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Archway street is home to rare trees only found in Kew

Expert on trail of mystery tree officer who brought rare species to Islington 40 years ago

11 August, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Tree expert Paul Wood

A STREET in Archway is home to rare trees from China, Turkey and Norway thanks to a mysterious Town Hall worker 40 years ago, according to expert Paul Wood.

The full-time internet consultant and part-time tree sleuth has recently published a book about the capital’s street trees, a topic the Hornsey Road resident has been writing about in his online blog for more than five years.

When the Tribune went for a walk with the aptly named Mr Wood on Monday, he said that Magdala Avenue outside the Whittington Hospital is home to at least six rare trees which are usually only seen in Kew Gardens.

The trees include a Norway maple, Turkish hazel and Chinese lacebark elm, the largest in the country.

“I was talking to a tree officer last year. He told me there was a tree officer 30 or 40 years ago who was very interested in rare trees, particularly fruit trees,” Mr Wood said.

“So what you’ll find around Islington are very unusual fruit trees, including rare apples and rare pears. I think the same guy was responsible. I understand he was connected to Kew.”

He is trying to trace the mysterious tree officer and has had a couple of leads.

Rare trees in Magdala Avenue, Archway

The 49-year-old’s favourite tree in Magdala Avenue is the Yunnan crabapple, originally from South China, which is currently bursting with small fruit.

“I’ve only ever seen three or four of these in the whole of London, all in Islington,” he said.

“I couldn’t recognise it at first. It was a process of deduction but I have a library of geeky tree books and I had to read through them. I thought it was probably an apple tree.”

Mr Wood estimates there are 500 species of trees on London’s  streets, making the city more diverse than an average British forest. He says he can recognise around 496 of them.

His passion for trees is rooted in his childhood in Dover, Kent.

“Behind my garden we had a woodland,” he said. “I became fascinated by all the trees in the wood.”

After art school, Mr Wood moved to London to pursue a career in web design. “I didn’t have access to nature so much, but I started noticing very unusual trees on the street. They provide a sense of place for the city. I can’t imagine a city without street trees.”

Mr Wood said the new trees planted by the council in the improved area outside Archway Station were chosen to cope with global warming. The “exotic species” continue the legacy of rare Islington street trees.

There are stone pine trees from the Mediterranean, southern magnolias – “really big evergreen trees you would see against walls in stately homes” – and Japanese pagoda trees, popular in Paris and New York.

Mr Wood’s book, London’s Street Trees: A Field Guide to the Urban Forest, includes detailed histories of London’s trees alongside walking trails in Islington and beyond. It is published by Safe Haven Books.

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