Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

March 2016

Aspen Leaves - Photo by David Fenwick

By the Rivers of Babylon

When writing nature notes for the ‘Link’ it is interesting to draw attention to those trees or other plants mentioned in the Holy Bible.  So, my topic this month is willow and the closely related trees, aspen and poplar. Our churchyard has one willow tree (near the north drive) and one balsam poplar located in the burial area not far from the cemetery gate. Given a damper soil we could grow the lovely weeping willow much associated with the river- banks of fenland England. Neither have we aspen trees but I know of some that are growing near the Tehidy lakes.

In Psalm 137 we read that the captive Children of Israel sat beneath ‘willow’ trees beside the River, maybe the R. Euphrates or R. Tigris, and wept for their lost homeland. Their captors demanded a song from them, possibly as part of a process of indoctrination, but they would not sing, hanging their harps on the nearby  trees . How could they sing in a foreign land and how could they forget their holy city, Jerusalem?

The trees there, said to be willows, are probably a species of aspen, a native tree in the desert lands of Palestine growing along rivers which flow down from present day Iraq and Syria. One wonders just how much of this vegetation remains now after the disastrous wars in those countries.

The scientific name of the tree is ‘Populus euphratica’  commonly known as Desert Aspen. The aspen we know in this country is ‘Populus tremula’ the name derived from the fact that in any breeze the leaves tremble and make a very audible noise as they flutter about rustling and weeping. Aspens, willow and poplars have male and female catkins in spring which are very attractive in some cases.  If we can find a suitable space we might consider planting an aspen at St. Illogan since according to one legend the aspen tree furnished the timber for Jesus’ cross. Since then all aspen trees quiver and tremble.

Andrew Tompsett