Despite Alwoodley being heathland in nature, there are many interesting trees to be found on and around the course. Many of them are on the perimeter, shielding Alwoodley from the outside world.
In Chas Newstead, we are lucky to have an Alwoodley member with such rich knowledge (despite his modesty) and we hope that the following guide will enhance your pleasure of the course in future rounds.
“This is a guide by an amateur to some of the trees that can be found on and around the course,” says Chas. “I am a golfer with an interest in the scenery around and about, sometimes more pleasure can be got from that than the pursuit of golf.”
Chas’s alphabetical guide to Alwoodley’s trees
American Red Oaks
Although the vast majority of Oaks at Alwoodley are natives there is a small grove of about half a dozen American Red Oaks on the left side of the 17th fairway a little back from the edge just about where the ground starts sloping down to the green. The leaves are larger than native oaks and have sharp edges ending in points with usually other serrations or whiskers. At the right time of year most of the leaves dropping on the 17th green are from these trees. They have substantially better autumn colour not only red but also yellow than the native trees. In spring they are better shown with the new leaves starting yellow for a couple of weeks before turning green.
The Harewood Estate from which the land for the golf course was purchased has some woods that are listed in the Inventory of Ancient Woodland, also known as the Ancient Woodland Inventory. This is land that has had continuous woodland cover since at least the year 1600. It is a reasonable assumption that land that was wooded then had been so since the end of the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. The rest of the land that would have supported woods having been cleared for agriculture, the trees for timber for building and fire and some land cleared for dwellings. There are no areas of ancient woodland on any nearby golf courses. It is notable that within Leeds: Gipton Woods and Gledhow Valley Woods as well as some of the woods on the steep embankment near the Northern Ring Road are Ancient Woodland probably because the land is too steep to be easy to clear.
This is a native British tree a term that means it survived the last ice age in the far South and repopulated as the ice retreated from the latitude of London. The leaf buds “sticky” buds are prominent even in winter, the tree is late to leaf out. It has a rather open canopy, there is almost no autumn colour with only occasional yellow, most leaves falling green and then forming a dense leaf litter. For a tree that is so common and dominant in some parts of British woodland it is relatively short lived at about 200 years. Ash trees are the tallest trees in the bank of mixed trees to the right of the sixth fairway. These are best assessed from a bit further away for example the fourth fairway. Ashes are impressively fecund, one afternoon I cut down or dug up over 250 Ash saplings in my average sized garden in Oakwood, Leeds. This was before Ash die back was a problem in UK and I now wonder if the vigorously fertile two adult trees that provided all those seeds may be worth something. The photograph shows Rowan leaves above contrasted to Ash leaves below.
To the left of the (only) fairway bunker on the second hole are a couple of Aspens. These are European Aspen, this title to distinguish it from the American Aspen. Its range is from the British Isles to Siberia and South to North Africa. It generally prefers damp conditions, in Scotland typically along streams and rivers, so I don’t really understand why it is found at this site. The tree is native to Britain and spread north as ice retreated. It does not grow tall usually about 25 metres. Local spread is from suckers and usually from a single tree so a thicket will be genetically identical and of course all the same sex. The trees at this site demonstrate this with several smaller stems – arguably separate trees around the two biggest trees. The lobed leaves have a pale underside and long leaf stalks. This long delicate leaf stalk means that the leaves flutter - or quiver in even the slightest breeze. As the two sides of the leaf have a different colour it is a striking sight.
These are very rare at Alwoodley, the woods are mostly Oaks, but there is one to the left of the 13th tee. Forests of this tree are my UK favourite, often bare branched silver/grey trunks for 20 metres with a green crown in spring and leaves shimmering bright in summer with dappled shade beneath, in autumn terrific colour to the leaves which in winter carpet the ground often still with rich yellows and browns. No tree with grow under the shade of a mature tree of the same species. But Beech will grow under the shade of every deciduous tree in UK but no tree will grow under the shade of a Beech. Therefore you would expect Beech Woodland would be a climax woodland in UK. The constraint is that Beech will not grow on wet soils so in heavy clay vales the dominant trees in woods are Oaks or Hornbeam. Beeches have a ” juvenile cone” which is the part of the tree about 2 metres wide and no more than 2.5 metres tall which retrains the (brown) leaves all winter this feature is utilised to make attractive hedges.
Birch and Silver Birch
Birches are all over the course. Almost certainly self-seeded. There are two common trees called Silver Birch in the UK. The true Silver Birch is most frequent on heaths, open woods and quick draining areas. The leaves are more deeply serrated than the other common tree, the Downy Birch. From a distance the upper crown of the Silver Birch is gracefully weeping unlike the upright Downy Birch and the former has much larger black diamond shapes and fissures in its white bark. The Downy Birch is more common in wetter areas and on clay soils. As far as I can see all the Birches at Alwoodley are Silver Birches. Both trees are pioneer species, meaning they grow after, say, a forest fire or the fall of a large tree in woods has led to open skies. The leaves are small and the tree supple both adaptations for a life exposed to wind. They grow rapidly to about 20 metres but are usually short lived, few more than 100 years. Trees, especially those pioneers that first colonise open sites, have to withstand considerable buffeting by the wind. You can appreciate this yourself: on a windy day pick a small tree with a trunk of, say, 10cm diameter that is being distorted by wind. Put your back up against the trunk on the leeward side and grasp the trunk with your hands behind your back and the tree. Lean backwards so that you are forcing the trunk more vertical against the wind. If you brace yourself then you can absorb some of the forces acting on the tree and appreciate better why some get blown down. To the left of the white tee of the 12th hole are two small birches (in 2017 about 10m tall) that have strikingly peeling bark. In my Cassells Trees of Britain and Northern Europe over 35 Birch species any cultivars are described, but I cannot work out what these specimens are, they may well be a hybrid. Birches are a tree with the reputation for always having something falling down, and so littering a lawn or garden in the suburbs. I have seen on a spring evening in light wind literally a cloud of yellow bud scales (that cover the emerging buds) drifting away from trees. After these the male catkins fall and then all the summer dead twigs, the loss of which also occurs in winter. At the end of summer the seeds float away in wind.
Blue Atlas Cedar
This is the tree planted near to the flagpole adjacent to the Professional’s shop. All the cedars are native to the Mediterranean and western border of the Himalaya. The cedar’s leaves are mostly in whorls of 20 or more leaflets with leaves also running down the leading shoots. Many trees from the Americas are called also cedars but are in fact botanically distinct from old world trees. Tree identification is straightforward with the Atlas Cedars with upturned (A for ascending) branches the Cedar of Lebanon with L for level branches and the Deodar Cedar with descending branches. The Atlas Cedars as may be expected are from the Atlas mountains of North Africa. The blue variety is seen in wild stands which are mostly of green trees and is now much the most common variety that is planted. All cedars flowers in Autumn, September for the Atlas cedar but the flowers are green all summer standing vertically on the branches looking like cones. Eventually reaching four centimetres tall then shedding pollen and finally falling to the ground. The cone, the female part, is tightly compact and present on the same tree. This is a robust tree variety and the rate of growth is proportional to the quality of the soil and amount of rainfall but this specimen will almost certainly exceed 30 metres if left for a couple of hundred years. The Cedar of Lebanon is a tree that for best needs to grace the parkland grounds of a stately mansion. It can have an immense bole and often massive near horizontal branches. They can be nearly as broad as tall and as over 30 metre tall is not uncommon so care with positioning is wise. There was one growing in the small garden of the cottage close to the practice putting green, looking rather sorry for itself but it was felled in 2017.
Almost all the Pines at Alwoodley are Scots Pines. However on the right of the 7th hole all along the fairway but especially noticeable close to the green are a dozen Corsican Pines. Like the Scots Pines they have two pine needles arising together but if you follow their arrow strait trunk upwards there is no sign of reddening of the bark. What makes these trees so striking and in my opinion superior to Scots Pines is that often the trunk because the leaves are relatively open can be seen and appreciated all the way to near the top. These are a variety of black pine tree native to the mountainous regions north of the Mediterranean. I wonder how they came to be planted at Alwoodley?
Although not actually within the golf course if you look across the 17th green especially in winter into the adjacent gardens you can see a number of these trees whose natural range is Australia and Tasmania. I wanted an excuse to mention this genus as taking a worldwide perspective they are quite remarkable. Firstly no other genus remotely matches their dominance in producing mature single species natural forests. They are the tallest broadleaf trees not only in their natural distribution but within 100 years are already the tallest broadleaved trees in whichever climatically mild country where they have been planted. In addition they are record holders for rapid growth up to both 30 and 60 metres height. I cannot get close enough to be sure what type of gum these specimens are and they are likely to be hybrids that challenge the identification skills of experts. In the British Isles they do best in the milder south and growth of two metres a year has been recorded in Ireland. Given such rapid growth and the potential to become truly enormous they are a curious choice for a suburban garden.
To the left of the 18th fairway in the mix of trees is the occasional Larch. There are also a few trees in among other species at the back of the 10th and 11th tees also behind the 14th green. Leaves are either a whorl of more than 20 arising from a single spot or single leaves sprouting from the terminal part of the stalk. European Larch is native to the mountainous regions of central Europe and first grown in Britain in 1625. The trees are probably hybrid between European and Japanese Larches. The hybrids have very rapid growth sometimes 1.5m a year. The spring flowers for both male and female are attractive. They are deciduous and perhaps at their best when the early leaves are a pale fresh green.
Around the 11th green are a number of these trees. Most commonly in the English and Welsh countryside as part of a hedgerow where with clipping can be made into a thorny cattle and other livestock proof barrier. There such a hedge mostly of Hawthorn bordering the field to the left of the 11th tee. The regular clipping will remove most of the new wood from which they flower. In mid-May there can be a spectacular profusion of white flowers made all the more exuberant as they appear before the leaves. The dark berries are bird food especially for the thrush family from October onwards often lasting into January. Although none of the trees at Alwoodley have a clean bole for at least two metres used by most as a definition to be called a tree, when planted on their own this species can meet that criterion.
In the predominantly Oak woodland left of 11th green and right of the 12th tee are a few Hazel bushes. Again not strictly a tree but as it almost always has a mass of long arching branches. It is the characteristic shrub layer in Oak woods. The traditional way of farming Oak woodlands was to cut the Hazel to the ground. This is termed coppicing in contrast to pollarding where trees are cut at head or shoulder height. The supple and vigorous new growth being suitable for basketry, tool handles and weaving into hurdles as livestock barriers. This style of management with periodic clearing favours bluebells as well as Nightingales and was especially common in Southern England. The Hazel has interest all year round with yellow-brown twigs with green rounded buds in winter, the yellow catkins can be up to 7 cm long and mature from Christmas onwards. In autumn the nut clusters are familiar to all starting green but turning brown when ripe. The shrubs at Alwoodley must be very sheltered as I have seen comprehensive leave cover persisting into December.
The Common Holly is a native tree and is widespread tolerating open mountainside, albeit usually in some shelter in stream valleys, but also humus rich woodlands and chalk uplands. The familiar spiky leaves presumably are to deter browsing animals but must have a “cost” either in energy to produce or decreased efficient at photosynthesis because above browsing height you will notice that the leaves are not spiky. At Alwoodley there are several Hollies in the bank of woods to the left of the 11th hole. A relatively tall singleton is on the right of the 15th fairway probably best demonstrates the spiky and not spiky leafs.
On the left as you enter to car park adjacent to the practice ground are three of the well known, almost infamous hybrid the Leyland Cyprus. A tree better known from the second part of its scientific name of Cupressuryparis Leylandii. The most common form is the Haggeston Grey in this variety the fine shoots show some grey and this I think is the one grown here. The tree grows vigorously when young at one metre a year and has been the cause of many neighbourly disputes with hedges rapidly shading out adjacent properties. Presumably these were planted to shield the housing on the Harrogate Road. The trees will grow to 30 metres tall so (in 2017) these still have 10 metres to grow. As well as a rate of growth that often surprises the people who plant the tree another disadvantage is that it is very difficult to prune and leave the tree looking any else than a brown bleached set of twigs as the green leaves are only present at the tips. If the tree is topped out to stop them growing vertically then you are left with an ugly shaped tree with a flat brown crown.
Oak trees are all over the course and although there are several hundred varieties, there is some satisfaction in distinguishing between the English Oak and the Sessile Oak. This is most reliably done by looking at the length of the leaf stalks. Almost absent for the English Oak but several centimetres long for the Sessile. The Sessile Oak is generally found in the west of the UK but there are plenty at Alwoodley. Native oak trees support literally hundreds of species of insects many of which provoke characteristic galls on the leaves. In early life (the first 100 years) they grow rapidly but then slow down considerably. One of the major attraction of oak woodlands is that they support the most varied and attractive understory especially of early spring flowering plants. The outer wood is so strong it is not unusual to see trees that are wind resistant and thriving with all but hollow trunks. Growth slows markedly after 200 years but senescence is long and the idea of 200 years growing, 200 mature and a further 200 to die is probably not far wrong. One exceptional specimen in Leicestershire is known to be between 800 and 900 years old.
Rowan (or Mountain Ash)
Rowan trees are found in several places on the course, such as close to the 7th tee. Its other common name is the Mountain Ash and it will grow at higher altitudes (over 1000 metres) than any other tree in the UK. The leaves are superficially similar to an Ash (or an Elder) but are smaller, have more leaflets on a stem and the edges are serrated. It often has good autumn leaf colour, the berries (not present on Ash) ripen to red over a few days in July and are then a feast for many birds.
Scots Pines are found all over the course. As well as having two pine leaves arising together (which is not a unique feature) the trees are easy to recognise by the red bark high up on the trunk of mature trees. This tree has a natural range from Scottish and Spanish Mountains across all the highlands of Europe and Northern Asia as far as Eastern Siberia. In England it was first planted in the mid 17th-century as a forestry crop. Its pattern of growth is very much influenced by surrounding trees. If planted close together as at the they are tall and straight. For example, behind the 6th green. If in the open they can be spreading, not quite like an oak tree but certainly not bolt upright. The two tall straight specimens at the back of the 9th green are now in the open after felling of surrounding trees, they are very visually impressive but will be at risk of wind blow. It is rare to hear a noise made by a tree apart from rustling of leaves in wind or the creak of branches rubbing together. Once in the height of summer on a very hot day I stood near to a copse of Scots Pine’s and listened to the cracking as the pine cones ripened opening to release the seeds.
Behind the practice putting green are couple of mature Yew trees. The hedge planted around the refashioned patio are also Yews. Botanically these are “simple” or “primitive”. Unlike many conifers it does not have cones but rather a single seed encased in a red berry. There are separate male and female trees, unusual in trees where most have male parts and female seeds. For humans every part of the Yew is poisonous. The wood is extremely strong and this probably contributes to the immense age that this tree can attain. it is difficult to be definite about exact life span mostly because no old trees have solid trunks to allow a count of annual rings, the increase in girth of the trunk is erratic year on year and is very slow. The rarity of clear boles makes reliable repeatable measures of girth and so estimates of age from rate of growth very hard indeed. Many of the trees now alive in the UK are between 1500 and 2000 years old. It is certain that often the Yews in churchyards predate the local adoption of Christianity. Many churches were built with Yews giving shelter on their leeward side to the porch or approach path. It is possible the site of the Church was chosen because the area was already a pre-Christian site of burial or worship in which the evergreen Yew had some role.