One Word Photo Challenge: Eigengrau

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Eigengrau, (read: I’-Gen-growl, both g’s hard) is the color your brain sees in the absence of light.

Jenny has chosen a very esoteric color to end her color challenges.  Her final ‘color’ is the absence of color in the absence of light.  Those who understand these things explain that eigengrau is more of a dark grey than a true black, by the way.

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Also explained as ‘brain grey’ or  ‘dark light,’  this color describes what you might see upon opening your eyes in a dark room.

This is a new color term for me, and a fitting way for Jenny to close out this challenge.

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Don’t worry, Jennifer begins a new ‘One Word Photo Challenge’ next week using weather themes.  She starts us off with an easy one:  rain.

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Colonial Williamsburg in late afternoon

Colonial Williamsburg in late afternoon

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I am choosing to interpret eigengrau as the dark grey one sees when an object is seen in silhouette against a background of light, and the deep shadows where light cannot reach.  Although the Germans, who coined this color term, elaborated an entire cult to celebrate the very esoteric ‘Black Sun;’ I celebrate the life giving sun of visible light. 

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The photos I’ve chosen celebrate the light, which nourishes all life, while also showing us the shadows.

With Appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells for her

One Word Photo Challenge:  Eigengrau

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Pollarded Platanus

 

Planatus x acerifolia ?  Either a London Planetree, or an American Sycamore- we know now that the interesting structure is created through pruning.

Planatus x acerifolia ? Either a London Planetree, or an American Sycamore- we know now that the interesting structure is created through pruning.

Gwennie supplied the answer.

Gwennie’s first message suggested these beautiful trees belong to the genus Platanus.

The distinctive leaves and bark help identify this tree as a Platanus

The distinctive leaves and bark help identify this tree as a Platanus.  Growth from the base, and from buds along the trunk, is stimulated by the frequent pruning necessary to maintain the pollarded form of the crown.

That much I had surmised from my field guides to trees and internet searching.  But which one?  I wasn’t finding a species or cultivar with these  strange, knobby branches!

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I had narrowed it down to something akin to the American Sycamore Platanus occidentalis, the London Planetree, Platanus x acerifolia, or the  Oriental Planetree Platanus orientalis.

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But what hybrid or cultivar?  Nothing seemed to quite fit exactly.

But then Gwennie supplied the answer, as of course a European gardener would:  these trees have been pollarded.

Our trees last December 27.  Do you see the new growth at the "knobs"?  This was pruned away over the winter.

Our trees last December 27. Do you see the new growth at the “knobs”? This was pruned away over the winter.

Of course!  And  the clues were all there.

The same trees, photographed on March 12, 2014.

The same trees, photographed on March 12, 2014.

To pollard a tree is an ancient practice. 

Like coppicing, one cuts back the new growth on a regular schedule to shape and train a tree, to maintain its size, or to harvest its wood.

Unlike coppicing, where one may cut the tree or shrub back to the ground; pollarding leaves the basic framework of the tree in place, and simply cuts back new growth to a given point.

This may be done annually, or once every several years depending on the gardener’s needs.

In England, where much of the old growth forest was harvested for building, the practice of pollarding was practiced to grow and harvest wood for building fences and other useful things, without killing the tree.

Some farmers would feed pruned branches and leaves to livestock, others used it for construction or even firewood.

Why does this photo remind me of Tolkien's Ents?

Why does this photo remind me of Tolkien’s Ents?

And here is this quintessentially European practice demonstrated in Colonial Williamsburg!

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Pollarding trees is a common practice in many European cities- less so in large American cities.

This pruning technique keeps the overall size of the tree in check.  But it also makes the tree much stronger and safer.

An American Sycamore growing on the Colonial Parway shows no signs of pruning.

An American Sycamore growing on the Colonial Parkway shows few signs of pruning.

By limiting the growth of branches, those which remain grow larger and stronger.

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Wind moves through the tree easily, reducing storm damage.

Our heavily pruned oaks in December.  They survived the summer, after pruning, and show beautiful new growth this spring.

Our heavily pruned oaks in December. They survived the summer, after pruning, and show beautiful new growth this spring.

Pollarded trees are far less likely to fall in a storm because their reduced canopy won’t resist the wind in the same way a large, unpruned tree will catch the wind in its branches, much like a sail.

We decided to severely prune several large trees in our own garden last summer.  Strong winds in a summer thunderstorm took down three huge old oak trees quite unexpectedly.  They fell towards the street, but we could plainly see what might have happened had they fallen in a different direction….

The pruning was a bit too drastic for my taste, but then I hate to prune a rose...

The pruning was a bit too drastic for my taste, but then I hate to prune a rose…

The decision was a hard one for me to accept, but it was pointed out, by my very practical partner and his arborist allies, that this severe pruning would protect both the trees, and our home.

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And so they cut.  And cut; and chipped up beautiful branches full of new summer leaves.

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It was so painful to watch, and yet I realized that with the strange storms blowing across the planet these days it was absolutely necessary.

Although July is the wrong time for such an operation (if we thought we could, we would have waited for November) we had the work done, and then hoped for the best.

And all of our trees now show new, vigorous growth.

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Not only have they survived their pruning ordeal, they are bouncing back.

It just shows the incredible resilience of established  trees.

In fact, one use of pollard style pruning is to maintain trees in a more juvenile state.

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Rather than allowing them to mature and establish huge  canopies, one keeps them lean.  (This reminds me of the longevity diet plans which claim to extend human life through under-consumption of food, and maintaining a very lean weight.   Please don’t ask when I plan to get serious with this approach….)

There are some very very old, and very contorted trees in parts of the colonial district, which have intrigued me.  They are mostly hollow, and more sculpture than tree.

A friend posing with one of these beautiful old trees near the Colonial Capitol in CW last December.

A friend posing with one of these beautiful old trees near the Colonial Capitol in CW last December.

It seems that one of the effects of continual pollarding is to eventually create a very old tree with a hollow trunk.   Now I’m keen to re-visit these old trees, and see if they can be identified by their leaves.

Pollarding isn’t reserved to just Platanus species.  It is also used with many broadleaf deciduous trees, including beech, oak, redbud, Malus, Cornus, Acer, Salix, and others.  (More on Crepe-Murder here.)

This pruning practice is also used to control Wisteria, Lonicera, and Clematis vines.

Growth may be controlled on Wisteria vines, and flowering increased, through pollarding the fine.

Growth may be controlled on Wisteria vines, and flowering increased, by pruning the vines.

Wherever a steady supply of new growth is desired, pollarding can be practiced to increase the supply of flowers, juvenile foliage, and new growth wood.

I am still not positive about the identification of these Platanus trees.

While they resemble our native American Sycamore trees, a case can be made to identify them more properly as Platanus x acerifolia “Bloodgood.”  Also known as the London planetree, or hybrid plane, this hybrid claims both the American Sycamore and  the oriental plane as parents.

This naturally occurring hybrid first turned up as seedlings in Spain in the 17th Century.  Beautiful, strong, and disease resistant, Platanus x acerifolia went into the nursery trade early on and is the preferred Platanus for urban plantings.  Not only does the hybrid withstand heat, drought, soil compaction, and pollution, but it has superior resistance to the anthracnose virus.

So, while not sure of the exact species or cultivar, we will agree that these lovely trees are Platanus, some variety of Sycamore or Plane trees.

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And they are living works of art.  Lovely in all seasons, sturdy and useful;  they inspired me to learn a bit more about them.

And with Gwennie’s assistance, a new understanding of tree cultivation has opened up.

Thank you, Gwennie!

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

 

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