is a very hardy plant now well established in Britain. In Germany, it was planted around cowsheds to fend off witches or faeries. The gooseberry has a long association with birthing, helping to bring in the heritage of ancestors to the new born infant.
“Hawthorn: Challenge opens the way before us”
Native to the UK, also known as the ‘May Tree’ due to when it flowers and is linked historically with traditional May day or Beltain celebrations. Mature trees reach up to fifteen metres in height but are commonly used in hedging. Once pollinated, the hermaphrodite flowers turn into deep red berries called ‘haws’ containing antioxidants favoured by migrating birds and small mammals, whilst people like to make jellies, wines and ketchup with them. Hawthorns were often planted by wellheads or springs, linking them to the wisdom of ancestors which deep running water is often associated with. It is still the custom in certain parts to tie scraps of cloth called ‘clooties’ to symbolise wishes on the branches in the hopes they will be granted.
“Hazel: Seek wisdom in the depths”
Trees can grow up to twelve metres and live up to eighty years, rising to several hundred if coppiced. Hazel is so bendy in the Spring it can be bended into knots without breaking. Interestingly, bees find it hard to collect a decent load of pollen as the grains are not sticky and often grains repel each other; therefore wind pollination is essential. Hazel is found in UK, Europe, north Africa and Western Asia. The hazel supports many creatures, the most famous being the dormouse who eats the nuts ready for hibernation and in the spring they eat the caterpillars attracted to new hazel leaves. Hazel is associated with magic, the wood protects against evil spirits and is used for water divining. The old English carried the nuts as charms to ward off rheumatism. For the Celts, Hazel is deeply connected with wisdom and in Irish mythology are associated with the fae folk, where if two are close together and by water, it is said to be the gateway to the faery kingdom.
“Holly: Energy fuels every action”
An evergreen shrub with very distinctive leaves, a mature trees can reach fifteen metres and can live for three hundred years. It is native to the UK, Europe, north Africa and Western Asia. Holly burns hottest and it symbolises taking action but being mindful of how. fiercest of all woods. Holly is associated with midwinter and the Green Man, known as the Holly King who takes over from the Oak King in midsummer. The leaves and berries have been traditionally used to decorate homes and front doors in winter; the Holly tree is also seen as a fertility symbol and a strong charm against witches, goblins and the devil.
Ivy “Strength comes from accepting support”
Ivy is an evergreen climber, which can grow up to thirty metres. It is often associated with suffocating other trees, however it has its own root system and is does not damage trees. Ivy stops growing before the top of a healthy tree crown, only in individual cases does it make it difficult to assess the health of a tree hidden beneath it if the crown has been compromised. Ivy actually plays a pivotal role of providing wildlife with food and shelter in autumn and winter months. Traditionally along with Holly, sprigs were brought into the home in winter for protection. It was thought that Ivy represented the moon, whilst Holly represented the sun.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) (non-native)
Native to Europe, it is thought this tree was introduced to the UK either by the Romans or during the Tudor era depending on historical source, and by the 1800s it was considered a naturalised species. Trees can grow thirty five metres in height and live four hundred years. Although limited folk lore exists on this species, in Wales the wood is traditionally used to make ‘love spoons’.
Sometimes known as Old Man’s Beard, this plant gets both its names due to its beautiful feathery seed heads adorning the hedgerows in the greyer winter months. This scrub is native to southern England but is now found elsewhere in the UK. Because it is highly competitive with other plants,it is often viewed as an invasive weed where it has spread outside of its native origins. The plant is said to have anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in remedies for skin irritations and stress.
Native to the UK, mature trees can grow up to fifteen metres high. Very rare in the wild so there is not much mythology or symbolism associated with this tree. The fruits of the tree are scarlet berries, known as chess apples in the north-west of England and only edible when nearly rotten.
Native to the UK and Europe, in fact the only elm truly native to the UK. The tree can reach thirty metres in height. The tree is associated with melancholy and death because the tree used to drop its branches without warning. Elm was also the preferred choice for coffins. The wood was also used for water pipes before metal was widely available. Like all Elms, this tree is highly susceptible to Dutch Elm disease brought into the UK in the 1960s.
Colin Kingshott, Florocology Workshop
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust
The Green Man Oracle (1988) – John Matthews & Will Worthington
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
The Woodland Trust