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The Fortingall Yew

The Fortingall Yew

It’s 2015 and anything is possible these days, but Ferrebeekeeper was still surprised to see a stolid old friend showcased in the international media for changing gender!  A while ago (for us humans) I blogged about The Fortingall yew, which may be more than 5000 years old (and may also be Great Britain’s oldest living thing).  The Fortingall yew is a male and has been so for several millennia.  However, this year the ancient tree started to produce berries from a limb near its crown.  Yews tend to be male or female, though it is not entirely unheard of for male conifers to have a female branch.  Of course the Fortingall Yew predates Christianity (and possibly the pyramids)…and it has returned from the dead, so a bit of gender bending may not be so noteworthy considering its astonishing nature.  Hopefully the berries will be fertile, I would like the tree to have some known offspring (although probably most of the yews in Great Britain are already descendants if it has been around for so long).

The Fortingall Yew then and now: partying with Victorian dandies in 1822 on the left, and switching gender at present time on the right

The Fortingall Yew then and now: partying with Victorian dandies in 1822 on the left, and switching gender at present time on the right

Allegory of Autumn (Workshop of Boticelli, ca. late 15th century, oil on canvas)

Allegory of Autumn (Workshop of Boticelli, ca. late 15th century, oil on canvas)

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, September 23rd is the Autumnal Equinox in 2015. Summer is officially over and autumn has begun. Now summer is my favorite season, and, more than ever before, it vanished like a racer snake diving into a thicket. I will miss it…and I worry that future summers will seem even shorter (if possible). But whatever the case concerning the swift passage of summer, autumn is not without its own substantial and fulsome delights. To celebrate the incipient season of harvest and abundance…and of winnowing and ending…I am putting up a gallery of fall crowns. Most of these are wreaths made of berries, chrysanthemums, and falling leaves, but a few are made of copper, bronze, and semi-precious stones.

A Bride Wearing an Autumn Crown (Photo by Nikki Cooper Via Love My Dress)

A Bride Wearing an Autumn Crown (Photo by Nikki Cooper Via Love My Dress)

Amber Autumn Fairy Circlet Tiara Crown (by Thyme2dream on Etsy)

Amber Autumn Fairy Circlet Tiara Crown (by Thyme2dream on Etsy)

Crown for the Autumn Queen by

Crown for the Autumn Queen by “Up from the Ashes”

Man's Wreath of Rose Hips, Berries, & Leaves (by BloomStudio of Etsy)

Man’s Wreath of Rose Hips, Berries, & Leaves (by BloomStudio of Etsy)

Autumn Leaves Crown (by hanatsukuri of Deviantart)

Autumn Leaves Crown (by hanatsukuri of Deviantart)

I feel like this prop crown from "A Game of Thrones" should count

I feel like this prop crown from “A Game of Thrones” should count

Fall Wedding Crown by "thehoneycomb" on Etsy

Fall Wedding Crown by “thehoneycomb” on Etsy

Autumn oak-leaf fairy crown and third-eye jewellery made (and sold) by

Autumn oak-leaf fairy crown and third-eye jewellery made (and sold) by “Atlantic Fae”

Golden Santos Doll Crown with Amber Rhinestones

Golden Santos Doll Crown with Amber Rhinestones

I am surprised at how many autumn wedding pieces there are! It gives one hope! And additionally I am gratified by the number of beautiful wreathes and handmade pieces available on Etsy…which also gives one hope. Maybe society is not wholly the mass-produced over-marketed aesthetic fiasco it seems like in the New York Times. Enjoy autumn! It is a beautiful season and there are many amazing things both fair and dark to come here on Ferrebeekeeper (and probably in the world too).

Sunflower and Wild Wheat Crown...again by "BloomDesignStudio on Etsy...gosh, those guys are the best!

Sunflower and Wild Wheat Crown…again by “BloomDesignStudio on Etsy…gosh, those guys are the best!

A Rowan Tree (Sorbus aucuparia) beside a road in Ireland

A Rowan Tree (Sorbus aucuparia) beside a road in Ireland

Rowan trees are beautiful little trees which are part of the rose family.  The tree is are also known as the sorbus trees (the genus is named Sorbus” from a Latin word meaning red brown), the quickbeam,  or the mountain ash–although they are not closely related to the true ash trees.  Because of their delicate beauty and great hardiness, rowan trees are a great favorite of landscape gardeners.  The trees are covered with pretty five-petaled flowers in May and the flowers mature into large bunches of beautiful red or white berries in late summer.  Rowan berries are too tart for human tastes when uncooked (plus the raw berries can be dangerous if eaten in huge quantities) however they can be cooked to make jams, jellies, chutneys, and teas.  Birds are particularly drawn to the berries (which is the primary way that rowan trees distribute their seeds).  Rowan trees have alternating pinnate leaves of a handsome medium green.

Rowan tree in bloom

Rowan tree in bloom

Rowan trees of different species have spread through the northern hemisphere, however they seem to have originated in the mountains of west China (which is where the greatest genetic diversity of Rowan species is found).  The berries of some of these Chinese species can be orange, pink, cream, or white.

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In addition being loved by landscapers for their prettiness, Rowan trees have a special place in European folklore. Rowan trees were connected with the pre-Christian Scandinavian/Germanic goddess Sif, a golden haired beauty who was goddess of fertility, family, wedlock, grain, and beer (and basically everything worthwhile).  Even after northern Europeans stopped worshipping Sif, the rowan tree kept its magical associations.  Throughout the middle ages it was believed to prevent witches, bad luck and lightning.  Sailors wore rowan charms and travelers invoked it for luck.

The Goddess Sif with a Rowan Bough and a Beer

The Goddess Sif with a Rowan Bough and a Beer

The first house my parents bought when I was three was built by an Irish builder/developer who planted a rowan tree in the front yard.  That tree featured vividly in my childhood (the berries were perfect for playing and throwing) and I still dream about it sometimes.  It stands beautiful red and green near the center of the garden of my imagination.

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