Journal Entry: The Importance of Companionship for Fruit Trees | Written by Mark Cocker
Near our home, there is a row of fruit trees, including elders and hawthorns, that I have often thought about their beginnings. During a recent visit to this area by the Monsal Trail, I gained a better understanding of the factors that caused their growth.
Our deeply ingrained belief that land is a form of legal ownership, along with our increasing belief that we have complete control over all agricultural land, leads us to falsely believe that we are in charge. However, this is not the case. Fruit-bearing trees may actually be subject to a different authority.
One indication of tree berries (specifically rowan and hawthorn) is their dominant red color. Another is the hazy coating found on fruits such as sloes and plums, which supposedly reflects ultraviolet light and makes them more noticeable to birds flying above. These methods of attraction suggest that trees produce fruit for the benefit of birds rather than for humans.
This life-enhancing symbiosis dates back to the Cretaceous period, but you can see its impacts now in any winter hedge. Go down the local lanes near you and most old trees will have an understorey of bramble, elder and hawthorn sown and manured by roosting thrushes.
The waxwing is known as the best friend of fruit trees in Europe. In November of last year, there was a significant increase in the number of these birds in Britain, with a flock of 250 spotted at Hassop, making it one of the largest recorded in Derbyshire. During this time, they are showing the extent of their close relationship with fruit trees.
Surely this continent’s most beautiful songbirds, waxwings sport lines of oval spots – yellow, white, red – in separate sequences down their wings and tail tips. As the birds clamber, parrot-like, often upside down, in their voracious search for fruit, they flutter and spread these brilliant features. But rather than exposing the bird’s presence, the berry-like patches of colour have evolved to disrupt the owner’s outline and disguise it from predators overhead.
A secondary mark of so lovely a creature is that even its excrement has aesthetic appeal, emerging copiously and apparently resembling strings of pearls. As waxwings scour the countryside for ever more fruit supplies, they make constant seed deposits, each complete with its moiety of fertiliser, laying down future fruit-bearing gardens on which their descendants perhaps will one day feed.