The Meaning Of Trees

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Episodes

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01Horse Chestnut20150518

Despite being a much loved tree, the Horse Chestnut actually symbolises being there for sentiment rather than purpose, it is actually a pretty useless tree. By all means enjoy the ornamental aspect of the trees but the timber from horse chestnut is not good quality - there is plenty of it as the tree can gain bulk and volume quickly, but the wood is soft, weak and perishes easily. Its so-called chestnuts are pretty useless too. The poisons in them make processing them for food too costly. But its as conkers that its nuts make it have important meaning for us, as play and togetherness. An incomer and an imposter - from the Balkans, the name stuck, due to the horseshoe shape scars left in its trunk when the leaves fall off. It was such a raging fashion after its UK arrival that Capability Brown planted 4800 in one estate in Wiltshire alone. No wonder it has remained everywhere in the UK since. Its conkers and majestic presence will always endear it to us and this was enough for Anne Frank, who also succumbed to its charms, writing about a horse chestnut tree in the centre of Amsterdam, thus also a symbol of hope, of escape and of one day, a return to normality.

A third series of these popular tree essays is again written and presented by experienced essayist, Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five more trees common in the UK. Across the series of essays, our ambiguous relationship with trees is explored. The three series have prompted an illustrated book of the essays planned for 2015.

Producer - Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

01Pine20140519

Essay One : Pine

Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five trees common in the UK. In this second series, she explores our ambiguous relationship with trees.

Pine is a big native Scot and economically the world's most important tree, not just the obvious uses in the furniture, building and paper industries, but also its medicinal properties in treating bronchitis and pneumonia for millennia and its resin used for turpentine, adhesives, wax, waterproofing and fragrances. It has been a British native tree for over 4000 years and yet its modernity is also assured as the tree that furnished the world. Forests of native pine were plentiful but there was an increase in temperature some 5000 years ago meaning that pines were driven out by deciduous trees which took over. Pine is also responsible for fuelling the industrial revolution, along with coal, and this along with its presence in cheap household articles gives a sad image to a huge, majestic, truly ancient British tree that has had its dignity stripped by the modern world, along with its bark.

Producer, Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

01The Meaning Of Trees: Pine20140519
01The Meaning Of Trees: Pine2014051920151102 (R3)

Essay One: Pine

Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five trees common in the UK. In this second series, she explores our ambiguous relationship with trees.

Pine is a big native Scot and economically the world's most important tree, not just the obvious uses in the furniture, building and paper industries, but also its medicinal properties in treating bronchitis and pneumonia for millennia and its resin used for turpentine, adhesives, wax, waterproofing and fragrances. It has been a British native tree for over 4000 years and yet its modernity is also assured as the tree that furnished the world. Forests of native pine were plentiful but there was an increase in temperature some 5000 years ago meaning that pines were driven out by deciduous trees which took over. Pine is also responsible for fuelling the industrial revolution, along with coal, and this along with its presence in cheap household articles gives a sad image to a huge, majestic, truly ancient British tree that has had its dignity stripped by the modern world, along with its bark.

Producer, Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

01Yew20121210

Fiona Stafford explores the symbolism and importance of the ancient tree, the Yew. Some yews witnessed the Romans in Britain. Yet today these ancient trees have the most modern of uses - as part of the fight against cancer.

This is the first of five essays about Britain's tree varieties and their history as part of the landscape - a subject which has taken on a new urgency with the announcement that Ash Dieback disease has entered the country with a potentially devastating effect. Professor Stafford's other essays examine the story of the Ash itself, Oak, Willow and Sycamore.

The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Europe's oldest tree at over 3,000 years old, was already a veteran when the Romans arrived. Often ancient yews predate the churchyards where they stand, because they marked ancient, sacred sites on which the relatively new religion could be built. Though often planted in churchyards because their leaves might be toxic to grazing livestock, the tree itself has long associations with death and immortality. The astonishing longevity of the yew and its evergreen branches suggests comforting thoughts of everlasting life to mourners in churchyards, while the dark, dense boughs offer privacy and stillness. Although the fruit is sweet and relished by birds, the seed inside is highly poisonous to humans, yet there is great hope that taxol, a compound found in the yew's reddish bark, can be developed into a powerful cancer-fighting drug.

Producer: Turan Ali

02Ash20121211

Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises about five different trees and, across the series of essays, our ambiguous relationship with trees.

In this Essay she tackles the tree which has suddenly hit the headliness. The Ash has been threatened by the arrival in Britain of dieback disease. But the Ash has survived since the birth of humanity and met mortal threats before.

Despite many different near fatal epidemics over the centuries, delicate ash trees have survived for millennia.

Our history with the ash is long. The ash exudes a sugary substance that was fermented to create the Norse Mead of Inspiration. In Norse mythology, the World Tree Yggdrasil is commonly held to be an ash tree, and the first man, Ask, was formed from an ash tree. Elsewhere in Europe, snakes were said to be repelled by ash leaves, shadows from an ash tree would damage crops, ash was thought to cure warts or rickets and in Sussex the ash was known as the Widow Maker because the large boughs would often drop without warning.

Ash is musical, often used as material for guitar bodies and drum shells.Charmingly, ash is still used for suspension in Morgan cars. But how will we start to replace this flexible, delicate yet persistent wood and protect the timber from which humanity was formed, while it fights off yet another threat to its own existence?

02Cypress20150519

Professor Fiona Stafford discusses the Leyland cypress or leylandii, a common British garden tree with a funereal image and which has been the cause of many land disputes.

02The Meaning Of Trees: Hawthorn20140520
02The Meaning Of Trees: Hawthorn2014052020151103 (R3)

Essay Two: Hawthorn

Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five trees common in the UK. In this second series, she explores our ambiguous relationship with trees.

The hawthorn is such a common sight in the British countryside that people hardly notice its presence - and yet this hardy tree, when cut and laid, is in many ways responsible for our very idea of the British countryside because of its usefulness for hedging. When much of Britain was enclosed in the eighteenth century, the new fields were marked by hawthorn tree hedges, shaping the landscape into the familiar patchwork of fields. In spring, the hawthorn bursts into beautiful 'May' blossom, almost as if the hedge has been covered in creamy custard - a phenomenon which has inspired a massive range of painters and paintings. One of the most famous thorn trees is at Glastonbury, and according to local legend the original grew when Joseph of Arimathea arrived in Britain, after the crucifixion, and his wooden staff was turned by a miracle into a living thorn that blossoms on Christmas day. Hawthorn contains chemicals which are sedative, diuretic and anti-spasmodic - so it is an excellent natural regulator of arterial blood pressure, and is also proffered by herbalists as a treatment for heart diseases and as a heart stimulant. Despite this, hawthorn throughout history has been seen as unlucky, with tales of woe being brought upon those who brought the blossoms into the house or displayed them. Add all this to it being frequently misrepresented as the crucifixion crown of thorns and one can see why this tree is such a divisive force.

02 LASTHawthorn20140520

Essay Two: Hawthorn

Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five trees common in the UK. In this second series, she explores our ambiguous relationship with trees.

The hawthorn is such a common sight in the British countryside that people hardly notice its presence - and yet this hardy tree, when cut and laid, is in many ways responsible for our very idea of the British countryside because of its usefulness for hedging. When much of Britain was enclosed in the eighteenth century, the new fields were marked by hawthorn tree hedges, shaping the landscape into the familiar patchwork of fields. In spring, the hawthorn bursts into beautiful 'May' blossom, almost as if the hedge has been covered in creamy custard - a phenomenon which has inspired a massive range of painters and paintings. One of the most famous thorn trees is at Glastonbury, and according to local legend the original grew when Joseph of Arimathea arrived in Britain, after the crucifixion, and his wooden staff was turned by a miracle into a living thorn that blossoms on Christmas day. Hawthorn contains chemicals which are sedative, diuretic and anti-spasmodic - so it is an excellent natural regulator of arterial blood pressure, and is also proffered by herbalists as a treatment for heart diseases and as a heart stimulant. Despite this, hawthorn throughout history has been seen as unlucky, with tales of woe being brought upon those who brought the blossoms into the house or displayed them. Add all this to it being frequently misrepresented as the crucifixion crown of thorns and one can see why this tree is such a divisive force.

03Apple20140521

Essay Three : Apple

The second series written and presented by Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, exploring the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five trees common in the UK.

The Apple, which seems the most British of trees, cultivated in orchards nationwide, but actually originates in Kazakhstan. There are in the region of 7,500 cultivars of the Apple, and the apple seems to go back to the very beginnings of the human race - it's there in the story of Adam and Eve, as well as being important in Ancient Greek and Old Norse mythology. But the apple-tree that features in so many Renaissance paintings of the Garden of Eden is actually a descendant of the wild apple - or crab apple which is the only truly British apple.

Producer, Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

03Cherry20150520

In many countries, cherries are there just to look pretty - a short party trick trotted out once a year which everyone loves and coos at, but then its got to be kept the rest of the year too. True, it has unrivalled spring blossoms, a truly stunning beauty, especially in large numbers. It has much-prized wood and fruit, both of which have a long British pedigree, yet man and global warming have removed 90 per cent of UK cherry trees since 1930. In other countries (Japan especially) it is a sacred tree as a flowering cherry, but the fruit has been monopolised by a few countries - Turkey and the USA especially. Apart from fruit, cherry trees are prized for their swirling, eye-ridden, colourful hardwood which is amongst the most prized for cabinetry and furniture making, and medicinally they can cure gout, fever and help us sleep.

Producer ? Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

03Oak20121212

Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises about five different trees and, across a series of essays, our ambiguous relationship with trees.

In this edition, the Oak. Sturdy, stalwart, stubborn, the oak is a symbol of enduring strength, inspiring poets, composers and writers for millennia. Civilisations have been built from oak, as its hard wood has been felled for houses, halls and cities, its timber turned into trading ships and navies. Other woods are as strong, but few are as long-lasting as oak.

Sacred to the Celts and the Ancient Greeks, the Oak tree is a mainstay of British culture, present in place-names and national songs - Heart of Oak, Rule Britannia; yet it is in fact the national tree of dozens of countries. The resistant, native oak also figures largely in the distinctive cultures of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, embodying ideas of natural connection and growth. Ancient oaks, vast enough to hide a secret room within, have been religious meeting places, rallying points, refuges for kings and outlaws, party venues for friends and families. Although by no means the longest lived of ours trees, its slow growth is the ever-present home to ecosystems of insects, fungi, birds and animals and was once the most common European tree.

The huge demand for oak wood in the furniture and food industries threatens oak trees worldwide through poaching, according to some. However, quicker growing oak plantations are now being developed with claims that there is no loss in strength or quality of the wood.

03The Meaning Of Trees: Apple20140521

03The Meaning Of Trees: Apple2014052120151104 (R3)

Essay Three: Apple

The second series written and presented by Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, exploring the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five trees common in the UK.

The Apple, which seems the most British of trees, cultivated in orchards nationwide, but actually originates in Kazakhstan. There are in the region of 7,500 cultivars of the Apple, and the apple seems to go back to the very beginnings of the human race - it's there in the story of Adam and Eve, as well as being important in Ancient Greek and Old Norse mythology. But the apple-tree that features in so many Renaissance paintings of the Garden of Eden is actually a descendant of the wild apple - or crab apple which is the only truly British apple.

Producer, Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

04Holly20150521

Fiona Stafford discusses the holly tree, which reaches huge proportions if not pruned annually for Christmas and has wood so dense it sinks in water.

04Poplar20140522

Essay Four : Poplar

The second series written and presented by experienced essayist, Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, exploring the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five more trees common in the UK.

Poplar's not much good as wood these days - it's mainly used for matches, but it was used for shields and all sorts for centuries. However, it is the most modern and high tech of all trees, being the first tree to have had its complete DNA sequenced, revealing many surprises and secrets. There are many literary references which is surprising if, as many do, one thinks of the poplar as a tall column like tree, but there are lots of varieties, including those feared in former days because of being the tree from which the Cross was made, and the spreading branches of the abundant American poplar made it the tree of choice for lynch mobs throughout the southern States, as referred to in Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday's song describing the scene after a lynching.

This second series written and presented by experienced essayist, Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five more trees common in the UK. Across the series of essays, our ambiguous relationship with trees is explored. The first series was hugely popular and an illustrated book of the essays in planned for 2015.

Producer, Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

04The Meaning Of Trees: Poplar20140522
04The Meaning Of Trees: Poplar2014052220151105 (R3)

Essay Four : Poplar

The second series written and presented by experienced essayist, Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, exploring the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five more trees common in the UK.

Poplar's not much good as wood these days - it's mainly used for matches, but it was used for shields and all sorts for centuries. However, it is the most modern and high tech of all trees, being the first tree to have had its complete DNA sequenced, revealing many surprises and secrets. There are many literary references which is surprising if, as many do, one thinks of the poplar as a tall column like tree, but there are lots of varieties, including those feared in former days because of being the tree from which the Cross was made, and the spreading branches of the abundant American poplar made it the tree of choice for lynch mobs throughout the southern States, as referred to in Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday's song describing the scene after a lynching.

This second series written and presented by experienced essayist, Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five more trees common in the UK. Across the series of essays, our ambiguous relationship with trees is explored. The first series was hugely popular and an illustrated book of the essays in planned for 2015.

Producer, Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

04Willow20121213

Fiona Stafford explores the symbolism, importance and topicality of five different trees, and charts our ambiguous relationship with trees, across a series of essays.

In this edition, she explores the Willow.

A wood of the wetlands, willows seem almost as fluid as the rivers they fringe. They are trees of mobility, change, displacement. Shakespeare gave their sad music to his tragic heroines, with Ophelia sinking into the brook by the willow and Desdemona singing her willow song on the last night of her life. For many, the willow conjures up dreams of childhood, coloured by Kenneth Grahame's famous book Wind in the Willows and later children's writers. In Harry Potter, the Whomping Willow is a tree with attitude that lives on the Hogwarts grounds; we share J K Rowling's thinking of its modernity. But the willow also has traditional associations with dreams and divination, and wands made from willow are linked to the moon. Their power has also been harnessed very differently by sportsmen wielding cricket bats or by doctors prescribing pain relief derived from the willow's salicylic acid, which gave the world aspirin. The quick-growing, ever-generous willow has always offered pliable twigs for basket-weaving, wicker-work, cradle-making, thatching or fencing, and once cut, the branches will turn into new trees. The willow is the ultimate entrepreneur embracing change.

Willows now have the potential to be green heroes, a saviour of the wood biofuels movement - as they are so fast growing, they can be harvested very frequently, and so are a tree of choice for wood fuels. There are willow-fuelled power stations being planned.

05Birch20150522

The immediate meaning of Birch to British ears is punishment. Frequently in archaeological finds of Neolithic and later peoples, Birch is present as weapons, canoes, spears, bowls, rope, carts, furniture and most importantly its bark and root funguses as antiseptics and wound dressings. She is known as the 'watchful tree' for the lenticels on her oily, almost indestructible bark have been interpreted as eyes' - overlooking everything happening in the forest. But Birch really is a sentinel, when spring comes, the birch is one of the first trees to come into leaf. The silver birch is a symbol of beauty, much prized in literature, poetry and photography. Birch sap can be drunk neat, or used to brew wine, beer or vinegar. Birch wine is said to prevent gall/kidney stones, a remedy for rheumatic diseases, a cleansing mouthwash, and an acne remedy.

A third series of these popular tree essays is again written and presented by experienced essayist, Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five more trees common in the UK. Across the series of essays, our ambiguous relationship with trees is explored. The three series have prompted an illustrated book of the essays planned for 2015.

Producer - Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

05Rowan20140523

Essay Five : Rowan

The second series written and presented by experienced essayist, Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, exploring the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five trees common in the UK.

The rowan comes in many guises: white ash, mountain ash, quickbeam, whispering tree, witchwood. This shifting identity suits a tree that is at once safe and suburban and a tree sacred to antiquity and renowned for its protective powers. In neat modern gardens, the pretty, delicate branches with fine leaf patterns give little hint of their ancient powers. The distinctive creamy blossom, vibrant autumn leaves and scarlet berries make it a tree for all seasons, but it is a tree for parallel worlds. As a native of the Northern hills, the rowan figures large in Irish, Scottish and Scandinavian traditions, its berries being the food of the gods. It features in old Irish poems, such as the story of Diarmid, and also in the poems of Seamus Heaney; in Scottish tradition, the rowan brings colour to the old Border ballads and songs as well as to many modern poems. The rowan has many associations with magic and witches. Its old Celtic name is 'fid na ndruad' which means wizard's tree.

The protective power is thought to come from the bright red berries, as red was thought to be the best colour for fighting evil and rowan wood was worn by travellers in the shape of a cross. Mystery, respect and foreboding.

Producer, Turan Ali

A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.

05 LASTSycamore20121214

Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College Oxford, explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises about five different trees and, across the series of essays, our ambiguous relationship with trees.

This edition is dedicated to the sycamore.

Sycamore seeds have their own propellers, sending them far and wide on the wind; hence, they take root all over Britain and Ireland. Being hardy trees, resistant to salt, they even grow easily in the coastal areas of the north.

A familiar feature of almost every rural area, their thick foliage offers shade to sheep and cattle, shelter to solitary farmhouses, and inspiration to poets as varied as John Clare and W. B. Yeats. For the Compleat Angler, the sycamore's shade was the perfect place for quiet meditation, and in "Tintern Abbey", Wordsworth expressed his profound delight in the Wye valley from under a "dark sycamore". The oldest sycamore is probably the Tolpuddle tree, where the Dorset labourers gathered to stand up for their rights and numerous visitors have come to pay homage since. The hated, yet common and useful - a theme humanity understands well.

Sycamore leaves are "the wrong kind of leaves on the line" that so disrupt British railways each year. Loved by urban councils, the sycamore is the most common tree in cities as it tolerates pollution and harsh city streets so well, yet some countryside organisations see it as a "weed" which needs to be removed. Seen as an ordinary tree, the sycamore has never been valued for its rich timber, even though its wood is as strong as oak, and more easily dyed; the sycamore stands for extraordinary possibilities latent in the commonplace.