4..! THE fruit of the Strawberry
Tree (to give the Arbutus its homely name) set early this year. and I have been watching with considerable sympathy the struggles of an artist to catch just that curious shade of yellow flushed with dull red superimposed on an almost sickly green that compose the changing hues of this unusual berry.
It is a most decorative growth. and one wonders why more people do not use it for Christmas decoration. (But as we have two arbutus trees in our own little churchyard and our parish priest complains that the berries are always being picked, perhaps I had better sas no more ! ) In his new hook, "The Speaking Garden " (Longmans, Mr. Edward Ilyams has some interesting comments to make on this tree which, as he points out, instead of following the usual pattern of evergreens of shedding a few leaves at a time and then growing some more. " suddenly sheds all the unserviceable ones on a single summer day: one day it is full and bushy, the next open and clear, and the ground is cosered with dry leaves."
Another peculiarity is that it often flowers as late as the end of December and the fruit will set atlhough there do not appear to be any pollinating insects about. But the larger humble bee is often abroad until the middle of December. and he has seen them among arbutus flowers as late as the 18th.
A( ( ORDINCi to Mr. I lyams,
there is a controversy of some 20 centuries' standing concerning the poisonous effect of this berry. Dioscorides insisted that it had a numbing eflect, whereas I lieuphrastus maintained that it was good to eat.
To settle this matter once and for all, Mr. I 'yams intrepidly prepared a dish of the fruit, which he says is of excellent and subtle flavour. He suffered no ill effects and is of the opinion that it would make good marmalade.
These arc only a few of the interesting facts, comments, and pieces of unusual information in a book that should prove an ideal Christmas present for the discriminating reader who is also interested in horticulture.
A BOOK that shows us the
countryside at Christmas and throughout the year, and tells of trees and birds and beasts in their seasonal habits and haunts, is Alison Uttley's " A Year in the Country" (Faber, 18s.).
Writing of winter. she describes the hornbeam choosing the dais of snow to shed its fruits; and she reminds us of the curious rounded hollows in the trunks of ash trees (into which. as a child, she would fearfully poke one finger, half fearing that it might he nipped by some creature concealed within), These holes in the ash trunks come as an unpleasant reminder of the old custom of pushing a shrew into a hole in an ash tree and then plugging it up alive: twigs taken later from the tree and brushed over cattle were supposed to cure them of various ills.
This custom is referred to in the foreword to "The Life of the Shrew " (Reinhardt, 15s.), by Peter Croweroft, a zoologist who has made these creatures his especial study and has now written simply and often entertainingly of his researches and experiments.