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Number 49: The Larch

T rees, we are told,

are the lungs of the world. Certainly they represent a more picturesque atmosphere cleaners than algae etc. So the fact you can find trees on cigarette cards, distributed by something which we are told, might not be the healthiest of lung products, has a certain irony involved especially as trees were cut down to produce them.

I like trees (Not enough to go live in one for a couple of years in an effort to save it. I leave this to photogenic young women, they will always get more press coverage than someone who looks like Ben Gunn swinging about in trees.) Four trees have dominated my life.

The first was in my school yard when I was five or six. It was a Horse Chestnut and there could barely be a better tree for a schoolyard. It was huge and the oldest living thing I had come into contact, potentially still is. There was something fascinating about that tree, perhaps life would have been different if the teachers at the school had managed to make the lessons half as interesting as the tree. My memory of lessons at this time are sketchy to say the least.

an entire scene in which the tree sits centre stage

Then for a long period no tree caught my interest until about the age of 12-14 when there was a tree I saw everyday when going to and from school on the coach. It stood stark on a farming skyline. It was long dead and divested of any limbs, it was just a twisted stump of about 12 foot. It had a growth on one side which made it look like an old farmer tilling the land. It must have seen a lot of changes, that being one of the great interests of trees, they represent a solidity of history in a landscape which seems to change daily with human encroachment.

I wrote an essay about the tree and had to read it out in front of the school (presumably because it was worth the reading but it felt like punishment). The day the essay had been read I was heading home looking forward to seeing the tree (being reclusive and introverted is not something I have developed over the years, it is something which has been fought against) only to find the thing had been cut down. That was a sad day.

Gallaher, Woodlands Trees

My third tree slowly ingrained itself on my psyche as it was on the way between my house and the university. Quite why this tree was important when the Uni was in a park full of trees John Constable had once painted I don't know. Probably the fact it was the first to put blossom out in the spring was very important. Pink blossom and it really cheered my day when heading to a campus with the highest brick towers in Europe which had windows designed to foil suicides but sometimes fell short of the ideal.

The fourth tree sits just outside this house. Apparently it is a rare variety and every year I fret it has come to the end of its life-cycle (it has a protection order on it because of the lack of things tree like which survive around here). Every year though it grows a bit more and sends out its leaves for me to look at.

Lovely.

So there are my four tree loves, I only know the name of one but with the aid of Gallaher, Woodland Trees Series [1912] there would be a chance even I would recognize a few more.

It is a forlorn hope, I never forget a face and seldom forget a name but rarely am I capable of matching the two.

There have been people who have tried to teach me about trees and flowers (don't ask me why they thought this was necessary but they did) both failed to instill any additional knowledge.

There are 100 cards in this series (Gallaher often did larger sets) and to find a complete set is quite a trick and to complete a set is possibly even more impressive. The set is considered a classic of its type by many. But for some reason it has never really caught my imagination. It has all the right ingredients, good heavy board, well printed, a subject matter which interest me, difficult to collect and expensive.

Card 49: The Larch Tree
A mountain plant, 80 to 100 ft high, also cultivated in the plains and hills. It is more exacting in its demand for light than any other forest tree excepting the Birch. In the Bavarian Alps forests of Larch occur at an altitude of 7000 ft. introduced into England before 1629. All other cone-bearinf trees are evergreen, their leaves lasting for several years, but the Larch sheds its bunches of leaves and annually re-assumes them.

The last factor is of really no interest but for the fact I actually managed to put together a set of these early in my collecting career and it was one of the few sets I had which was worth over $150 US (now it catalogues at over $700 so from little acorns mighty oaks have grown). These things impressed me a lot when I had bought a quantity of cards in a bag and had not a clue what was in them. You really cannot beat the thrill of sitting down and trying to complete sets by just buying large amounts of cards. It is a shame prices have meant this is not something you can do to such an extent anymore but if you get the opportunity try it. Although be prepared to have to spend a fair bit of time and effort upgrading all those cards which just are not of high enough quality.

I think the Gallaher cards are just a little too cluttered. If they had been a large format card such as the Wills Trees issue the set would have been unstoppable but they are not. I dread to think what the price of the cards would have been if this had been the case.

There is a sense of despair when looking at these cards. Whether true or not looking at a set of 100 cards labelled Woodland Trees there is a feeling we have lost so much of what was once natural in Britain. The great forests with all the creatures which existed within them had gone before the set was produced but since it has been produced we have lost so much more.

UK in 1912 was a very different proposition to UK 2012.

Although the set is culled largely from British bark there are some interlopers. Most usually cards such as the Douglas Fir (cards 61) get into the set because they have been introduced the the UK, either later or sooner.

Gallaher, Woodland Trees

The card notes a tree planted in about 1834 has reached or passed 100 feet in height. I believe one of the early Douglas Fir imports is now the tallest tree in UK.

The set starts with The Lombardy Poplar which it says is a native of the Himalayas and was introduced from Turin in 1758.

The Romans seemed to have been rather good at introducing tree variety. Certainly we have a deal to be thankful to the Romans for.

Card 66 is the Buckthorn and it reminds us of how much we owe trees and the landscape generally. In September the black four-stone berries ripen and have medicinal uses. From the juice a sap green colour can be derived for artists and the straight shoots are used for walking and umbrella sticks.

Did you know the Bay Tree (#44) leaves have a rather nifty use in the process of pilchard curing?

This sort of detail, along with all the usual height, width and where information, often means the reverse of the card holds my interest more than the front (I've always considered the text the reverse but there is no saying this is the actual intention). Indeed the illustrations do leave a bit to be desired in this instance as they have a 'muddy' feel about them with the tree itself rarely getting beyond the blobs of green with some brown trunk in it. There is some excuse as there are various insets within the cards (Cards either have one or two insets with no real determination of how this number is attained) showing leaves, fruit etc.

What the set does have going for it from an illustrative viewpoint is the development of an entire scene in which the tree sits centre stage. Country paths wind past the trees going to a rural cottage with smoke drifting from a chimney. Perhaps farm animals graze about the trunks and often rickety looking fences from the age of wood appear.

I have just seen another tree from my youth. Card 45, The Chili Pine Tree, better known as the Monkey Puzzle Tree and better known by me as The Monkey Tree. One example used to grow by the roadside walked by my Mother, brother and I when perhaps I was four. It was so different to all other trees it had to be remarked on. It was known as the Monkey Tree because it had a face like a monkey on it (where large boughs had been removed).

Whereas a lot of trees within this set have declined in numbers it can be assumed this one has grown in number as the death of one in Kew (1892) gets special mention as do the two places you could find them growing (Woodstock, co Kilkenny and Bicton Devonshire, if you care to know).

That is a nice upbeat note to leave this set.