Thursday, 30 November 2017

Easter Egg Tree: 2

I will freely admit that back in June, when I wrote a blogpost about an urban-tree-related Easter egg, I expected it to be the only one I would ever write on this topic. However, here we are again.

The Greater London Authority has a marvellous, publicly-available dataset of the street trees of London. The downloadable spreadsheet contains location and species information for over 700,000 trees, representing more than 2,000 different species. And among those 700,000+ entries is the following gem, perhaps the handiwork of a bored intern tasked with cataloguing the trees of Southwark:

In the interests of full disclosure, this is not my own discovery: I heard about it from Paul Wood, who is an expert on the street trees of London. But Paul did not know what kind of tree it really is, so I thought I would go find out for myself.

With help from Tommy who was able to tell me what the coordinates mean (the spreadsheet uses Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates which I had never seen before), I pinpointed the location of the mystery tree: Canterbury Place, in the borough of Southwark. I also knew from the TreeTalk map – which lists the mystery tree as 'not yet identified' – that it stands between a mimosa and a Chonosuki crabapple (the map shows other interesting trees in the immediate vicinity: a medlar tree and Deodar cedars, which got me even more excited).

Anticlimactically, it turned out that the mystery tree does not exist. I found the mimosa and the crabapple, but between them, where the mystery tree should have stood, there was nothing.

This did not faze me too much: I am practically a connoisseur of disappointment and anticlimax. But when I set out to find the tree, for some reason it never struck me that our horticultural prankster might have created an imaginary tree: I assumed they had renamed an existing one. And naturally I wondered what kind of tree it would turn out to be: a bog-standard London plane, or something more rare and exotic. Or perhaps, unbeknownst to me, there was really was such a thing as a Willus youfindus var. bogus-taxus – the last of its kind, living out its days in a south London council estate.

Later, I thought maybe I should plant a tree there, so that Tree 417044 of Southwark gets a life of its own and is no longer just a fictitious entry in an Excel spreadsheet. And given the name bogus-taxus, I think I know exactly which tree I would choose.