Category Archives: Trees

Johann Hermann Knoop’s Pomologia

Pomologia, dat is, Beschryvingen en afbeeldingen van de beste soorten van appels en peeren by Johann Hermann Knoop. (1758)  Pomologia, that is, descriptions and pictures of the best varieties of apples and pears (The Getty Research Institute via archive.org)

Caroline d’Angleterre, Witte Ribbezt, Spaansche Guelderling, Peppin d’Or, Calville Blanche d’Hyver – what do these names have in common?  All are European apples, grown in the mid-18th century and recorded by Johann Hermann Knoop in his spectacular book, Pomologia, that is, descriptions and pictures of the best varieties of apples and pears (1758).

Exceptional coloured engravings reveal the immense variety in the shapes, scale and colour of these fruits.  Some of the apples have elongated shapes like plums or melons, looking quite different from those available today.  Others, like the Bruindeling and Reinette de Montbron, are exceptionally dark shades of brown, while the skin of the Reinette Grise appears to have a slightly rough texture, as well as its unusual colouring.

The pears are just as diverse.  Some, like the Bergamotte d’Oré and another, simply named Parfum, are small and round like apples.  Bourdon and Muscat-Fleury are conventionally pear shaped, but miniature.  The appropriately named Grande Monarche is a huge green pear, with a touch of redness on the side of the fruit that was exposed to the sun while growing on the tree, and ready to eat in February and March.

Born in Germany, Knoop (early 18th century – 1769) followed his father into horticulture and began his career as gardener at Marienburg, near Leeuwarden in The Netherlands.  By 1747 the estate had lost its status as a royal residence, and not long after this Knoop left his position there, with a suggestion that alcoholism might have been a factor in the termination of his employment.

Whilst still at Marienburg, Knoop’s interest in science resulted in his first publication in 1744 – an update of an existing handbook for engineers and surveyors – but it was the publication of Pomologia in 1758 that brought him wider recognition.  After Pomologia Knoop published Dendrologia (about garden trees) and Fructologia discussing fruit trees such as cherries and plums, and these three publications were sometimes sold bound together as an encyclopedia.  Reflecting Knoop’s breadth of interests, further books on subjects as diverse as heraldry and architecture followed.

Knoop’s ambitious survey of apple and pears covers varieties from the Low countries, Germany, France and England.  Information about each of these is organised in chapters to accompany the numbered plates, and includes details of the size and vigour of the trees as well as the relative merits of the fruits, such as flavour and keeping qualities – especially important before modern refrigeration.  It also served as an identification manual for readers to match fruits from their gardens to illustrations in the book.

According to the university of Utrecht, the engravings for Pomologia produced by Jacob Folkema and Jan Casper Philips were hand coloured by the daughters of the publisher, Abraham Ferwerda.  The skillful use of shading in the engravings conveys a sense of weight and solidity, while the depiction of irregularities and blemishes on the skins of the fruits lends both charm and a sense of authenticity.

Are any of the apples and pears from Knoop’s work still cultivated today?  A brief search reveals the apple Calville Blanche d’Hiver for sale at specialist growers Bernwode Fruit Trees.  Bernwode notes the cooked fruit keeps its shape and that, ‘Victorian gardeners grew the trees against a wall or under glass, for the best flavour and because chefs valued the fruit so highly.’  Calville Blanche d’Hiver can also be used as dessert apple.  The pear Jargonelle is available, and the Poire d‘Angleterre, or Engelse Beurré, with its reddish-brown skin, the flavour described as ‘melting, very juicy flesh, sweet and rich’.

Links to Pomologia (1758) and a French translation (1771) below, plus links to the universities of Delft and Utrecht for biographical information about Knoop published on their websites.

Calville Blanche d’Hyver is the green apple at the bottom right of the page.

The pear Jargonelle is seen at the bottom of this page.

The beautiful brown Poire d’Angleterre appears at the top right of this page

Further reading:

Pomologia (1758)

French translation published in 1771 Pomologia (1771)

Biography of Knoop from University of Utrecht

Discussion of Knoop’s career from Prof Cor Wagenaar, University of Delft

Bernwode Fruit Trees

Celebrating Fairlop Friday

The Fairlop Oak surrounded by the crowed gathered to celebrate the Fairlop Friday Fair. From A Curious Account of the Origin of Fairlop Fair: with an entertaining description of the motley multitude who assemble on that occasion, published by W. Darton 1811 (images courtesy University of California Libraries, via archive.org).

On the first Friday of July,
Then people meet together,
Regardless of the summer fly,
And fearless of the weather.

The summer has always been a time for all kinds of outdoor celebrations.  While seasonal events like harvest festivals were celebrated by communities all over the country, other festivals had a specifically local character.

One of these is the Fairlop Fair (still celebrated today), a day-long event focused around the once famous Fairlop Oak in Hainault Forest, Essex.  Many English festivals have ancient roots, but the Fairlop Fair appears to be a relatively modern invention, a gathering of London workers wishing to escape the city for a rare summer holiday in the countryside.

The Fairlop Fair, which took place on the first Friday in July, was established in the early eighteenth century.  Its continuing popularity is reflected in A Curious Account of Fairlop Fair; with an entertaining description of the motley multitude who assemble on that occasion, a book for children published in 1811 by William Darton.

The book’s plentiful illustrations and verse describing the day out capture the character of the ‘motley multitude’ of Londoners travelling to Hainault.  From the packing of refreshments to sustain them through the day, to their late night meanderings home, Darton’s vivid portraits of everyone from typical family groups to revellers packed onto carts and coaches conveys the rambunctious nature of Fair’s visitors.

The Fairlop Oak is well documented in paintings and prints, (many examples of which can be seen on the Hainault Forest website) and these images record the tree’s gradual decline over the years, showing its hollow trunk and dying branches.  In its heyday the Fairlop Oak’s trunk measured more than thirty feet in circumference, while its canopy was said to cover an acre of ground.  Although the tree was all but dead by the time Darton records the Fair, the event still drew in crowds of visitors.

The celebration was started by Mr Thomas Day, a boat-builder from Wapping, and Darton explains to the young reader how Day and his friends would travel to the Fairlop Oak in a horse-drawn boat.  The boat, filled with musicians, would be paraded around the old tree.  This spectacle gradually attracted more and more people, and so the Fair began.  Some fascinating photographs on the Hainault Forest website show that a boat on wheels still travelled by road to the Fair from the East End of London as late as 1901.

There’s a sense in which Fairlop Friday with its music, crowds, and copious alcohol mirrors the supposedly more genteel garden gatherings at venues in central London from this time, at Vauxhall and Ranelagh.  The Fair also anticipates the immense popularity of today’s outdoor music festivals like Glastonbury.

Sadly, most of these festivals are unable to go ahead this year due to Covid-19, and judging by the unusually large crowds of people in my local park, enjoying the sun and picnics in the shade of the plane trees, they’re much missed.  There are links to the Hainault Forest website and Darton’s book below.

A family gets dressed for the fair, with their coach waiting for them outside.

Thomas Day, founder of Fairlop Fair drinking and smoking with his friends at the foot of the oak – whilst musicians entertain them.

Thomas Day’s extraordinary boat.

Thomas Day is said to have taken a branch of the Fairlop Oak with which to fashion his coffin.

A festival atmosphere greets visitors to the Fairlop Fair.

This carriage is over-loaded with travellers – many of whom are drinking heavily.

Outdoor events are at the mercy of the weather – here revellers are rained off.

The return to London – the dome of St Paul’s is visible across the fields. Many travellers look the worse for wear.

Further reading:

A Curious Account of the Origin of Fairlop Fair

Hainault Forest website – Fairlop Oak

Hainault Forest website – Fairlop Fair

Pruning the Brogdale Bramley

Bramley’s Seedling apples on the tree at the National Fruit Collection, Brogdale (photo Wikimedia Commons)

Venturing out on my first horticultural visit of the year, last Saturday I headed for Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection just outside Faversham in Kent.  February being an ideal time to prune apple trees, my purpose was to attend a pruning demonstration, whereby a large Bramley apple tree left unpruned for the last six years would be re-shaped.

Bramley’s Seedling is still one of the UK’s best known cooking apples.  The original tree was raised in 1809 from seed planted by a young girl Mary Ann Brailsford in her Nottinghamshire cottage garden.  By the 1840s the cottage (and apple tree) were owned by one Matthew Bramley, a butcher, who allowed cuttings to be taken for commercial propagation by local nurseryman Henry Merryweather on condition that the trees bore his name.

The Bramley apple tree produces delicious fruit, but has some special requirements for successful cultivation.  They are vigorous trees, needing a large space to grow well and are triploids meaning that they need two separate apple varieties nearby to ensure successful pollination.

The Bramley apple tree that greeted us at Brogdale was a confusing prospect – tall, asymmetric, with an over-abundance of sprawling branches.  It was clear that pruning was required, but how to begin with such a tangle of growth?

Our guide, the horticulturalist and fruit tree specialist John Easton encouraged us to stand back from the tree, walk around it and examine it from every angle.  We should also try to imagine the tree as it might appear from above – ideally up to five major branches would radiate out like the spokes of a wheel.

John identified two main problems with the tree.  There were large branches shading the centre of the tree, preventing new shoots from developing, (which would eventually form a framework of new branches).  The tree also had too many lateral shoots, causing the tree to be very congested.

We were then asked to suggest which large branches should come out, and after some deliberation, these branches were marked with tape at their junction with the trunk of the tree.  John emphasised the importance of sticking to a decision about removing branches as a loss of confidence half way through the process could result in a tree that was unbalanced.

Using both a small hand held chainsaw and a pole mounted chainsaw, Martin (John’s assistant for the day) started to remove branches.  John then used a pruning saw and secateurs to thin growth on the branches that we’d decided to keep and raise the level of the lowest of these so the crop would not be splashed with soil and the grass beneath could be mown easily.  Under John’s guidance Martin next removed a vast quantity of 5 year old upright shoots from the centre of the tree, leaving those remaining with enough space to develop and bear fruit.

The pruned tree still had a wide spread, and while it might be tempting to tidy away the tips of the branches to make the tree neater, John explained why this should be avoided in a Bramley.  As a partial tip-bearer, fruit is produced at the ends of the branches, and also on short spurs that appear along the fruiting laterals.  As new, upright shoots develop the weight of the apple crop has the effect of ‘bringing down’ the branches which are quite flexible.  But if the ends are removed this has a stiffening effect on the branch and interrupts the growth pattern of tree.

Finally, John explained the current thinking about the treatment of watershoots, which spring up in great numbers on the main branches and sometimes the tree trunk, where the sap flow is at its greatest.  Rather than remove them all (for aesthetic purposes) he suggested removing a third entirely with a saw, cutting a third back to around three inches with a secateurs and bending in the final third to curtail their upward growth.  He explained that the roughness of the saw cut damaged the tree cells more than a cleaner cut with secateurs, and stopped re-growth more effectively.

Ideally apple trees should be pruned on a three year cycle with a maximum of one third of the growth removed at any one time.  John emphasised the importance of knowing when to stop – although there were more laterals that he could have removed, the danger of damaging the tree after the major work he had carried out was too great.  And so it being time, as John put it, to ‘walk away from the tree’ we finished our day.

A tangle of branches – the tree before pruning.

Having decided which branches to remove, these are marked clearly with tape.

Fruit tree expert John Easton (on the ground) and Martin (on the ladder) discuss which branches are to be removed.

Martin uses a pole chainsaw to take out a vertical branch.

John uses a pruning saw and secateurs to thin fruiting laterals closer to the ground.

Expert cut to thin out growth on a fruiting lateral.

Bark of the Bramley tree in the early February sunshine.

The Brogdale Bramley after pruning.

A fraction of the mass of material from the tree after pruning.

Blossom of the Bramley’s Seedling apple, National Fruit Collection, Brogdale (photo Wikimedia Commons)

Bramley Tree Cottage in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, where the first Bramley apple tree was raised from seed by Mary Ann Brailsford.  Photograph: Alan Murray-Rust Wikimedia Commons

Further Reading:

Brogdale Collections – home of the National Fruit Collection including over 2000 apple varieties

The Bramley Seedling Apple – the history of this much loved tree on Wikipedia

The Woodland Companion

The Oak from The Woodland Companion by John Aikin (1815). Digital version courtesy of The Library of Congress

Amidst today’s alarm at our state of disconnection with nature, there’s a tendency to assume that in the past everyone possessed a detailed knowledge about the natural world.  So it’s rather comforting to learn that in the early 19th century John Aikin (1747 -1822) decided that a tree identification book was needed to assist the many children (and adults) that didn’t know an oak tree from an ash.

The Woodland Companion, first published in 1802, begins with a frank assessment of the nation’s woeful lack of knowledge about trees:

‘The confined knowledge which young persons, and even those of advanced age, are usually found to possess of the noblest products of the vegetable creation, the trees which compose our woods and decorate our parks and pleasure-grounds, suggested to the writer that a brief description of them, in the form of a pocket-companion of the rural walk, might be acceptable.’

Like all the best pocket book guides, each tree in The Woodland Companion is accompanied by a detailed illustration of the leaves, flowers and fruits.  Aikin describes the size and shape of the trees and typical situations where they might be found.  He also takes time to inform us about the uses of the timber, revealing a world before mechanisation where wood was a material fundamental to every aspect of life, from architecture, transport, agriculture to the home.

After a career as a doctor, John Aikin (1747 -1822) took up writing in his retirement and was adept at producing material that a popular audience would enjoy.  He published many educational works about science, biography, poetry and the highly successful stories for children Evenings at Home which he wrote with his sister Anna Laetitia Barbauld.  The images used in The Woodland Companion were first commissioned by Alexander Hunter for his illustrated edition of John Evelyn’s Sylva (published in 1776 and re-printed several times).

I’ve included some of these fragile foldouts below with some details from Aikin about the trees and their uses.  There’s a link to the text at The Library of Congress at the very end of the post.

‘In our days, beech is a common material of the turner and cabinet maker; the former using it for his larger ware; and the latter, for common chairs and other articles of furniture.  It is, indeed, almost the only English wood employed by the London cabinet-makers.  Its lightness causes it to be chosen for the handles of tools; and it is split into thin scales for band-boxes, sword scabards, and the like.  The dried leaves of the beech make a very good stuffing for mattresses.’

The chesnut:  ‘Among the mast-bearing trees this may be reckoned the most valuable, since its nuts, by their sweet and farinaceous quality, are rendered good food for man, as well as for other animals.  The chesnuts cultivated for their fruit are usually grafted ones, called by the French marronier;  and in many parts of the south of Europe they afford great part of the sustenance of the poor, who make bread of their flour.  In this country the fruit of the chesnut is small, and seldom comes to maturity; it is therefore left to the hogs and squirrels.’

‘The wood of the elm is hard and tough, and useful for a variety of purposes.  It is particularly serviceable for occasions which require its being kept constantly wet; as in the keels and planking beneath the water-line of ships, mill-wheels and water-works, and especially for water-pipes, the great demand for which is the cause of its frequency about London, and of the practice of training it without branches to a tall straight trunk, which may admit of boring in long pieces.  It is likewise used for axel-trees, naves, gate-posts and rails, floors, dressers, blocks &c. and it is very fit for the carved and ornamental works belonging to architecture.’

The ash ‘may be peculiarly termed the husbandman’s tree; for it is one of the principal materials in making ploughs, harrows, waggons, carts and various other implements for rustic use: hence a proportional number of ash-trees should be planted in every farm.’

The sycamore: ‘It is not uncommonly planted in streets, and before houses, on account of its shade.  It also has the property of being less injured by the neighbourhood of the sea, and the dashing of the salt spray, than almost any other tree; and hence is often set in rope-walks in maritime towns.  It comes early into flower, and usually bears a vast profusion of pendent light-green bunches or catkins, which make a handsome show.  The flowers smell strong of honey, and afford much pasture to bees.’

The lime: ‘No tree is so much employed for avenues, and for bordering streets and roads.  Some of the straight walks of ancient limes, which modern taste has hitherto spared, are beautiful specimens of the pointed arch made by the intersection of branches, which has supposed to be imitated in the Gothic architecture of cathedrals.’

The horse chesnut: ‘This tree, which is originally a native of the East, has not very long been naturalized in England.  Its introduction here has been solely owing to its beauty, in which, in the flowering season, it certainly excels every other tree of its bulk that bears our climate.’ 

The hornbeam:  ‘It thrives well on a cold stiff clay, on the sides of hills, bears lopping and transplanting, and is capable of resisting the wind.  It is, however, principally cultivated as a shrub and underwood, and is excellent for forming tall hedges or screens in nursery grounds or ornamental gardens.  The wood of hornbeam is very white, tough and strong.  It is used for yokes, handles for tools, and cogs for mill-wheels, and is much valued by the turner.’

‘Hazel charcoal is preferred to any other by painters and engravers, for the freedom with which it draws, and the readiness with which its marks can be rubbed out.  The nuts of the hazel are a generally agreeable fruit.  They abound in a mild oil, which may be extracted by expression, and is used by painters for mixing with their colours.’

Further reading:

The Woodland Companion

John Aikin (Wikipedia)

Alexander Hunter (Wikipedia)

 

The Character of Trees

Weeping Willow at Pope’s Villa (Alexander Pope’s house at Twickenham)

An abundance of paintings and plans have familiarised us with the design of parks and public gardens in the Georgian period, but it’s more unusual to come across detailed studies of individual trees they contained.  The artist François Louis Thomas Francia (1772 – 1839) provides some striking close ups of these trees, many of them in London, in his instructional drawing book Progressive lessons tending to elucidate the character of trees, with the process of sketching, and painting them in water colours published in 1813.

Francia has chosen trees of great character for his sketches – large, mature specimens which bear witness to the damage time (and people) have wrought upon them.  He resists the temptation to repair their imperfections, instead embracing their leaning trunks and dead branches and making these an integral part of his composition.  Interestingly, the plane tree (Platanus x hispanica) which dominates central London streets and open spaces today is absent from Francia’s studies, which reveal mostly native tree species.

Backgrounds in his sketches capture the semi-rural mood of Chelsea and Green Park, now built up and completely changed.  A sketch in Hyde Park shows an elm’s enormous canopy sheltering cattle – a scene almost impossible to envisage in a space now dominated by crowds of people.  At Millbank a pollarded willow tree grows on the quiet shoreline, before the construction of the Embankment and present day network of streets.

What is Francia’s advice to students wishing to draw a tree?  The key to representing the character of each tree species accurately, he says, starts with the close observation of the different shapes of the leaves and growth patterns of leaf clusters and branches.  For this purpose he suggests gathering specimens of these, which are dried and used as reference at home or in the studio.  He recommends drawing individual leaves repeatedly until students can remember their shapes.

He further explains his process of observation using the elm tree as an example:

‘The leaves from their smallness, closeness and quantity, acquire, at a little distance, a rotundity in the appearance of the clusters; and from the length and pliability of the branches they incline every way; that is, pointedly upwards at the top of the tree; horizontally in the middle; and downwards towards the bottom, with a tendency to curl upwards again.’

François Louis Thomas Francia was a refugee from Calais, France who came to England as a child.  He was an accomplished landscape painter and for some time the secretary of the Associated Painters in Water Colours.  Francia returned to Calais in 1816 (in the same year he was refused membership of the Royal Academy) and remained there until his death in 1839.

As we move into early autumn most London trees are still carrying green leaves, although after another dry summer, they’ve lost the freshness of spring and some are already starting to change colour.  Francia’s original trees are now gone, but his sketches and observations are still valuable – as a historical record certainly – but also as inspiration to look more closely at the trees around us today and appreciate them more.

Links to various sources at the end of the page.

Studies of individual leaves, leaf clusters and branches.

Francia says, ‘It is not necessary to become a perfect Botanist to delineate a leaf or a tree; it is only requisite that there be a sufficient resemblance, or character, in every tree we paint, or draw, as to be known and named by the spectators;’

Examples of the colours used by Francia.  Opposite each tree sketch he details which colours were used.

Fairlop Oak in Haynault Forest

Francia says of the oak:  ‘.. it will be observed that the leaf arranges itself in five or six leaves to a cluster, has a constant tendency to project horizontally, and even upwards; so caused by its being attached to branches which, by the abruptness of outline, evidently shew great strength in the tree; very different from the pliability and buoyancy of the Ash.’

The Fairlop Oak was a famous and well documented tree and the Fairlop Fair was held beneath its branches in the 18th century.  More details on the Hainault Forest website:  www.hainaultforest.co.uk

Elm in Hyde Park

Chesnut in Chelsea Gardens

‘The Chesnut .. has a much larger and longer leaf than the Oak, from which it varies particularly in its indentures or edges, which are less circular; it hangs five, six or seven leaves in clusters, and by spreading wide from the trunk on all sides, produce more shade than most other trees;’

Beech in the New Forest

Francia’s notes on the beech tree:  ‘A beautiful forest tree, which from the smallness of its foliage scarcely shews its individuality.  Its leading characters are its sharp pointedness at top, and sweeping branches all the way down, elegantly striving to point upwards.’

Willow on Millbank (with Lambeth Palace on the opposite side of the Thames).

Poplar in Buckingham Gardens

Ash in the New Forest

‘The leaf of this most elegant tree is long, and by its arrangement on the branch appears to lose its length by the circular character given to its clusters.  It is the most playful and buoyant of all Trees, and for beauty of form and elegance of distribution in its branches, as well as character, we know of no tree surpassing the Ash.’

Sycamore in the Green Park

Further reading:

Progressive Lessons by Francois Louis Thomas Francia
(Made available by the Getty Research Institute via the Internet Archive)

Francois Louis Thomas Francia

 

Some English Trees

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597

Early March is when we anticipate blossom and the unfurling of new leaves, marking the arrival of spring.  With snow now covering the trees and the landscape, spring is some way off.  But as trees begin their new cycle of growth, it still feels like a good time to revisit John Gerard’s Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes (1597), to renew our acquaintance with our native trees and appreciate their place in England’s cultural history.

According to the Woodland Trust more than four fifths of us can’t identify an ash tree from its leaves and almost half cannot recognise an oak, underlining our profound disconnection from the natural world.  The close connection between plants and people is inescapable in  Gerard’s Herball.  Pre-industrial society’s knowledge of local plants is linked to dependence on them for immediate needs, such as building materials, technology, food and medicine.

Amongst Gerard’s entries for trees we discover the wood of the alder tree was used for guttering because it is slow to rot and elm was used for making arrows and wheels.  The boughs of the common willow were brought into the sick chamber for those suffering from fevers and oak apples were ‘read’ to divine the future.

Gerard’s Herball is a survey of the plants known in England in the late 16th century and is quite unlike a scientific book published today.  Gerard’s commentary on each plant is delivered in a personal, anecdotal manner, mentioning plants growing in his own garden and reporting observations of other plant enthusiasts and growers.

The stylised illustrations generally show a branch of each tree with detail of the leaves, flowers and fruits, representing the tree in all the stages of its growing season.  The overall shape of the tree is not usually depicted, although some illustrations show a trunk with roots, and one over-large branch as the canopy, which is actually a twig, showing detail of the plant.  The rectangular illustrations are without a border, but are filled to their corners with a profusion of closely observed foliage, flowers and fruits.

Here are Gerard’s observations of some of our most common tree species.  I’ve included the elm tree which was once common in the UK, but now largely absent as a result of Dutch elm disease.  Recently I read the elm has returned to London as a street tree in Bond Street, so perhaps one day this tree will once more take its place in the English landscape?

The Birch Tree  Betula

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597 (images via Biodiversity Heritage Library)

The common Birch tree waxeth likewise a great tree, having many boughes beset with many small rods or twigs, very limber and pliant: .. the rinde of the body or trunke is harde without, white, rough, and uneven, full of chinkes or crevices: under which is founde another fine barke, plaine, smooth, and thinne as paper, which heeretofore was used insteede of paper to write upon, before the making of paper was knowne; in Russia & those colde regions, it serveth insteede of Tiles and Slate to cover their houses withall:

in times past the magistrates rods were made heerof: and in our time also the scholmasters and parents do terrifie their children with rods made of Birch.

The Common Oke  Quercus vulgaris.

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597

Gerard records oak apples being used as a means of predicting events in the coming year:

The Oke Apples being broken in sunder about the time of their withering, do foreshewe the sequell of the yeere, as the expert Kentish husbandmen have observed by the living things founde in them: as if they finde an Ant, they foretell plentie of graine to insue; if a white worm like a Gentill or a Maggot, then they prognosticate murren of beasts and cattle; if a Spider, then (saie they) we shall have a pestilence or some such like sicknes to followe amongst men: these things the learned also have observed and noted; for Mathiolus writing upon Dioscorides saith, that before they have an hole thorough them, they conteine in them either a flie, a spider, or a worme; if a flie, then warre ensueth, if a creeping worme, then scarcitie of victuals; if a running spider then followeth great sicknes or mortalitie.

The Beech Fagus.

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597

The Beech is an high tree, with boughes spreading oftentimes in maner of a circle, and with a thick body, having many armes: the barke is smooth; the timber is white, harde, and very profitable: the leaves be smooth, thinne, broad .. the catkins, or blowings be also lesser and shorter then those of the Birch tree, and yellow: the fruite or Maste is contained in a huske or cup that is prickly, and rough bristled; .. the rootes be fewe, and grow not deepe, and little lower then under the turfe.  

The Beech flowereth in April and May, the the fruit is ripe in September, at what time the Deere do eate the same very greedily, as greatly delighting therein, which hath caused forresters and huntsmen to call it Buckmast.

The Alder Tree  Alnus

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597

The Alder tree or Aller, is a great high tree having many brittle branches, and the barke is of a browne colour, the wood or timber is not hard, and yet it will last and endure very long under the water, yea longer than any other timber whatsoever: wherefore in the fennie and soft marrish grounds, they do use to make piles and posts thereof, for the strengthening of the wals and such like.  This timber doth also serve very well to make troughes to convey water in steade of pipes of Lead.

The Ash Tree  Fraxinus

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597

The Ash also is an high and tal tree; it riseth up with a straight body, and then of no smal thicknesse, commonly of a middle size, and is covered with a smoothe barke: the woode is white, smooth, hard, and somewhat rough grained:

The fruite .. is termed in English Ashkeies, and of some Kitekeies.  The seede or Kitekeies of the Ash tree provoke urine, increase naturall seede, and stirreth up bodily lust, especially being powdred with nutmegs and drunke.

The common Willow  Salix

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597

The common Willow is an high tree, with a body of a meane thicknes, and riseth up as high as other trees do if it not be topped in the beginning , soon after it is planted; the bark thereof is smooth, tough, and flexible; the wood is white, tough and hard to be broken: the leaves are long, lesser, and narrower, than those of the Peach tree, somewhat greene on the upper side and slipperie, and on the neather side softer and whiter;

The greene boughs with the leaves may very well be brought into chambers, and set about the beds of those that be sicke of agues; for they do mightily coole the heate of the aire, which thing is a woonderful refreshing to the sicke patients.

The Elme tree and the Elme with broad leaves Ulmus, Ulmus latifolia.

The first kinde of Elme is a great high tree, having many branches spreading themselves largely abroad: the timber of it is hard, and not easie to be cloven or cut in sunder.  The leaves are somewhat wrinkled and snipt about the edges .. This tree is very common in our countrie of England: the leaves of this Elme are pleasant fodder for divers fowerfooted beasts, and especially for kine and oxen.

The second kinde of Elme groweth likewise unto a great stature, with very hard and tough timber, whereof are made arrowes, wheeles, mill pullies and such other engins for the carriage of great waights and burthens.

The common Elder tree  Sambucus.

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597

The common Elder groweth up now and then to the bignes of a meane tree, casting his boughs all about, and oftentimes remaineth a shrub;  .. little berries, greene at the first, afterwards blacke, whereout is pressed a purple juice, which being boyled with Allom and such like things doth serve very well for the Painters use,

The Hawthorne tree Oxyacanthus.

from The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes John Gerard 1597

The Hawthorne groweth in woods, & in hedges neer unto high waies almost everie where.  .. many do call the tree it selfe the May bush, as a chiefe token of the comming in of May:  .. the fruite is ripe in the beginning of September, and is a food for birdes in winter.

Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes  via the Biodiversity Heritage Library  (Trees begin at around page 1146)

Wikipedia John Gerard

The Woodland Trust tree identification quiz