Throughout the turning of the Sunwheel and the cycle of our Ceremonial year, we celebrate and honour the Tree Wheel and its seasons with our native Trees, in connection with the living harmony of our lives and the lives of our Ancestors!
The Tree Wheel accompanies us through the yearly cycle of the seasons, with the energy of its living life cycle, of budding, sprouting, forming leaves, and growing, sharing their personality of seasonal changes as they flower and fruit, escorting us on our path, giving shelter, and feeding an infinite variety of the flora and fauna of the natural world, before expending their energy, dropping their leaves, and returning to the restful peace of Winter’s sleep!
Since man first walked the Earth, we have lived in harmony with the Trees and our unique symbiosis. They have protected us with their shape and form, they have given up their wood for us, for building, for walkways and fencing, for tools and for burning - to keep us warm!
As man’s knowledge grew, we learned the true value of Trees!
We shared in their Earthly connection and their breath of life, as they fed, sheltered, and healed us, each species, unique in our connection and understanding!
We learned the art of coppicing with standards and how-to live-in harmony with the Trees, giving them the living life cycle of renewal and the strength of new growth. We learned how to manage and help the woodland to thrive and found the wisdom of understanding with the harmony of nature and the Lands of the Earth.
Britain was once an island of Trees, over the ages laying down their bed of leaves, branches and deadwood of foundation and fertility - feeding the wonderous multitude of life and the living drive of nature!
We are losing our understanding with the Trees and their importance in our lives, we have neglected the woodlands that now remain, or have replaced them with quick growing – profitable Trees!
We import most of our wood from abroad and yet our natural woodlands stand tangled and strangled, we should manage our woodlands, breathe new life into them and live in harmony with the energy and fertility of the Earth, her Trees, and the life of the Tree Wheel!
Hawk Elderin & Morien Ravenstone
On behalf of The Sunwheel Grove Druid Order
The Book of the Tree Seasons
As we follow the Sunwheel Calendar, our Sun-wheel year as a whole, is divided into 2 halves, the Light half and Dark Half of the year. The dividing line runs through the central balance of the Equinox line from East to West, with the Dark Half to the North and the Light half to the South, represented by the Holly in the North and the Oak in the South!
The Tree Wheel and the cycle of our Tree Seasons begins and ends with the Winter Solstice. There are 8 different Tree Seasons in total, The Silver Birch, The Rowan, The Alder, The Hawthorn, The Oak, The Hazel, The Apple Tree and The Yew – each running sunwise between the 8 Stones of our Stone Circle and reaching from Ceremony to Ceremony, each lasting 45 days and all having their own unique seasonal influence and personality!
We are greatly encouraged to live, grow, and share in both our own and collective experiences, gaining knowledge and understanding within the natural world around us, influenced by The Sun, Moon and Earth, the Tree Wheel, the power and energy of the Elements and the seasonal cycle of Living Nature!
Breathing in the essence of the air we share with the flora and fauna; we follow and explore our own personal and evolving path!
Please find more information below!
1 – The Season of the Silver Birch!
The Silver Birch Tree is one of about 60 different deciduous species of Tree and Shrub belonging to the Birch family. It is a Tree that can grow to about 100ft (30m) tall, with a silvery, grey-white bark and almost ring-like dark fissures reaching up the length of its trunk. The bark, despite its outer shredded papery qualities is very resilient and impervious to water. It has easily recognisable branches and their fine twigs tend to droop with a weeping elegance and flow with the breeze. They have smallish green, triangular leaves with tooth shaped edging. The leaves, if moving from a particularly wet period to a prolonged dry spell can take on a small black speckled appearance which does not harm the Tree until they fall in the autumn.
Despite this, the Silver Birch is a very hardy Tree that can withstand severe cold or drought as well as being supple enough to cope with high winds. They produce both male and female catkins on the same tree. The male catkins tend to be more yellow and drooping whilst the female catkins are usually greener and upright - although later hang down. The fruit of the Tree appears as winged seeds, hanging in small catkins and are borne on the air.
As the Tree ages and dies, the soft wood tends to break down inside the branches and trunk and can leave hollow, dusty tubes in places, held together by the bark. It is a quick growing species and will spread well across open ground but is relatively short lived and acting as a nursing tree, giving cover and protection for the slower growing longer living standard trees such as Oak and Beech.
Living for up to 80 years or so, they will then break down and fertilise the ground and become a food source for the bigger trees and the creatures of the Earth.
The Birch Tree has been welcomed all over as a useful contributor to human life. Reaching back through history our Ancestors and the native peoples of the Earth have used Birch bark for a multitude of things from boats and canoes to roofing for houses and shelters, as covering for wigwams and yurts. As well as using it for a wide range of containers and other uses including shoes and binding and even writing paper!
Birch was used for purification in Native North American sweat-lodges and used widely across Europe as twigs to beat the body during saunas to stimulate circulation and blood flow.
Birch has a connection with the whole of the year, whether it be used for lighting the fires of Beltane or made into a broom to sweep out the old year at Samhain and with its bark stripped, it was burnt as the original Yule log as protection against the cold and darkness of Winter.
Its leaves, branches, twigs, and sap have a wide range of beneficial properties for health and wellbeing and has held the focus of generations of celebration, with its use as the Maypole.
Our Ancestors and some remote gatherings of people still tap into the Silver Birch and collect the sap without harming the tree, for an honouring toast or a healthy purified drink called Birch Water that can be consumed either fresh or naturally fermented!
The Birch is revered as a connection with new birth and new life, renewal and protection, it is the first Tree to take hold upon the cleared land and the virgin soils of the Earth where other trees will not grow!
Often known as the white Lady of the woods, we celebrate and honour the Silver Birch in our Ceremonies. We honour them during our Ceremony of Re-birth at Winter Solstice and welcome the season of the Silver Birch, leading us toward Imbolc and the time of the Awakening!
We share a connection with the ring of eight Silver Birch Trees that stand around the inside of the bank and ditch that surrounds our stone circle, with the ninth standing as overseer to our Ancestral Altar and the entrance to our Grove!
The Season of the Silver Birch is the season of new beginnings!
With the passing of Winter Solstice and the rebirth of the Sunwheel, we are slowly but surely drawn through the darkness of winter, we have completed our period of contemplation and now we look to the future and tentatively ponder our plans and the infinite possibilities for the natural cycle of the Sunwheel to come!
The days will gently start to lengthen as Mother nature rests in her winter slumber and we share in the peace of the Earth, some of our fellow creatures hibernate and others have migrated, only to wake or return as the seasons warm and come alive!
The naked Silver Birch resting proud like quills in their ink pots, standing out like beacons amongst the undergrowth in its pale greens and sepia tones of expended and sleeping vegetation, at this time, we share in a sense of hope as we anticipate the turning of the wheel and look forward to the awakening!
As with all Trees, the Silver Birch will swell in their multitude of new buds, like thoughts and ideas forming, as we take the time to breathe in the air with its winter chill and feel the energy of our connection with the resting world around us!
At this time of the year, we share a sense of patience, taking in the calm before the storm and the impending explosion of the awakening and Imbolc, bursting into life!
2 – The Season of the Rowan!
The Rowan, Mountain Ash or Quickbeam, as it is sometimes known is native to Britain and Europe as well as parts of Asia Minor. It is a deciduous Tree that can grow up to 50ft (15m) tall, with a smooth, silvery grey bark and branches.
In young trees its twigs tend to be downy and turn hairless with age. Its pinnate leaves can be up to 10 inches (25cm) in length and have anything between 10 and 20 sharply toothed, green oblong leaflets although they tend to have 13 to 15 in most cases.
The Tree’s flowers are usually borne in large, flat headed clusters and a beautiful creamy, white colour in May. These flowers grow into bunches of green round berry like fruit which then, along with the tree’s foliage, turn a deep red with the onset of Autumn and feeding the birds on into the cold and grey of Winter, it spreads its seed!
The Rowan is a very hardy, tolerant and versatile Tree that is particularly at home on higher ground and can live and grow in a multitude of soils and conditions anywhere up to a height of over 3000 feet (914 metres) above sea level, matched only by the Juniper and some small Willow species that can grow higher!
The Rowan Tree, to many is a sacred and magical Tree, it stands as a symbol of the hidden mysteries of the flow of Nature and the Quickening of Nature’s life-force, with its foliage and red berries it is said to be the inspiration behind the colours woven into the fabric of the Tartan adorned by the Scots and other Celtic Clans!
In the bardic tradition, The Rowan is revered as the ‘Tree of Inspiration’, with its protection and health benefits.
The Season of the Rowan begins with Imbolc and the Awakening!
At this time the winter ice begins to melt, the gathering of the rains and the natural springs run free and the mountain streams begin their journey and the growing swell, before riding the rapids and following the natural curves carved out of the rock and the bed of the earth over countless ages!
Going with the flow along Streams and Ditches, Brooks and Rivers, the water and the drink of life, meanders its way as part of the endless cycle of life and fills the tributaries, before heading for the coast where it returns to the ocean!
In time it will become a small part of the moisture gathered by the forming clouds and driven by the winds, it sails across the skies before it is deposited across the living contours of the Earth!
It is the time of the Awakening and Mother Earth begins to stir from her winter slumber, the buds on the Trees and Hedges, Shrubs and Bushes, as well as the undergrowth around us swell in expectation and the Snowdrops and Primroses decorate the Earth and its quiet corners with their beautiful vision of new life!
At this time of the Sunwheel we share in the excitement of the waking energy and celebrate its wonder!
The Season of the Rowan is the time of the quickening and we share in the power of potential, it’s a time of new growth and for looking forward as the days lengthen, the young Sun warms the earth and the lust for life leads us toward the balance of the Spring Equinox and the beginning of the Light half of the Year!
3 – The Season of the Alder!
The Alder or Common Alder, European Alder, Black or Grey Alder is the collective name of a genus called Alnus and comprising a family of about 35 species, it consists of deciduous, monoecious trees and shrubs, found mainly in more northern temperate regions, beside lakes, rivers, ponds and in wetland areas!
Conical in shape, mature Alder Trees are often covered in lichen and can reach a height of about 90 feet (28 metres) and live for approximately 60 years!
The leaf buds are a purple, grey and form on long stems of 1 – 3 inches (3 – 9 cm) – the dark green leaves are rounded and leathery in appearance, with serrated edges and a pinched leaf tip. The twigs are a light brown spotted stem which turns a ruddy colour toward the top, with its young twigs feeling sticky to the touch!
The light green male catkins are long and droop down, while the female catkins are short and rounded at first before turning into woody cones later in the season. The bark of younger trees is smooth and a greenish brown colour, before ageing into a very dark brown or grey and forming deep fissures and a scaly texture. The empty cones often adorn the tree throughout the winter and the seeds, equipped with tiny airbags, are taken by the wind and waterways!
The Alder Tree is a special and important tree and known to enrich the soil. When harvested the protein rich wood of the Alder is an attractive option for woodworm and as a result is not recommended for use in building, however, when used under water it comes into its own as a very strong and durable material and if it remains wet it gets harder with age and forms a rock like substance. As a result, it was used as a foundation for Crannogs, lakeside dwellings and for marshland and wetland walkways, it was also used for the foundations as Alder poles in the construction of wooden bridges. Traditionally it was also used in the building of water tanks, sluices, pumps and water pipes!
Alder as firewood makes a poor fuel but works well as being an excellent raw material for the making of charcoal!
Alder is a truly superb wood for turning, if it is turned wet it becomes a reddish orange colour and if it is turned dry it stays white. It often has an irregular shaped trunk and branches which work particularly well for naturally edged bowls!
The Alder is sometimes known as the totem tree of King Bran, meaning ‘Raven’ who appears in Welsh myths and legends, it is said that the head of King Bran was buried on the hill where the tower of London was built and is why its Ravens reside there!
In herbal healing both its bark and leaves were used to help with a variety of ailments, it was also revered for its use in the process of making dyes. As well as its use in producing reds, yellows and blacks, it is best known for its use in producing purple, known as ‘Royal Purple’ for its associations with King Bran and the Raven, as a result the Alder is also often associated with the gem stone Amethyst!
The Season of the Alder, the lengthening month of the waking Alder and the quickening!
The season begins with Spring Equinox and the arrival of and stepping into the Light Half of the Year!
At this time of the year, wheat seed is sown to take advantage of the warming days to come throughout the season, destined to be ripened by the summer sun and harvested at Lughnasadh!
As we Step into the Light we also sow the seed of potential, the seed of inspiration deep within ourselves, a seed to nurture and grow into a yet undefined thing, the conception of an idea that will be nurtured and loved, a tangible thing, refined and honed with the turning of the Sun-wheel, to be shaped and formed from the spark of an idea into a fully formed creation, something that can be shared by one and all or as personally as you like, an individually made contribution to gift to the world, however big or small, to enhance and promote the understanding of knowledge and personal thinking, to add to the wide tapestry of the creation of life!
The beautiful rosettes of Primroses and their individual yellow tongues begin to light up the wild walkways, quiet corners and woodland edges and we share in their moment, sparing a pause for thought as they dance in the climbing shimmer of the early spring sunshine!
With the Flora and Fauna bursting into life, the flourish of the leaves opening on the trees and the busy wonder of the birds, as they seek out territories and nesting possibilities in a symphony of bird song and the madness of the March Hair, the energy of life is building and hibernating species wake from their slumber, the earth is warming beneath our feet and the growing intensity of the lust for life flows on toward Beltane and the coming of the Green Man!
4 – The Season of the Hawthorn!
Native to Europe, the Common hawthorn, hawthorn, May Tree, one-seed hawthorn, white thorn, or quick thorn is part of a family called Rosaceae belonging to more than a thousand species known as Crataegus, although many of them are hybridised. The Hawthorn is one of the most adaptable and hardiest of trees, they can tolerate both strong winds and dry ground, as well as excessive water.
Mature trees can reach heights of up to 15 m (50ft) and are characterised by their dense, thorny appearance. They tend to grow as a small tree with a single stem, as they age, the bark becomes a brown–greyish colour, knotted and fissured, the branches harbour a mass of twigs and are of a slender brown appearance and are covered in thorns!
Originally named after the month it blooms, the Hawthorn is a small and elegant tree and were once used as important boundary markers, but more so used over the ages as a hedging plant for its strength, durability, and spiky nature, shaped over countless centuries and laid into a tightly woven hedge that can now be flail cut for practicality or left to grow strong and tall!
The pale green leaves are often the first to appear in spring, bursting its buds with a smattering of subtle green highlights, before growing to around 6cm (3in) in length and comprised of toothed lobes which are shaped and cut back to the middle of the leaf, the leaves then turn yellow before dropping in autumn!
The Hawthorn blooms are a sign that spring is turning into summer and are truly a sight to behold, stretching across the countryside like snowy ribbons in great swathes, with their veil of intricate dense flat-topped clusters of individual flowers, they are beautiful white blossoms, tinged with pale ripples of pink, with five petals and heavily scented. They are presented on defined green shoots in May arriving with the welcome of Beltane, before flushing in a covering of small orange–red berries that linger on through Autumn and beyond!
The dense and thorny foliage makes the perfect nesting hideaway and the Hawthorn draws in a vast seasonal multitude of insects such as various Moths and their caterpillars, as well as all manner of other insects, the flowers attract Bees and other pollinators, while Dormice eat the fallen flowers for a sweet treat and the berries feed a wide range of Birds and small mammals!
The Hawthorn is also a pagan symbol of fertility, the unity of the masculine and feminine, with ancient links with May Day and was the ancestor to the Maypole. Its leaves and flowers were used in May Day garlands as well as adorning the wreath of the Green Man!
Hawthorn wood is a milky brown colour and finely grained, it is an extremely hard wood and good for turning and engraving, it is also used for veneers and cabinets, as well as a multitude of other things. It is known to burn at high temperatures and makes good firewood and charcoal!
Whether it be young leaves, flower buds or young flowers, they are all edible and can be added to a salad, the haws can also be eaten but can cause mild stomach upset and are more often used to make jellies or wine, they are a good source of vitamin C and are also known to be good for the heart!
The season of the Hawthorn begins with Beltane, coming into the green and the beginning of summer!
As the Hawthorns begin to flower, we celebrate the arrival of the Green Man and the fertility of the Earth.
As we greet the season, we take great pleasure in the energy of the flora and fauna coming to life in the age old way, Mother Nature paints her unique picture and the seasonal cycle of the sun-wheel warms the Earth!
As we follow the season, we admire the beauty of the Beltane Cowslips and enjoy the nature of their lives as we ponder our own, with the warming weather, summer plans can be encouraged and a positive energy fills the air as we welcome the onset of a Summer of possibilities under the climbing of the Sun!
We observe the busy life of the Hawthorn and the comings and goings of a myriad of life’s creatures, as they find their place amongst the May flowers and their cover, we are encouraged by their efforts, each with their own purpose and we can’t help but feel a sense of hope!
As the Birds begin to pair off and start to build their nests, we witness and admire their industry and commitment in a symphony of tweets and mating calls and share in the rush of the lust for life!
The Buzzards begin to pick up on the warmer thermals and call to one another, we share in their magnificent cries and we feel the connection and are reminded of the value of communication!
The Trees around us shake their new head of leaves in the early summer winds and as the fruit blossom is packed away, we watch the fruit buds begin to form and we remember our inner seed and share in a sense of encouragement and growth as the conception of our idea begins to evolve!
As we follow our path onward with the sun-wheel, we move closer toward the highest light and the greeting of the Summer Solstice!
5 – The Season of the Oak!
Did you know that in England there are two native species of Oak Tree?
Firstly, there is the English Oak QUERCUS ROBUR, sometimes known as the Pendunculate Oak.
Secondly, there is the Durmast Oak QUERCUS PETRAEA or the Sessile Oak.
There are several ways to distinguish between the species although not always obvious at first glance.
The English Oak has a grey bark which is finely cracked and ridged, while the Durmast Oak bark has longer, straighter crevices and tends to be less cracked.
The English Oak has very short stalked leaves with deep lobes, with two small backward pointing lobes at the base, while the leaves of the Durmast Oak have long stalks and lack the small, backward pointing lobes and taper smoothly onto the stalk.
The twigs of the English Oak have rounded but pointed buds while the Durmast Oak is distinguishable by its grey-purple twigs. Both species flower, the Male catkins are abundant in short clusters during early May as the leaves unfurl on the English Oak, the female catkins are similar, but are shorter and bear miniature flowers. The Male catkins of the Durmast Oak are longer, and the female catkins are hidden under the leaf joints.
When the fruiting of the Acorns is in evidence on the trees, it is one of the best times to tell the species apart. The Acorn of the English Oak are held on long stalks called Peduncles, which is where the Tree gets its alternative name of the Pedunculate Oak. The Acorns of the Durmast Oak sit directly on the twig giving the Tree its alternative name of the Sessile Oak.
The stalks are on the Acorns of the English Oak and on the leaves of the Durmast Oak.
The English Oak is common throughout Europe, except the far north, they are the most important forest tree of the whole of north-west Europe. They can be extremely variable in shape and size, sometimes producing tall, ragged crowns, in some cases up to 45 metres (almost 150ft) high, but more often they are a massive, twisted dome often less than 20 metres (65ft) high when fully mature.
The Durmast Oak is a remarkably similar tree but rarely forms the huge, low crowns of the English Oak, it is typically a taller, straighter, and more elegant tree than the insect pruned English Oak. They largely replace the English Oak as the main forest tree on the thinner, acid soils of northern and western Britain, its woods as a result, tends to be of a much poorer quality and has far less in the way of associated plants and insects. While the English Oak is often stripped by Moth caterpillars and other insects feeding the world around them, the same is a rarity in the Durmast Oak.
With the heavy soiled earth of the English Midlands, the English Oak thrives in the deep fertile forests and woodland, feeding the heart and spirit of the natural order and flow of the flora and fauna, living in harmony with the land.
The Oak, known as the ruling majesty of the woods, the wise old English Oak holds a special place in our culture and our history and supports more living species than any other tree found in the UK, even the fallen leaves support a wide ranging biodiversity!
The Oak forest supports more life forms than any other native forest, they are a home to literally hundreds of different insect species, supplying food for a wide range of birds. In autumn many mammals, such as Mice, Squirrels, Badgers and Deer feed on the fallen acorns as well as birds like the Jay, while the flower and leaf buds serve as food for the voracious caterpillars of the Purple Hairstreak Butterfly!
Many birds and other creatures such as Bats use the Oak for nesting or roosting and the bunches of circular growths found on the Oak, are created by a species of Gall Wasp and were used for the making of Ink for over a thousand years, right up until the 20th century and are still available today!
The Oak forests and woodland are not just a source of food, medicines and materials, the trees and woods are crucial in the fight against climate change with their ability to lock in their carbon qualities!
Oaks produce one of the hardest and most durable timbers known to man, vast swathes of Oaks were felled to build ships during the rise of the British Navy and their various battles against the likes of the Spanish Armada!
It can take up to one hundred and fifty years before an Oak is mature enough to be used in a construction sense and has been prized for its hardwood timber for thousands of years and is still used today for building, flooring and many other things such as wine barrels!
The Acorns have been gathered and used to make flour for bread making and Tannin found in the bark has been used to tan leather since at least Roman times!
The Oak is said to be sacred to many different and ancient gods over the ages, many associated with thunder and lightning as The Oaks were often struck by lightning being the tallest features in the landscape!
The ancient Druids were said to practise their rituals in Oak Groves and celebrated the mistletoe that grows upon their branches, as a symbol of strength and power, they were also linked to royalty and were used in the design and decoration of a crown worn of Oak leaves!
To many the Oak is simply known as the Tree of knowledge, where we feel its energy and feel that we can share our thoughts, with a vast canopy that shades us from the heat of the Sun!
The Season of the Oak begins with the highest climb of the Sun and its Sun-wheel and the Summer Solstice!
As we reach the middle of summer and the longest day of the year, a time of festivities, celebration, and activity, we fondly remember the life cycle of the year and our connection, personally and collectively and honour the Oak in all its splendour!
We are encouraged to spare a moment with the Oak Tree at this time, with its thriving micro-climate and its sense of peace, we gather acorns as memories to decorate our homes and special places, or acorns that will germinate in the Spring to be planted in places of our own choosing, forming a connection by planting life and hope for the generations of the future!
The season blooms in all its glory, we share in the joy of life and the strength and energy of the Sun. We step out of the days extending shadows, drawn to the fire like a moth. Raising a toast of Mead to the Ancestors, we drum and share tales or express ourselves in some other way, and we watch the flames dance as the late nights fade into darkness. The stars shine with a dazzling brightness in the clear night skies above us and the moon shimmers in splendid reflection with the warmth of the night!
As the Sun-wheel of the cycle of the year continues, we remember the seed of potential within and its conception at Spring Equinox, we have seen how it has matured with time and the semblance of an idea is now full of growth and taking shape, defining ideas in the more quiet moments of our busy lives. With momentum gained we can see a picture beginning to form and as the season continues we look forward to polishing the edges and when we are ready and before the end of the year, we look forward to its completion and expressing it openly, to share a gift of the creativity of our inner selves and adding to the beauty and texture of life and experience with its unveiling!
As we move forward with the season, the Sun will now begin its subtle decent and puts all its efforts into shining, we will feel it’s heat as summer cycles on, but we know that slowly the nights will begin to shorten.
The Sun continues to ripen our wheat seed crops, sowed at Spring Equinox and as we near the end of the Season of the Oak, we close with the harvest of Lughnasadh!
6 – The Season of the Hazel!
The Hazel Tree belongs to the family known as ‘Betulaceae’, a genus called ‘Corylus’ that includes about ten to twelve different species of deciduous shrubs and small trees, they are both male and female and can be found across most of Europe, parts of north Africa and western Asia!
In the British Isles it can be found in the understory of the lowland Oak, Birch, or Ash woodland, it can also be found in scrubland and hedgerows!
When left to grow as a specimen Tree, The Hazel can grow up to 12 metres (40 ft) and can live up to 80 years. However, the Hazel is often coppiced which can enable the tree to live for up to three hundred years or more!
The trunks are often festooned with mosses, lichens and liverworts and its growing companion, the Fiery Milk Cap Fungus grows in the earth beneath and around them!
The tree’s bark can range from a silvery grey to pale brown, which can peel with age, the branches can tangle and twist as they thicken with age and are flexible with hairy stems. When the leaf buds appear, they tend to be oval, blunt, and hairy, if the tree is regularly coppiced (cut down to ground level to re-grow), the branches grow as almost straight rods and the underside of the leaves can become hairier!
The leaves are of a rounded oval shape and elegantly rippled, they are doubly toothed around the edges and hairy with a pointed tip, turning yellow before they fall in autumn!
Despite being both male and female and having male and female flowers, the Hazel which is wind pollinated, needs to be pollinated by other Hazel trees!
Once pollinated, the female flowers develop into oval shaped fruits which hang in small clusters of one to four. Throughout the season they mature into a nut with a woody shell surrounded by a small gathering of leafy bracts, which are modified leaves.
The Hazel’s leaves provide an excellent source of food for the caterpillars of a variety of Moths, including the Large Emerald, Barred Umber, Small White and the Nut-tree Tussock. When in a managed woodland where Hazel is coppiced, it is often supported by a rich wildflower habitat and can encourage Fritillary Butterflies and others too!
The coppicing of the Hazel also provides shelter for a wide variety of nesting birds, such as the Nightingale and Yellow Hammer as well as the Willow Warbler. With the cycle of its year playing an important role in the life of the Dormouse!
Hazel nuts are also eaten by Woodpeckers, Jays, Nuthatches, a wide variety of Tits and Woodpigeons, as well as small mammals. The Hazel flowers are an important source of early nectar for Bees, although being air borne pollen it is not sticky and does not stick to the Bee in the same way and has a low but crucial yield as a result!
The Hazel is known as the magic tree, it is used in the art of water divining and Hazelnuts were carried as personal charms to ward off negative forces, Hazel is also used in the making of wands, staffs and walking sticks!
Hazel wood can be either straight through coppicing or very twisted or knotted if left to its own devices and has proved invaluable to our ancestors, it was used in all manner of things, for tools, as thatching spars, woven hurdles and furniture, as well as being very versatile and used in many other different roles, including the making of charcoal!
In the world today, coppicing and pollarding has become a particularly important management plan in the conservation of our woodland and its natural wildlife, where coppicing and pollarding with standards helps to keep a balance with nature!
It used to be that we supported our own woodlands and they used to support us, where coppicing and pollarding could produce a great harvest of Hazelnuts and a useful and practical wood source and worked in harmony with the land, now sadly most of our Wood, Hazelnuts and charcoal are imported and our woodlands left in decline!
The magical Season of the Hazel begins with the wheat crop and the golden harvest of Lughnasadh!
The life of the sun-wheel is well established as the Sun continues to wane, and the flora and fauna follow their timelines in the great cycle of life, given to opportunity and hope, as do we all!
The season swells with the growth of a rich multitude of young fruit and the hazy afternoons harbour views of late darting Dragonflies and Damsels. Butterflies busy themselves in the soft evening light where a drift of airborne seeds go with the flow and float upon the breeze on the seasonal tide!
Frogs and Toads are leaving their ponds on the cusp of their first big adventure and birds have fledged, some migrating and others building their reserves as we look forward to the start of autumn!
Throughout the season we will witness the energy of the late summer Sun and the ripening of the fruit and hedgerow harvest, filling the shrubs and trees around us – the air hangs heavy with the continuous busy buzz of the Bees, Wasps and a myriad of Flies and Insects!
We make the most of the warmth and light at this time and are encouraged to spend time with our friends and the like-minded, in both new and traditional haunts, as well as our own special personal and private places, with their changing seasonal energies and their influence on our lives as we follow the sun-wise circle!
The season of late summer affords us the opportunity to continue with the building blocks that make up the creativity of our inner seed and its transformation, the knowledge gathered through the influence of the world around us, enriches and educates us as our Ancestors discovered whilst following their own paths and helps us connect with the countless ages and the spiral of infinity!
Known as the ‘Poets Tree’, the Hazel was regarded by the Celts as the Tree of Knowledge. With all of the knowledge bound, sweet and concentrated in the Hazelnuts kernel, with all the wisdom combined, as the saying goes ‘In a nutshell’ and the air surrounding the Hazel Tree is said to be magically charged with the quicksilver energy of exhilaration and inspiration!
As the Season of the Hazel draws to a close, we celebrate the welcome of autumn and the arrival of the Autumn Equinox!
7 – The Season of the Apple Tree!
The Crab Apple Tree!
The Crab Apple Tree or ‘Malus Sylvestris’, is one of about 35 true species of Crab Apple belonging to the ‘Rosaceae’ family, it is a native tree to Britain and Europe, Asia, and North America and are best suited to heavy, and moist but well-draining soil. The Crab Apple is said to be the Mother of all orchard grown apples, of which there have been well over 6,000 named varieties grown over the ages. With many being lost to time, there are currently over 2,000 varieties around today!
Although the Crab Apple is often used as a rootstock for modern varieties, it has found its place across the countryside, it is an ancient tree and well established, distributed in seed form by the many species of birds and mammals that eat its fruit!
Mature Crab Apples Trees can grow to a height of around 10 metres (30ft) and can live up to 100 years. They have an irregular rounded form and a wide, spreading canopy, its bark is of a flecked appearance and greyish brown in colour and often covered in lichens. These Trees can become gnarled and twisted, especially if they are open to the elements and the twigs can even grow spines, its ‘crabbed’ appearance is thought to have given the tree its name!
Its pointed brown leaf buds form on short stalks and have a hairy down that grows at the tips, the leaves grow into glossy, oval leaves which usually grow to about 6cm (2-3in) and have rounded teeth running around its edge!
In early spring, the sweet scent of the flowering blossom, with its delicate white, pink tinted flowers, draws a multitude of Bees, Wasps and other pollinators and in time, the blossom transforms into small apple like fruits of a yellowy green colour, with a circumference of about 2-3 cm (1 - 1.5 in), when the fruit swell and ripen, they can sometimes flush with red or white patches!
The Crab Apples themselves were often collected and used as an early alternative to ‘a dash of lemon’ and a general ingredient in cooking, as well as being roasted and being a vital ingredient in the drink used for Wassailing, to this day the fruit is still used in the making of ‘Crab Apple Jelly!’
The Tree’s leaves are a food source for the caterpillars of a wide variety of Moths including the Eyed Hawkmoth, Pale Tussock, and the Green Pug. The flowers are invaluable as an early pollen and nectar source for Bees and a wide selection of other pollinators. The fruit feeds a variety of birds and mammals including, Crows, Thrushes and Blackbirds, Mice, Voles, Badgers and Foxes!
The Crab Apple Tree has always been deemed to be an incredibly special tree, as it is one of the few natural homes to Mistletoe!
Because of this, the Crab Apple Tree is also known as a tree of fertility, burnt by the Celts at fertility rites and festivals, it has also been celebrated as the tree of marriage through the ages, and today is still planted in orchards as a fertility partner!
Crab Apple wood is a beautiful timber and after drying and ageing, is extremely popular in the process of engraving, carving and wood turning despite its hard nature!
The Domestic Apple Tree!
The Domestic Apple or ‘Malus x domestica’ which is also from the ‘Rosaceae’ family, is a variant species to the native ‘Crab Apple’ and has larger hairy leaves and produces larger red to green fruit. It has been known to hybridise with the Crab Apple on occasion and produces a wide variety of variants!
The domestic Apple often escapes with the help of birds and mammals and can be found naturalised in hedgerows and thickets across the British Isles. These are small Trees found in hedges, scrub, and copses, as well as on rough ground and on the side of the road, usually as single trees!
They can grow to about 10m (30ft) and can typically be identified in winter by its bark which is usually grey and often has bumps, scales, and ridges.
Its leaves are generally dark green and oval shaped with serrated edges, with the underside of the leaf being slightly furry!
The flowers comprise of five petals, a beautiful white in colour with hints of pink, known as blossom, they grow in clusters and show an awesome display, in May and June!
The fruit of large red and green apples can range widely in taste, they are very versatile and come from a vast collection of species. The Apple is an exceedingly popular and healthy fruit and can be eaten in a multitude of different ways.
The Domesticated Apple originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor ‘Malus sieversii’ can still be seen today. Apples have been grown for thousands of years throughout Asia and Europe and were taken to North America by European settlers!
Apples are an important source of food for a wide range of wildlife, including Thrushes and Bullfinches who are particularly fond of the buds, the bushier trees make excellent nesting places for Blackbirds!
The Domestic Apple is seen by family connection as a fertility tree. The Apple with its central core of seeds or pips, is seen to symbolise the womb of life and the cycle of life. The Apple consists of a wide variety of health benefits and has been used as many different treatments and meals over the ages!
Unlike the Crab Apple Tree, the cultivated apple is not native, they have been grown for countless years, both as ‘cookers’ and ‘eaters’ as well as for the making of Cider!
As part of our Autumn Equinox Ceremony, we have always eaten a ‘Discovery’ Apple, to celebrate the welcome of our Apple Harvest. We also eat it, seeds, and all, symbolising fertility, and the cycle of life. We have always eaten them because they were the first apple tree to be planted at our Grove and planted because its apples would be the first to ripen at Autumn Equinox!
Like many cultivated apples, the vast majority have a history. The ‘Discovery’ Apple was thought to be an old variety but if you look into its history, you find that it was actually found in the 1940’s in Essex.
The truth is that those trees grew from some pips that the fruit farmer planted in his garden, they came from an Apple called a ‘Worcester Pearmain’, a variety of 19th century apple, developed and grown as an early sweet variety and is where the ‘Discovery’ get its colouring!
The Season of the Apple Tree begins with the fruit harvest and Autumn Equinox!
Autumn Equinox marks the arrival of fruits and berries, nuts and mushrooms, the hedgerow and roadside ripening in full display, the seasonal fruiting is starting to culminate in a gathering that would have kept our Ancestors and the wildlife fed as the Sun-wheel begins to cool!
At this time, we step into the dark half of the year and we are blessed with the beautiful moving tapestry of autumn colours, Mother Nature is packing away her blooms and the energy of the tree sap is on the wane!
As the Season moves forward, the wet leaves form pockets of wind sculpted mounds, gathered in the sidings and the air begins to hang heavy with a damp chill. The season soon changes, the rains are driven by strengthening winds, and we start to feel the life of nature in the raw!
The Season of the Apple Tree is a time for attending to all those things you wish to do before the end of autumn and the onset of winter, important jobs and chores that keep you busy and keep you warm. An active mind at this time is important and can also help with the preparation and contents of our Samhain Scroll!
It can also help us put the finishing touches to the inner seed we have nurtured from its conception, the celebration of our creativity and personal growth, to share with the Ancestors at Samhain when they are closest!
For thousands of years at this time, adults and children have collected Conkers, Acorns, and helicopter seeds from the Sycamore, Ash and Field Maple, for both natural play or for the benefit of healing and in many other ways!
The nights start becoming longer than the days and the Sun lowers in the sky, as the season slowly slips away, we come to the end of Autumn and the celebration of Samhain!
8 – The Season of the Yew!
The Yew, Common Yew or English Yew belongs to the ‘Taxaceae’ family and is a small genus of eight species of evergreen trees, known scientifically as ‘Taxus baccata!’
The Yew Tree is said to be the oldest living tree in Europe and although it is notoriously difficult to age, due to the hollowing nature of its trunk and therefore a lack of tree rings, they are not seen as an ancient tree until they reach an age of 900 years. Although Yew Trees mainly grow in the more southern counties of England, the oldest recorded Yew can in fact be found in ‘Fortingall’ in Scotland which is reputed to be 3,000 to 5,000 years old, and there are ten known Yew Trees in Britain that are believed to pre-date the 10th Century!
The Yew Tree prolongs its life in an usual way, instead of a branch growing up and out, if it senses its trunk is failing, it simply sends a branch downward against the existing trunk and down into the earth to root and become, in affect a new trunk, which can then revitalise the tree as a whole!
The Yew can usually be found where it naturally forms the understory in Beech woodland. It is often used as a hedging plant being a good tree to manage in both shape and form, it is also found in many churchyards too, however in many older cases, the Yew Tree outdates the church and was revered by the pre-Christians, as a tree that links this world with the next, the Tree of rebirth and is very important in connection with the Ceremony of Samhain!
It is conceivable that it became a tradition with the church, as it also prevented the common folk from grazing the land with their cattle, as the surrounding land was covered with needles and fruit which are poisonous to domesticated animals!
A mature Yew Tree can grow up to 20 metres (65ft) with a trunk of reddish brown and purple tones and peeling in nature. The leaves grow on either side of a central twig, and is made up of small, straight needles with a pointed tip, they are a dark green from above and have a grey – green coloured underside!
Yew Trees are either male or female as a rule and their flowers are usually visible in March and April. On male Trees the flowers are only small and a yellowy white colour and form small globe like structures, while the female tree flowers are more like buds, scaly and green when young, before turning brown and acorn-like with age.
Unlike many other conifers, the common yew does not produce its seeds in a cone, in this case, each seed is enclosed in an eye catching red, fleshy, berry structure, known as an ‘Aril’ which is open at the tip!
Yew hedges can become incredibly dense and as a result make excellent nesting opportunities for a wide variety of birds, including the Blackbird!
Both birds and small mammals eat the fruit, from Blackbirds and Song Thrushes to Dormice and Squirrels, while the leaves are a useful food source for the caterpillar of the Satin Beauty Moth, with the Yew’s overall shape and form being the perfect hunting ground for spiders!
To many, the Yew was and still is seen as the tree of immortality and despite the Romans believing that the Yew grew from hell, and it often being seen as the tree of doom, it has often been used at funeral and remembrance services as a connection between worlds and a connection shared!
Traditionally, Yew timber was used for its strength and durability, often used in the making of the long bow, as well as being used in the making of tool handles and in wood turning. One of the world’s oldest surviving wooden artefacts is a spear made of yew and estimated to be around 450,000 years old!
Despite most of the yew tree being poisonous, anti-cancerous properties have been harvested from the foliage for modern medicine, as well as highly poisonous taxane alkaloids that have been developed as anti-cancer drugs!
The Season of the Yew is known as the season of contemplation!
The season begins with the celebration of Samhain, the time of year when we are closest to the Ancestors and a time to give thanks as we count our blessings and the blessings of our lives, a time for brushing away the cobwebs and the dusts of all that remain!
As autumn is ending and Mother Earth retires and settles down to her winter slumber, we welcome the impending darkness of winter and use this time to look back on the sun-wheel passed and by the illumination of the Moon and her cycle, we take the time to reflect in contemplation!
The frosts begin to weave their exquisite and intricate lace and the fresh spiders' webs glisten in the chill of the shimmering winds, leaves that once danced on the light autumn breezes, now lie dank and lifeless as they prepare to break down into the mud and soil of the earth, to regenerate as food for the life-cycle of nature and the life of the earth!
We share in the subtle yellowy grey tint of low light, that comes with winter and the gripping embrace of its cold, the nights are drawing in and with the season of the Yew, we accompany the sun as it turns its attention to the final sunset and the ending of the sun-wheel!
The dying of the Sun-wheel year and the rebirth of Winter Solstice!