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Essex Field Club
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Mon 17th January 2011 15:12 by Graham Smith
Stressed out trees
Fryerning Churchyard : mature trees at the churchyard are currently succumbing to plant pathogens, mostly fungal parasites, at a worrying rate. The saddest loss in the past five years has been a fine Deodar or Indian Cedar, which was attacked by Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea and eventually had to be felled. The tree rings suggested a planting date of 1910-12 and it is thought that it may have been planted to commemorate the coronation of George V. The same parasite also accounted for two Swedish Whitebeam at around the same time. Since their demise two mature Silver Birches have gone, one infected by Shaggy Scalycap Pholiota squarrosa and the other clobbered by a combination of this species, Armillaria and Birch Polypore Polyporus betulinus. A joint effort from squarrosa, Southern Bracket Ganoderma australe and Silver Leaf Fungus Chondrostereum purpureum disposed of a Japanese Cherry and have now turned their attention to a second tree. Infected but still surviving trees include a neighbouring pair of Corsican and Scots Pines. They are facing a twin attack by Root Rot Heterobasidion annosum and Pine Firefungus Rhizina undulata and both have shed nearly all their branches on one side of their trunks. Finally, one of the older Scots Pine that ring the church now sports a froth of Cauliflower Fungus Sparrassis crispa at the base of its trunk each autumn.

More worrying still, one of the two big Yew trees alongside the church has started to show signs of dieback, a large area of foliage on one side turning a sickly yellow in the spring and eventually dying, the crisped brown leaflets still adhering to the twigs at the current time. I could find no sign of a cracked branch to account for these symptoms and, potentially, they could be a sign of infection by the fungus like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum otherwise known as Sudden Oak Death. According to the Forestry Commission website this disease, which is thought to have been introduced from North America on imported trees, initially attacked species such as Rhododendron, Viburnum and Camelia in this country but has since infected large numbers of Japanese Larch in plantations in south-west England, necessitating wholesale felling in order to try and contain it. At the onset of the disease the only Yews attacked were some young trees growing alongside an infected Viburnum in a nursery but since 2009 the disease has shown signs of expanding its range and infecting additional species, large numbers of Lawson's Cypress on one estate in Scotland among them. It is also known to attack the Pacific Yew, a close relative of our own species. Brentwood Country Care have been informed but, hopefully, the churchyard yew will prove to be suffering from something less serious. The loss of this tree would be the most serious blow yet to the churchyard as a neighbouring yew, which was split in two by the hurricane of 1987, proved on examination of the tree rings to be around 350 years old, and the infected yew almost certainly dates from the same era.

On a more cheerful note, my visit today turned up two new fungi for the churchyard, both growing on twigs on log piles in the conservation area. These were Antrodia serialis, a bracket fungi, on Scots Pine branches and the Winter Oysterling Crepidotus cesatii, on deciduous twigs, a species which seems able to withstand anything this season can throw at it. There was also a fine display of Winter Polypore, Polyporus brumalis. Elsewhere in the village, Snowdrops were seen in bloom on January 4th and the catkins of Turkish Hazel are now shedding pollen. No sign of the native tree following suit yet though. No luck with moths in the garden either but it is difficult to find a night when it is not tipping it down with rain.

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