May 18
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Endangered Species of the Week: Maidenhair tree

Photo of maidenhair tree fruit and leaves

Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)

Species: Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The maidenhair tree is known as a ‘living fossil’, as it is the only surviving member of a group of trees dating back to before the time of the dinosaurs.

A large tree with characteristically fan-shaped leaves, the maidenhair tree gets its common name from the resemblance of its leaves to those of maidenhair ferns (Adiantum species). Its leaves are greenish-yellow, but turn a beautiful golden yellow in autumn. The maidenhair tree takes 20 to 35 years to reach maturity, and can be very long lived, with the oldest recorded individual being an estimated 3,500 years old. Maidenhair trees are either male or female, with male trees producing pollen on catkin-like cones and females producing smelly, flesh-coated seeds. The maidenhair tree has been widely used in traditional medicine in China and Japan, and its nuts are edible if cooked. An extract of the plant’s leaves is now one of the most popular herbal remedies in the West, being used to treat a variety of ailments.

The maidenhair tree has been widely planted as an ornamental tree and for its medicinal properties. This species was traditionally grown in temple gardens in Japan and China, but is now popular worldwide. Unfortunately, its survival in the wild is less secure, mainly due to widespread deforestation. A few individuals are found on Mount Xitianmu in China, but it is not clear whether they are truly wild or are descended from temple garden trees. No specific conservation measures are currently in place for this unique tree, but its worldwide popularity means it is likely to persist in cultivation into the future.

Find out more about the maidenhair tree at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – Maidenhair tree.

See images of the maidenhair tree on ARKive.

Today is Plant Conservation Day! Find out more at the Plant Conservation Day website.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 13
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What is the World’s Favourite Species?

It’s ARKive’s 10th birthday this year and we want you to join our celebrations by helping us find the World’s Favourite Species.

We think all the world’s species are amazing but which is your favourite? Which animal, plant or fungi is so special that it deserves to be crowned the World’s Favourite Species?

Nominate today!

Nominations are now open and it couldn’t be simpler to vote  - simply find your favourite species on ARKive and click the ‘Nominate Today!’ button.

You have until 3rd April to suggest your favourites (and yes, you can choose more than one species!), after which we’ll draw up the shortlist and put it to the public vote. This shortlist will be whittled down to determine the Top Ten World’s Favourite Species – as chosen by you.

We can’t do it without your input – please spare a few moments to make your nomination TODAY!

Need some inspiration?

There are over 15,000 species on ARKive to nominate, so here are a few suggestions to start you off…

Will you nominate the polar bear - our most visited species so far this month?

Photo of polar bear with cubs

What about a newly discovered species? Is the Louisiana pancake batfish your favourite?

Louisiana pancake batfish

The osprey features as our no.1 video, but will it be no. 1 species?

Photo of osprey in flight carrying fish

Vote now, and share your nominations on Facebook and Twitter!

Feb 18
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ARKive’s Top Ten Trees

Trees are some of the most important organisms on the planet, creating great habitats for wildlife and also providing humans with vital products such as timber, food and medicines. Trees even help to combat climate change, pollution and flooding, and have been shown to have positive effects on human health and wellbeing.

It’s often the animal world that gets all the attention, so we thought it was time to give plants a bit more love by celebrating ten of ARKive’s top trees from around the world. Meet some of the oldest, largest, rarest, weirdest and most magnificent species on Earth…

Ancient mountain dweller

Photo of bristlecone pine trunk

The bristlecone pine is one of the world’s longest-lived organisms, with one individual, known as ‘Methuselah’, estimated to be nearly 5,000 years old. This hardy species inhabits harsh mountainous environments in California, Nevada and Utah, and has an extremely slow growth rate. Typically quite gnarled and stunted in appearance, the bristlecone pine is named for the prickles on the surface of its dark purple female cones.

Impressive giant

Photo of giant sequoia (The General Grant Tree)

Although not the world’s tallest tree, in terms of sheer volume the giant sequoia is one of the largest living organisms on the planet. Reaching up to 95 metres in height and 11 metres in diameter, with bark up to 60 centimetres thick, this giant tree can live for over 3,000 years. Found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, the giant sequoia is resistant to fire, and regular wildfires help to remove competing plants as well as allowing this species’ cones to open.

Towering triumph

Photo of coast redwoods growing in a circle

Closely related to the giant sequoia, the coast redwood is the tallest tree on Earth, growing to a staggering 115 metres in height, with a trunk up to 9 metres in diameter. This towering giant is confined to foggy coastal areas in southwest Oregon and northwest California, USA. Unfortunately, the coast redwood has been highly prized for its timber and an estimated 95% of the original redwood forest has been cut down.

Sustainable nut producer

Photo of open Brazil-nut fruit

Native to South America, the brazil-nut tree is one of the most economically important plants in the Amazon. Its famous seeds grow inside a large, round fruit, arranged like the segments of an orange, and are harvested for food and oil. The brazil-nut tree depends on agoutis to gnaw through its tough fruit and release the seeds, and on certain bee species to pollinate its flowers. The bees in turn depend on a certain type of orchid to survive. The brazil-nut tree can therefore only produce seeds in undisturbed forest, making it a model for generating a sustainable income from tropical forests.

Lonely palm

Photo of loneliest palm, Curepipe Botanic Garden, Mauritius

The loneliest palm is one of the rarest plants in the world, with only one wild individual remaining. This lonely tree grows in the Curepipe Botanical Garden in Mauritius, where it has survived for over 50 years. Although it flowers and fruits regularly, the fruits of this individual are sterile as the male flowers open before the female flowers, preventing pollination. Attempts have been made to clone this rare palm, but the clones have so far failed to survive.

Living fossil

Photo of Wollemi pine leaves

The Wollemi pine has been called a ‘living fossil’, as it represents the only remaining member of an ancient group of plants. Previously believed to be extinct, the Wollemi pine was rediscovered in Australia in 1994, where it is known from just two sites in Wollemi National Park, New South Wales. This prehistoric species is one of the world’s rarest plants, but is now being grown in cultivation and planted in gardens and parks around the world, helping to support its conservation.

Imposing icon

Photo of an avenue of Grandidier's baobab trees

Found in southwest Madagascar, Grandidier’s baobab is the largest and most famous of the island’s baobab trees. Sometimes known as the ‘upside-down tree’, it is an imposing species with a massive cylindrical trunk, which is used to store water. Its spectacular white flowers are said to smell of sour watermelon, and are pollinated by nocturnal mammals. Sadly, this iconic tree is under threat from the conversion of its forest habitat into open agricultural land.

Here be dragons!

Photo of dragon's blood trees in flower

One of the most distinctive plants on the island of Socotra, the evocatively named dragon’s blood tree has a truly bizarre appearance, with an upturned, densely packed crown which has the shape of an upside-down umbrella. Morning mists condense on the waxy leaves and are channelled down the trunk to the roots, while the dense crown shades the ground below and reduces evaporation. This strange tree is named for its dark red resin, known as ‘dragon’s blood’, which has been a highly prized substance since ancient times.

Medicinal marvel

Photo of maidenhair tree fruit and leaves

Renowned worldwide for its medicinal properties, the maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba) is the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees dating back to before the time of the dinosaurs. This unique species has been used in traditional medicines for hundreds of years, and is still popular in herbal remedies today. Although the maidenhair tree is widely planted around the world, its wild populations appear to be confined to Mount Xitianmu in Zhejiang, China. However, it is unclear whether these individuals are truly wild or are descendents from temple gardens

From little acorns…

Photo of ancient sessile oak tree covered with ferns and lichens

Oak trees are surrounded by much folklore and are well-loved symbols of strength. Native to most of Europe and parts of Asia, the sessile oak is so-named because its acorns are not supported on stalks. Like other oaks, the sessile oak supports an amazing variety of wildlife and is a habitat in its own right. The open canopy of this species allows light to reach the ground, favouring the growth of a range of ground plants, while its acorns provide food for many animal species.

 

These are just some of the world’s weird and wonderful trees – you can discover more and view photos of tree species from around the world on ARKive.

You can also find out more about tree conservation at Fauna & Flora International’s Global Trees Campaign and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Do you have a favourite tree, or one that means something special to you? Let us know!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Feb 7
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In the News: Wolf reintroduction not enough for the recovery of Yellowstone’s ecosystem

Scientists say the reintroduction of grey wolves to Yellowstone National Park is not enough to enable a full recovery of the ecosystem. 

Photo of grey wolf running in the snow

Grey wolf running in the snow

Trophic cascade

When grey wolves all but vanished from Yellowstone National Park in the early 1900s, the absence of this keystone predator had a marked effect on the park’s ecosystem. Elk, the wolves’ natural prey, rapidly increased in numbers, escalating grazing pressure on willow trees that grow by the sides of streams. As a result, the decline in willow led to a severe decrease in the beaver population. Beavers rely heavily on willow to provide food and materials with which to build their dams. Beavers and willows have a mutual relationship whereby the willow also benefits from the beavers’ presence, due to the raised water tables caused by their dams. The loss of Yellowstone’s wolves led to a cascade of dramatic changes in the ecosystem’s structure, known as a trophic cascade.

Photo of American beaver felling a tree

American beaver felling a tree

Wolves return

When wolves returned to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, elk numbers fell and shrub recovery became evident through increased plant height and berry production. This led some scientists to predict ecosystem recovery following the return of the park’s top predator. Authors of a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B have revealed a ‘recovery test’, explaining that if the ecosystem is indeed in recovery, willow trees must be at least two metres tall in order to escape being eaten by elk and to provide the beavers with necessary food and material to build dams.

Photo of male elk calling

Male elk calling

Insufficient recovery

In the study concerned, researchers measured willow trees at four sites in Yellowstone from 2001 to 2010. Some willow tree plots were fenced to prevent the elk from grazing, whereas some had simulated dams. Regardless of fencing and growth time, the researchers found that only the willows that grew in the plots with simulated dams reached heights of more than two metres. The outcome of this study suggests that riparian ecosystems are unable to recover fully due to the presence of wolves alone; tall willows cannot return without the beaver, yet the absence of tall willows inhibits the beaver’s much-needed return. It is clear that the co-existence of beavers and willow trees is able to drive the structure of riparian ecosystems, and that for the Yellowstone ecosystem to continue to recover, beavers will need to enter the equation.

Photo showing grey wolves with different coloured coats

Grey wolves can have different coloured coats

 

Read more on this story at The Guardian – The return of grey wolves ‘not enough to restore Yellowstone’s ecosystem’.

View photos and videos of grey wolves, North American elk and the American beaver on ARKive.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Nov 28
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How to have a green Christmas – the great tree debate

Organic horticulturist, Andy Dean, shares his views with us on Christmas trees and how to have a green Christmas…

In 1841, Queen Victoria’s new husband Albert, introduced a German Christmas tradition into the British royal household. From that point on the popularity of the Christmas tree has been on the up in the UK, Western Europe, America and most other parts of the world.

The custom of putting up a decorated fir tree in your home at Christmas began in Germany in the 17th century.

Unlike in England, the fir tree is native to Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, being part of the natural biodiversity and offering habitat for native wildlife. Even in its native Germany, the fir tree has been through periods of threat, with legislation being passed to protect it from harvesting due to the popularity of having a cut tree indoors during the festive holiday season.

Photo of American red squirrel searching for fir cones at top of Douglas fir tree

Fir trees are important to wildlife: American red squirrel searching for fir cones at the top of a Douglas fir tree

I am in no way a ‘bah humbug’ person about Christmas and love the celebrations, but it breaks my heart to see the cut trees that are discarded after two weeks, laying outside almost every household, browning on their sides.

It strikes me as evidence of our detachment to source and, in our innocent excitement for the season, we forget that it is not just the one tree that we have cut, but many trees – almost one for each household. In fact, it is reported that 7 million real fir trees were sold in England last year alone.

With the approaching festivities, I would like to set a challenge to everyone. Instead of spending good money on a cut tree that will be tossed aside once the festivities are all over – putting a strain on both the environment and local amenities – why not gather up your family and take a walk in the countryside to pick a couple of sprigs of holly or ivy and perhaps a broken branch that could be decorated.

Common holly photo

Common holly

So long as this is done sympathetically, without greed and with good common sense, there is no reason why this should hamper the environment at all. In fact a gentle prune will help promote growth of the plant, and in gathering it ourselves we have both filled our lungs with fresh air and stretched our legs.

If you do want a real tree and have the outside space to accommodate it, why not grow one in a pot and enjoy it all year round, bringing it indoors for the holiday season?

With the money saved every year, you could even plant a native tree – either on your own land or even by making a donation to charities like the Woodland Trust  who strive to plant, proliferate and protect our native broadleaved woodlands. These are the very woodlands that add beauty to our landscapes and support our native wildlife.

Photo of a  subalpine fir forest

The beauty of a subalpine fir forest

And if you’re looking for something a little different this year, have a look at my post on alternatives to the cut tree .

Andy Dean, NOCN, is an organic horticulturist and owner of landscape & garden design company, Blue Sky Landscapes .

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