Elms are fantastically Gothic in the cold seasons.
Even on the brightest autumn day, this old elm seems to be glowering satanically next to the fiery little red maple.
However, one of the most beautiful old elms of the Meadows looked last autumn as if it might be in its final days.
This grand Japanese elm is at the north corner of Coronation Walk. The photo was taken on a sunny dawn in mid-September 2015. The leaves looked majestically autumnal at a distance, but close-up they were just dead and brown. It's particularly saddening when it's compared to two spectacular photos taken during its prime.
But throughout the winter, though, its high branches were still a place to rest for the park's birds.
And come spring, some new buds have appeared on the apparently dead branches, so perhaps it's not condemned just yet.
Furthermore, age or Dutch elm disease haven't destroyed all of Edinburgh's elms, and nor did all the felled ones become compost or firewood. Some of the downed giants have gone to local furniture-makers: see this blog page about the golf course elms of Bruntsfield Links.
There's also been a fair bit of planting of new, more resistant elms in recent years. Here's a young American Elm doing well on Melville Drive (click and it's just to the right of the centre of the Google map)
Already it's attracted native wildlife, in the form of tiny, beautiful Pine Ladybirds, which aren't that common in this part of the UK
A key tip for recognising an elm is to look at the base of the leaf. Elm leaves have a little hump on one side. The veins also don't quite meet in the middle.
There's another new American elm in good shape on North Meadow Walk just in front of Lonsdale Terrace. It's labelled too.
This apparent pair of twins (below) on Glengyle Terrace in fact aren't: one is a Columella elm and the other's a columnar English oak.
There's a stunning pale-leaved tree, which I suspect is some sort of elm (it has the elm's sandpapery surface on the upperside of its leaves), on the runners' path on Melville Drive:
The bark of older elms can be intricately beautiful. This is a Scotch Elm on Melville Drive (it has a nametag a couple of metres up the trunk):
... and a rare Plot elm in Bruntsfield Links (with its own special mention on Wikipedia here) that has a few beautiful scrolls of bark.
Others develop burls. The eerie patterns make burl wood prized for craftwork.
Here's some winter buds growing on a particularly crazed burl; the tree is on South Meadow Walk.
How do I recognise an elm?
Leaves: most elms have appealingly asymmetric leaves. One side of the leaf is often fuller than the other, and has a characteristic little ear (hump) on one side, at the base of the leaf where it meets the stalk. They feel a little rough and hairy.
The curly leaves of Exeter elms seem to be very attractive to shieldbugs and their nymphs - a particularly popular spot is on the tall suckers at the base of an Exeter elm near the south-west corner of the Links (beside Gillespie's Primary).
Trunk: older trees sometimes have many large burls on the trunk and major branches. The first photo below is of an old elm on North Meadow Walk among three sycamores.
Also look for new shoots sprouting at the base; an elm characteristic. Here's an example on one of the south Bruntsfield Links elms, with some crocuses growing under the (trimmed) shoots.
To see just how complex old elm bark can get, visit the remains of the lovely old elm opposite Sciennes School, just off the Meadows, where a seat has been built round the tree. Visitors are allowed to enter by the tiny roadside garden.
Fruits: look for the clumps of translucent papery pockets that appear in the spring and hold a nutlet at their heart.
These appear first in spring, before the leaves.The nutlets on some elms will darken to pink as the leaves grow.
On this tree near the Golf Tavern, the bunches become as lush as wedding cake decorations
Buds: some elm species have dark red or pink buds, tiny compared to many other trees, and the flowers appear before the leaves. This is an enlargement of some just starting to burst out, in mid-March.
The actual size of each unopened bud is nearer that of a ball bearing or the head of a glass pin. To give you some idea of size, here's a little chaffinch up high among the early buds.
Because they're so tiny, you might never notice an elm was flowering unless you went up close to it, yet some trees will be awash with the little flowers, some purple, some pink, some white - and they're gorgeous. It's a tropical garden in miniature, growing on these immense old giants.
The Friends of the Meadows have some fantastic high-res elm pics taken by an elm specialist:
- The Japanese elm at the north end of Coronation Walk:
- A Wych elm on North Meadow Walk near Chalmers Street (now felled):
- An avenue of Huntingdon elms on Melville Drive
- Another Huntingdon elm on Lonsdale Terrace