Tree of the Month: August

Stephen Middleton from the Friends of Alexandra Park is introducing some of his favourite trees from across the 196 acres of our park. Here is his selection for August:

“I love you, rotten,

Delicious rottenness.”

These are the opening lines of D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Medlars and Sorb-apples”.

The Medlar (Mespilus germanica), a small fruit tree, is our August Tree of the Month. It can be found near the 3-4-5 playgroup on the eastern edge of the Springfield Orchard in The Grove.

This tree from the rose family is one of two planted in December 2014 with the help of children from Muswell Hill Primary, Heartlands High and Alexandra Park schools.

Until recently they have largely been grown only for ornamental value, but now they are slowly coming back into favour as fruit trees. The fruits are visible now and look like large rose-hips with an odd appearance which has in the past prompted vulgar names such as “open-arse”. The fruit (technically a pome) owes this unusual look to the fact that it holds on to its long sepals. Sepals are the green petal-like structures seen behind the white petals when the tree is in flower.

Medlars can reach 3m to 6m in the wild with thorns to be wary of, but our trees are the “Nottingham” type grafted onto a quince rootstock and are thornless. 

The natural range of the medlar is from southeastern Europe to Iran. We have the Romans to thank for bringing them into wider cultivation in Europe. In this country they have been spread by birds and now the medlar can be found growing wild in some hedgerows in southeastern England. 

The large white flowers can be seen in the spring with the fruit growing and ripening in the summer and autumn. At this stage the fruit is still too hard to be edible. It needs to be partially rotted – a process known as bletting – before it is worth eating. The fruit can then be eaten raw or made into a jelly or jam. 

Take a little time to check out the other fruit trees in this orchard including pears, apples, quinces and even a mulberry.