Probably no tree better symbolizes Britain than Quercus robur, the native oak. In an essay at the BBC's News Magazine, historian Simon Schama reviews its significance.
The tree is Britain, after all.
Boscobel oak, where Charles II hid from Cromwell's army after the battle of Worcester.
And the song Nelson's sailors are said to have sung at Trafalgar? "Hearts of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men."
But then, with a sudden chill, you remember something else. A story that seemed to come and go from the papers, but terrible in what it reported: that a mysterious blight is attacking Quercus robur, up and down the length of Britain.
No-one seems to know why it is happening or how to stop it, how to save infected trees. Apparently the "die-back" period (a horrible term) from the first tell-tale signs of shrivelled foliage to complete tree death is about five years: the life of a Parliament.
Schama reviews previous disasters that have befallen Britain's oaks, including hurricane-induced devastation in the 18th century, and the "acorn fever" that followed.
Naval officers on leave, like Collingwood, went around surreptitiously scattering acorns from holes in his breeches in the parks of his unsuspecting hosts. And the all-time champion was the lord-lieutenant of Cardiganshire, Colonel Thomas Johnes, who between 1795 and 1801 planted some 922,000 sturdy oaks.
The prognosis re the current epidemic is rather grim. Articles at the Telegraph and The Independent offer more details re the science of the disease.
Link. Photo credit SRR/tywk.