I’ve been a ranger at Culzean for over 10 years and one area of the Country Park that continually enthrals me is Happy Valley near the Walled Garden. In the summer the lush tree ferns and arching canopies above are reminiscent of some prehistoric landscape, in the Autumn incredible, vibrant leaf colours are like an artist’s palette, the winter is greener than most on Happy Valley as the variety of coniferous trees provide structure and now in the spring the bird life serenades our walk. Key to this area is the trees – they’re massive! And two Sitka Spruce trees in particular are so special they were named: Adam and Eve.
Sitka Spruce is native to the western coast of North America and their seed was brought to Britain in 1831 by the famous plant explorer David Douglas. Douglas’s incredible stamina and determination took him from his home town of Scone in Perthshire to investigating and collecting the local plant life or North America and Hawaii. He introduced around 240 different plants to Britain including several conifer trees and in doing so transformed the British landscape and timber industry. It’s highly likely that our Adam and Eve Sitka Spruce trees were once seeds in David Douglas’s collecting bag!
Planted on a meandering path leading off Happy Valley in 1851 when they were 15 years old, Adam and Eve would have stood at about 1.5 metres tall. They are much taller than that now!! But we seldom see a Sitka Spruce quite so big in this country. Despite almost half of all Scotland’s woodlands comprising of this species of tree, plantations of Sitka are felled when they reach their maximum timber potential at around 45 years old, long before they reach the magnificent stance of a mature tree. Their timber is highly valued for pulp to produce glossy magazine paper with UPM Caledonian Mill at Irvine producing 260,000 tonnes of paper every year. David Douglas himself recognised the economic importance of the tree:
‘it may … become of equal or greater importance [than Douglas fir] as it possesses one
great advantage over that one by growing to a very large size…in apparently poor, thin,
damp soils… This unquestionably has great claims on our consideration as it would
thrive in such places in Britain where even Pinus sylvestris finds no shelter. It would
become a large and useful tree … This if introduced would profitably clothe the bleak,
barren hilly parts of Scotland … besides improving the beauty of the country.’
So here’s your chance to celebrate the Sitka – when driving on the motorway past the dark green hillside blankets or walking under the dense canopy with drainage ditches underfoot consider how these trees would look in 100 years time if left to their own devices. Take a walk down Happy Valley and find the small plank bridge off to the left. As you follow this through the woodland you will come across a variety of large impressive trees including some champion trees: Lawson Cypress, Irish Yew and Japanese Hemlock, recorded in the Tree Register for notable and ancient trees of Britain and Ireland. You will meet Eve first, half way along the path and up to the left. Her wide base has a scar possibly caused when another tree fell beside her, it is slowly healing with the help of natural resin. Adam stands alone at a junction in the path further on. You can clearly see the plates of bark scattered underneath him, their swirling patterns exposed when they fall off the tree.
Nobody knows who gave them their names. Our Adam and Eve were certainly the first Sitka Spruce at Culzean. Sitka trees in North America are known to reach 700 years old. Let’s hope ours do too!
If you’d like to discover more about the incredible trees at Culzean, their history, stories and ecology then join our Head Forester Ian on a fascinating tour of the Country Park on Monday 29th May 2017 1:30 – 4pm, meeting at the Walled Garden Car Park. Regular admission prices apply. £2 adult, £1 member and children go free.
Blog post written by Katie Walker, Countryside Ranger