From British daily The Independent:
Inspection for Newton’s apple tree
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Isaac Newton‘s apple tree, the Magna Carta tree and the Tolpuddle Martyrs‘ tree will all feature in a mass survey of ancient organisms to be carried out by the National Trust.
As many as 40,000 ancient oaks and other species are to be inspected and appraised by the Trust, the most important organisation for ancient trees in the UK, in a three-year assessment of their condition.
There are so many because the Trust’s land holdings are enormous – they include more than 25,000 hectares of woodland, 200,000 hectares of farmland and 135 landscape and deer parks.
Isaac Newton’s apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire has been regarded as a national treasure for more than 300 years. It is believed to have inspired Newton with the “notion of gravitation” in 1665, after he watched an apple fall to the ground.
Bearing a rare variety of apple, Flower of Kent, the tree fell over in 1820 but is still growing well.
The Magna Carta yew tree, at Runnymede in Berkshire, has been famous for even longer. It is 2,000 years old and now measures 9.4 metres (31ft) wide. Growing in the grounds of the ruined Priory of Ankerwycke, it is said to have witnessed the swearing and sealing of the Magna Carta, Britain’s first charter of freedom, by King John in June 1215. It is also said to be where Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn in the 1530s.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ tree at the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset is the site of the landmark trade union meeting in 1834 which became a historic symbol of the struggles of the emerging labour movement. The leafy sycamore is likely to have started its life in the 1680s.
“Trees play such an important part in shaping our landscapes and reflecting our history that we need to make sure that the ancient trees in our care and the next generation to follow them can be enjoyed by everyone,” said Ray Hawes, the Trust’s head of forestry.
Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, 2009: here.
Tolpuddle Martyrs tour guides repeat history with pay strike: here.
New discovery suggests trees evolved camouflage defense against long extinct predator
First evidence of camouflage defense in plants
Many animal species such as snakes, insects and fish have evolved camouflage defences to deter attack from their predators. However research published in New Phytologist has discovered that trees in New Zealand have evolved a similar defence to protect themselves from extinct giant birds, providing the first evidence of this strategy in plant life.
“Plants are attacked by a bewildering array of herbivores and in response they have evolved a variety of defences to deter predators such as thorns and noxious chemicals,” said lead researcher Dr Kevin Burns from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. “In contrast animals often use colours to hide from predators or advertise defences, but until now there has been little evidence of colour based defences in plants.”
Dr Burns’ team studied the leaves of the Araliaceae tree (P. crassifolius) a heteroblastic species which is native to New Zealand. This species goes through several strange colour transitions during the process from germination to maturity and the reason for these changes is now thought to be a defence strategy from an extinct predator, the moa.
Before the arrival of humans New Zealand had no native land mammals, but was home to moa, giant flightless birds, closely related to the modern ostrich and the top herbivore predator in the food chain. However moa were hunted to extinction 750 years ago.
The Araliaceae tree has several defences which the team suggest are linked to the historic presence of moa. Seedlings produce small narrow leaves, which appear mottled to the human eye. Saplings meanwhile produce larger, more elongated leaves with thorn-like dentitions.
The mottled colours of seedling leaves are similar to the appearance of leaf litter, which would have made them difficult for a moa to distinguish. The unusual colouring may also reduce the probability of leaf outlines and help camouflage leaves against the sunlight-draped forest floor.
Moa also lacked teeth and swallowed leaves by placing them in their bills and snapping their head forward. The long rigid leaves produced by P. crassifolius would have been difficult for a moa to swallow. The maximum browsing height of the largest known moa was approximately 300cm and once P. crassifolius grow above this height they produce leaves that are ordinary in size, shape and colour, lacking any defence.
To prove that these defences were linked to the presence of moa the team compared Araliaceae leaves to samples from a similar species of tree, P chathamicus, from the Chatham Islands, which are 800 kilometres east of New Zealand. Unlike New Zealand the islands lacked large browsers such as Moa and so the plant life did not evolve a defence against them.
“The Chatham island species displays less morphological changes between adults and juveniles,” said Burns. “If these colouring changes developed in response to the presence of moa in New Zealand they are reduced when they have evolved in the absence of moa.”
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