Monday, 10 March 2008


Wandering around with one's mind at best only partially fixed to any particular task at hand is one of life's pleasures. It was not too long ago now, whilst in one of these meandering ruminations back in the Autumn of last year, that I made a quite astonishing discovery. I have discovered a tree in the park.
Now, at this juncture I can hear cogs a-whirring and jaws a-flapping saying things like

"A tree in the park isn't unusual, you silly old Rexy"
"A tree in the park is akin to finding a shell on the beach"
Well that's all true, but don't pick that shell up, it may still be live and blow your hands off!

And since that kind of surprise is what can be chanced upon in life, the R.A.F. and U.S.A.F. being messy people who leave things like depleted uranium lying around in other countries, a result being less pianists, I refer you all back to the tree in the park. It's no ordinary tree. The photograph above is of some of it's fallen leaves, and of it's bizarre windblown fruits. Yes, it is indeed Dendrofallacium Lexicographii, an alphabet tree.

The alphabet tree is fairly ordinary to the eye in many respects, except of course it's fruits which fall to earth around November and scatter themselves a short distance from the tree. Not every fruit contains a seed which is one of the reasons that the alphabet tree is not as common as many of it's indigenous counterparts. Imported to Britain from as far away as Greece and Turkey by the great arboretum collectors of the 17th to 19th century, this broad leaved deciduous has few uses to man in industry or leisure, and has therefore rarely been introduced to the wider countryside on a large scale.
The fruits are not eaten by many creatures, but it is a widely held folklore belief that animals with the ability to pick things up with their forepaws such as squirrels or rats have used the fruits as educational devices for their young or even to hang above the entrances to their drays, burrows etc as signs for predators to stay away. Flocks of carrion crows were often to be seen wearing large fruits around their necks to delineate between the various rival murders.

Another folklore tale surrounds how each seed containing fruit would lend itself to growing different sized trees depending on the letter shape of it. Though I'm aware of no scientific studies or evidence to back up the 'wives tales', some old verses still get passed on in the oral tradition. One such rhyme goes, to memory, something like this;

The tree of the letter shaped A through to H
Will not grow an inch above yon garden gate
A bough or a branch grown from I to an M
Will wither and die when the size of most men
From N to the Y seeds are not quite as high
As a tree from the letter shaped as a Z
Which will always stand twig branch wood shoulder and head
Above any other in forest or glade
Which are all the letters from which our words are made

I think it's lost something in translation, but you get the basic drift.
In the days before the tree was introduced to the bounds of these shores, the natives of it's origins had their own stories bound by it. Of course, in Turkey, the Turkish trees had a different alphabet, as they did in Greece. When imported to Russia, a similar thing occurs. It's as though the tree has a very close bond with the people around it, like it can understand the basic language of those humans around it. Everybody in those countries will tell of how their ancestors could almost feel the trees listening to their thoughts, eager for human contact or even symbiosis.

The ancient Gods of Greece had their own favourite letters from the tree seeds.

I suppose we could all pick our own favourites too. Some would be quite partial to an E, and there are those for whom there is great comfort in an R. I asked the B.F.G. what her favourite is.
I'll leave you to guess what her answer was.