Saturday, 23 April 2011
Now is a brilliant time for spotting elms. In hedgerows and wood edges, elms light up at this time of year, aglow with thousands of golden fruits; with the light behind them, these greenish-yellow seed-holding discs briefly transform an elm into a spectacle. But you have to be quick. Other trees such as oak are bursting into yellow-tinged leaf, and elm leaves rapidly follow the fruits, covering up their glory.
In the late 1970s we were warned that there would be no more elms – Dutch elm disease, a fungus transported by a bark beetle, had done for them. One elegiac book was called ‘Epitaph for the Elm’. A recent guide to wild flowers notes that common elm flowers and fruits are rarely seen, because trees old enough to flower are killed by the fungus. Yet all the lanes around me have elms in them, there are a dozen in my own hedges, and I have counted hundred of trees in full fruit. Many of these may be Wych elms, which have more resistance to disease, but I think most of the hedgerow trees are common elm. The elm is back.
Funnily enough, one of the few places where you don’t see elms in on newly planted sites, because elms have been written off as a species worthy of planting. Nature has a way of confounding human certainties. I rejoice, as elms are the food plant for several moths, and for that scarce, little-seen butterfly, the white-letter hairstreak. But mostly because, for a few days in April, elms become visible from hundreds of metres away, illuminating wood and hedgerow. Then, as quickly, they are absorbed by the gorgeous green of early summer foliage.