Between 1975 and 1979, Paul Ferris of the WREN Conservation Group carried out a survey of the Flora of Bush Wood and the Wanstead Flats.
The results of this Herculean undertaking were published in two instalments in ‘The London Naturalist’, the journal of the London Natural History Society, in 1980/81, shortly after I was born.
One small aspect of this study – which to my knowledge has never been comprehensively repeated since – was a survey of the trees of Bush Wood. An updated version of the results of that survey can still be found on Paul’s excellent website, Wanstead Wildlife.
As the summer is not exactly the best time for birding on the patch, I turned my attention to trees; to try and boost my poor dendrological knowledge, and to attempt to repeat this part of Paul’s survey.
My time in Bush Wood has taught me that not all that much has changed from 35-40 years ago, although I did seem to find a few additional species to those originally recorded. Paul describes 22 (and lists 27) species of tree in Bush Wood, whereas to-date, I have found 33 species (with a couple of additional hybrids and two or three more species which are found just outside the traditionally accepted boundaries of Bush Wood).
As Paul notes, the overall character of Bush Wood is made up from four species of tree: English Oak (Quercus robur), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Holly (Ilex aquifolium), and Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). All of these species grow naturally throughout the area.
While those four species may constitute the major content of the woodland, the shape of the wood is dictated more by the planted trees. Bush Wood is bisected by an avenue of the limes, dominated by Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata), although with hybrid ‘Common Lime’ (Tilia x europea) also present. The other parent, Large-leaved Lime (Tilia platyphyllos), can also be found in the wood or nearby.Around the perimeter of the wood are a number of planted London Plane (Platanus x hybrida): As Paul notes, some of the largest trees in the wood are Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) with the largest, known locally as the ‘Witches Tree’ measuring in excess of 8 metres in circumference, making it one of the largest specimens in London and probably in the top 100 in the UK. Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), some of which appear to have been planted, are common in the Northern part of the wood.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is also common throughout the wood at every stage of maturity, whilst I could only find a couple of examples of the related Field Maple (Acer campestre):Paul reported two specimens of Norway Maple in the wood. This was one of only two species in Paul’s survey which I could not find at all in Bush Wood, although there are specimens elsewhere on the Wanstead Flats (Brick Pit Copse for example). The other species in Paul’s survey which I could not find, despite searching the area described, was Whitebeam. However, the clusters of trees and clearing next to the Friends’ House Quaker centre are rich in interesting species, even if some have ‘spilled’ over from the Quaker’s walled garden, and includes several not mentioned in Paul’s survey. False Acacia – or Black Locust – (Robinia pseudoacacia) for example: Right next to it is a single specimen of Common Laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides): In the grassland to the North West of Bush Wood is the greatest concentration of fruit trees in the wood, including Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Cherry-plum (Prunus cerasifera) [which also appears in its red-leaved variant], Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), a single specimen of domestic Plum (Prunus domestica), Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris), and domestic Apple (Malus domestica). In the updated version on his website, Paul notes that Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is increasingly being found in the wood. I can confirm this but found no examples of mature trees. One part of the grassland is dominated by English Elm (Ulmus minor) suckers and a few young slender trees from which the suckers seem to stem: I was also pleased to find a mature example of Wych Elm South of Bush Wood in the ‘school scrub’, but I have not counted it for this list.
Whilst on the subject of suckers, it seems appropriate to mention the collections of poplars at points in the wood, including in the internal clearing. The hybrid, Grey Poplar (Populus × canescens) can be found in quite large numbers near its parent, White Poplar (Populus alba) and, to a lesser extent, the seemingly rarer other parent, Aspen (Populus tremula), which took me a while to track down but I have now identified as present in at least two sites.Where the grassland clearing meets the road, known as Bushwood, is the single mature and large example of Yew (Taxus baccata) although several smaller specimens also exist. Paul reports that a single specimen of Crack Willow (Salix fragilis) can be found near the keeper’s lodge, but I actually found two specimens after a dawn trespass raid on the empty lodge’s garden. Not mentioned in Paul’s survey is Goat Willow or Sallow (Salix caprea) which can be found as two specimens to the North-West of the upper part of the avenue. A common shrub/tree throughout the wood is Elder (Sambucus nigra): Not quite as widespread, but found in multiple locations are the Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) which are heavily fruiting as I type.
Common, but more location-specific than either of the above, especially to the North-Eastern part of the wood, is Silver Birch (Betula pendula).
Aside from English Oak, relatively young examples of Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) are found at a couple of locations (perhaps the age is why they were never mentioned by Paul), and Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) also grows nearby.
In his online update, Paul credits local botanist, Fred Wanless, with discovering a specimen of Manna Ash near the Bushwood road. I can confirm this is still there and was pleased to find it flowering which helped with identification:When the flowers die and there are only leaves, it is only the lack of subtle serrating on the leaves that enables amateur botanists to distinguish between Manna and its commoner cousin, Ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Finally, two species of trees where I could only find a specimen each, both noted by Paul, are Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica), which is found near the entrance to Friends’ House, and Hazel (Corylus avellana) where a single example near the southern fence is the only specimen I know of across the Wanstead Flats: For ease, I include a tabulated version to easily compare the two surveys and the changes/differences noted: