Street Trees

Middle Eastern migrant adds sweet interest to London streets

Meet the ‘Bragania’ or Eriolobus trilobatus, a somewhat schizophrenic small tree found in the Levant, Anatolia and Thrace. The name Bragania hails from the Evros region of north east Greece, it’s more literal English names include Lebanese wild apple, erect crab apple or three-lobed apple tree. In Hebrew it’s called חֻזְרַר הַחֹרֶשׁ.

Eriolobus trilobatus street tree
Unassuming migrant: A young Eriolobus street tree in the safe haven of Islington North, fruits ripening nicely,

This refugee from troubled lands has arrived as a welcome and attractive migrant adding interest to London’s increasingly diverse urban forest.

Apparently the fruit is sweet and tasty, something to look forward to in October, right now in late September it is still green, I believe they will become golden yellow when ripe.

It’s rarity in the wild has translated into a confusion of names in English and possibly in the languages of its native lands – an arc of mountainous areas from northern Israel, through Lebanon, Syria, southern and western Turkey ending in a few isolated European pockets in Greece and one in Bulgaria.

It is found at altitudes of 1000m on Mount Lebanon in the Horsh Ehden (إهدن حرش) nature reserve, a remnant forest also home to the magnificent Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). In fact the Lebanese claim this refuge to be the last protected forest community of Eriolobus.

Further south, the tree is found in Israeli Upper Galilee and on the slopes of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights.

Eriolobus trilobatus leaves and unripe fruit
Street food: Greek Bragania trees have traditionally been safeguarded by local communities who value their fruit.

In scientific circles it’s known as Eriolobus trilobatus, and horticulturalists know it as Malus trilobata. It is the only species in the Eriolobus genus, but it vies for attention among well known and cultivated siblings in the Malus (apple) genus. One Greek academic paper explains the taxonomic history outlining previous classifications including as a Hawthorn or a Pear or even a Service Tree:

The taxonomic status of the species was rather ambiguous in the past as has been discussed by Browicz (1969), and the nomenclature chronologically included the following names: Crataegus trilobata Poir., Pyrus trilobata (Poir.) DC., Sorbus trilobata (Poir.) Heynh., Eriolobus trilobatus (Poir.) M. Roem., Cormus trilobata (Poir.) Decne. and Malus trilobata (Poir.) C.K. Schneid.

As well as the vagaries of botany, the Bragania is a tree that reflects the politics of disputed lands, the shifting sands of national and religious borders. These conditions may help protect it from harm, but may also cause it’s local demise where the pressure on land and resources becomes too much.

I hope it will be safe on the streets of London…

Leathery maple-like leaves of Eriolobus
Pome at last: The leathery maple-like leaves of Eriolobus

Links (all in English)

If you want to take a closer look at Eriolobus here’s where I found one.

GPS coordinates: 51.5704, -0.1219; Latitude and Longitude: 51°34’13.5″N 0°07’19.0″W.

Google Street View:

Urban landscape

Save Islington’s secret orchard

It is exciting when you discover a new aspect to a place you think you know well. Recently I heard about an old orchard in my borough which has survived under the care of some London monks (a rare breed in themselves). An orchard, in Islington? It’s true! And it is the borough’s only one.

Orchard with St Josephs monastery and church
Forbidden Fruit: The orchard in St. Joseph's monastery garden

The green dome of St. Joseph’s church and monastery is a local landmark. Marooned on a narrow triangle at the top of Dartmouth Park Hill, its imposing Victorian Romanesque bulk looks out over London like some steampunk Bond villain’s lair.

But I never guessed that behind it lay a large and rustic sloping garden, containing perhaps half a dozen mature apple trees (Malus domestica) and a few elderly but well cared for roses. I saw a Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) in this quiet, old-fashioned place on my last visit.

Green Woodpecker on an Apple tree in the orchard, St Josephs
Knocking on Heaven's Door: A Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) on the trunk of one of St. Joseph's endangered Apple trees

I came across this gem during recent Apple Day activities at the London Wildlife Trust, through the London Orchard Project who work to create new city orchards wherever they can find an appropriate patch of land. Sadly this unassuming but authentic survivor is under threat of being sold and developed – proposals for the demolition of the monastery and the construction of a mixed housing development on the monastery site, the garden and orchard are well advanced.

Apparently St. Joseph’s is in a poor state of repair, and selling the land will raise money to patch up the church and build more comfortable accommodation for the dwindling population of elderly monks. But many feel that a development here will represent the defeat of charm, tranquillity and community at the ever-tempting hands of Mammon.

A PR agency has been hired, suggesting the church and developers are aware of considerable local opposition to what is clearly a hugely controversial scheme.

The site is being considered for designation as a Site of Borough Importance (Grade II) for Nature Conservation. If this happens the development is less likely, but it is up to the concerned residents of Highgate and further afield to make the London Borough of Islington take note of the strength of feeling about this precious green space.

Orchard, St Josephs
Apple Store: St. Joseph's orchard

If you care about saving this oasis, please consider signing the online petition, particularly if you are a resident of Islington, the borough considering the planning application.

Save St. Joseph’s
Sign the petition
Report wildlife sightings on the GiGL website (Greenspace Information for Greater London)
A short and interesting history of St. Joseph’s
St Joseph’s church website

Here’s the way in to the orchard from Highgate Hill:

This part of London has a historic connection with fruit-growing, another good reason to protect this rare survivor. Before the Victorian railway-powered city consumed the green slopes to its north, the area was well known for its orchards. A faint echo of the past survives in some of the local street tree plantings – you may be interested to read my earlier post about the perry pear street trees in nearby Holloway.

What would that one-time Highgate dweller John Betjeman think?