Trees Change Sex: Britain's Oldest Tree Is Becoming Female

Posted: Nov 6 2015, 7:07am CST | by , Updated: Nov 8 2015, 12:06am CST, in News | Latest Science News


Trees Change Sex: Britain's Oldest Tree is Becoming Female
Fortingall Yew on 12th October 2015 when Max Coleman three yew berries were collected from one discreet part of the canopy. / Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
  • The Oldest Tree in Britain is on a Gender Bender

The oldest tree in Britain which happens to be a Fortingall Yew is on a gender bender. It is changing its sex after nearly 5000 years of existence on earth.

The oldest tree in all of Britain has been termed the Fortingall Yew. It is a male tree and has lasted for more than 5000 odd years. However, recently it started producing seedlings which show that it has undergone a sex metamorphosis.

This anomaly in Nature has made the botanists sit up and take notice. The sex change is the most baffling of behaviors ever to occur. It just goes to show you, Nature is always two steps ahead of man. 

The Fortingall Yew stood firm as ever in Perthshire, Scotland. For centuries it was known to be a male member of the Yew family of trees. Male Yew trees produce pollen while the female of the plant species creates red berries.

But now this change in plans has been a mindboggling event indeed. The three red berries on the tree may be entirely due to external stress factors. Strange as it may seem, plants show the same sensitivity to stimuli as many animals. 

Yew berries showing the distinctive fleshy aril that surrounds a single seed.

“Odd as it may seem, yews, and many other conifers that have separate sexes, have been observed to switch sex,” writes Max Coleman of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, in his blog.

“Normally, this switch occurs on part of the crown, rather than the entire tree changing sex. In the Fortingall yew, it seems that one small branch in the outer part of the crown has switched and now behaves as female.”

It is indeed a very unique event. It is not properly understood either. Many things are outside the scope of science and even enter the mysterious group of occurrences for which no explanation may be found.

It is being postulated that maybe some hormonal imbalance may be behind a male tree suddenly sprouting berries. It is commonly the preserve of a female. The polluted and dangerous environment definitely plays a major role in this hermaphrodite transformation.

Male cones on the yew are small and spherical and shed copious pollen when they mature during winter and early spring.

Other than the strange appearance of berries, the tree is quite healthy. The old tree lies at the center of a churchyard. It has a grotesque shape from having been extant since so long a time.  

As for the wood at the heart of the tree, it has long since gone rotten and disintegrated into humus. The last time measurements were taken of this Yew tree, it was in the 1700s. Today scientists judge its condition by comparing the figures collected in the 17th century.

The appearance of a tiny bunch of red berries on this otherwise male tree was the surprise of a lifetime. Maybe truth is indeed stranger than fiction. However, rare as it may be, trees have been known to switch sex type roles. Not only is Mother Nature wilder than we can imagine, she often creates and transgresses her own rules. And we humans are left making rationalizations. 

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
Sumayah Aamir (Google+) has deep experience in analyzing the latest trends.




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