The Heritage Trees of the British Isles 

Thriving offspring of the Pontfadog Oak – part one 

By Mark Chester 

The Portfadog Oak was a special tree. Its girth was more than 13 metres and it was estimated to be about 1200 years old. 

It had pronounced lean and additional support was proposed with the aim of preventing it being blown over. Sadly, before this could be actioned, a storm in 2013 blew it over. The end had come. The tree had historic connections, including being the rallying point for Owain Gwynedd to assemble his troops ahead of a successful battle with King Henry ll in 1403. 

Local tree officer Moray Simpson visited the tree to appraise the situation. He could see that whilst the main trunk had been lost, there was still some localised growth, with roots still in the soil able to sustain some branches. He took more than 100 cuttings and, via Ted Green of the Ancient Tree Forum, arranged for them to be sent propagators at three specialist tree nurseries. 

Peter Wells, of Barcham Trees, one of the recipients, propagated his cuttings. They quickly became established. The growth in the first year exceeded one metre! Peter, who had been propagating plants, including oak, for more than fifty years, had not encountered such vigour before, and recognised that there was something special about this specimen. 

This generated much discussion among members of the Ancient Tree Forum. They pondered that with each passing day, every ancient tree is nearer the end of its life. With the loss of each tree, its genetic material is also lost. 

Could it be possible to take cuttings from these special trees and propagate them? Ted was happy to co-ordinate obtaining cuttings and forwarding them to Peter, and soon all of the special oaks both in the UK and in Western Europe had been propagated this way. 

Some 126 trees have been propagated this way, ensuring the survival of valuable genetic material. 

This can be useful in the future for research into subjects such as tree health, resistance of trees to diseases, ecology and providing habitats for wildlife. 

Why cuttings? 

Whilst many oaks are grown from acorns, only about half of the acorns produced are viable. In addition, each seed contains the genetic material from two parents, one being the host tree on which it has formed, which is known. The other parent (providing the pollen) is unknown. Cuttings, however, are genetically identical to the parent 

In part two, Peter Wells shares about one tree with a hidden past… 

Peter Wells, of Barcham Trees, was a recipient of cuttings from the Pontfadog Oak. He is pictured with Ted Green of the Ancient Tree Forum, who arranged for them to be sent to propagators at three specialist tree nurseries – including Barcham Trees. Picture: proarbmagazine.com 

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