Trees of Asia
True Cypress (Cupressus)
The cypresses are native to scattered localities in mainly warm temperate regions in the northern hemisphere, including western North America, Central America, north-west Africa, the Middle East, the Himalayas, southern China and north Vietnam. They are evergreen trees or large shrubs, growing from 5 to 40 m (16 – 131 feet) tall. There are 14 species of this tree that grow in the Mediterranean area. One of the most common is the Italian cypress, a dark green tree which is often seen in gardens and parks. It is a very hard, close-grained wood which is used by cabinet makers. Its cones are picked before they are ripe and used to make an astringent.
Many of the species are adapted to forest fires, holding their seeds for many years in closed cones until the parent trees are killed by a fire; the seeds are then released to colonize the bare, burnt ground. In other species, the cones open at maturity to release the seeds. Many species are grown as decorative trees in parks and, in Asia around temples. In some areas the native distribution is hard to discern due to extensive cultivation. A few species are grown for their timber, which can be very durable.
Birch (Betula Pendula)
The Birch is common to the cold and temperate regions of Asia, Europe and the Americas. There are about 40 known species, the most important of which is the silver birch. Its straight trunk is fairly tall and is covered with a smooth bark, the outer layer of which is a satin-white colour. It comes off easily in thin, circular strips, not unlike papyrus. The silver birch grows naturally in Europe as far north as the coldest regions, in woods, groves, and arid sandy slopes, on rocky ground and even in marshes. In Russia the bark is used in the preparation of leather. Its bark and leaves are used in medicine and its sap provides liquor which has long been a popular remedy for kidney stones.
This is an elegant fast growing tree much in demand for cultivation. It is extremely hard and its bark has properties useful in the treatment of worms. The leaves are food for a type of silkworm. It is native to both Taiwan and northeast and central China. Unlike other members of this genus it is found in temperate climates rather than the tropics. The tree grows rapidly and is capable of reaching heights of 15 meters (50 ft) in 25 years. However, the species is also short lived and rarely lives more than 50 years.
In China, the tree of heaven has a long and rich history. It was mentioned in the oldest extant Chinese dictionary and listed in countless Chinese medical texts for its purported ability to cure ailments ranging from mental illness to balding. The roots, leaves and bark are still used today in traditional Chinese medicine, primarily as an astringent. The tree has been grown extensively both in China and abroad as a host plant for the ailanthus silkmoth, a moth involved in silk production. Ailanthus has become a part of the western culture also, with the tree serving as the central metaphor and subject matter of the best-selling American novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.
There are about 40 dogwood species in the northern temperate zone and Peru. The fruit which is reddish and about the size of an olive is pleasant to the taste. It can be eaten raw or cooked in sugar. This species has a very hard wood much used by wood turners. Most species of Dogwood contain in their bark a form of tannin and a bitter substance which makes them somewhat astringent. They serve as a tonic for relieving fever as well as dysentery.
Magnolia is a large genus of about 210 flowering plant species. The natural range of Magnolia species is found predominantly in east and southeast Asia with a secondary distribution in eastern North America, Central America, the West Indies, and some species in South America.
Magnolia is an ancient genus. Having evolved before bees appeared, the flowers developed in such a way as to encourage pollination by beetles. As a result, the carpels of Magnolia flowers are tough to avoid damage by eating and crawling beetles. Fossilized specimens of Magnolia have been found dating back 20 million years, and plants identifiably belonging to the Magnoliaceae dating to 95 million years ago. Another primitive aspect of Magnolia is their lack of distinct sepals or petals. The term tepal has been coined to refer to the intermediate element that Magnolia has instead. Magnolias are used as food plants by the larvae of some moth species, including Giant Leopard Moth.
Inhabitants of regions where this tree grows often start the day by drinking a glass of liquor made from an infusion of the bark and fruit of this tree. The most common uses are for remedy of chronic rheumatism, gout and fevers. The leaves of this tree are used in China to add to the aroma of teas. The seeds are valued for their lemon smell.
Almond (Prunus amygdalis)
Almonds never grow to more than 8 to 10 m (25 to 33 feet). Their rugged trunks are covered with an ashen bark. Almond trees have been known since the earliest of times. They appear several times in the paintings found in Pompeii. It has a hard, coloured wood which is easily given a fine sheen and is much in demand for cabinet and furniture making. There are two distinct varieties of almond; the sweet almond whose fruit can be eaten green or roasted and the bitter almond which cannot be eaten but whose fruits are the source of bitter almond oil.
Orange (Citrus Sinensis)
Orange trees arrived in North America from Europe but they originated in China. Orange trees generally range in height at maturity from 7 to 9 m (22 to 30 feet). Leaves are dark green, pointed with a round base, from 7 to 13 cm (3 to 5 inches) in length and can live for as long as three years. Flowers are white.
The fruit itself is technically a berry ranging from 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) in diameter at full size. The number of seeds in the fruit can vary according to a variety of factors with some cultivars being almost completely seedless. For the home landscaper, depending on the region, there can be a wide range of orange tree varieties from which to choose. Like all citrus trees, orange trees are cold-sensitive.
Mulberry (Morus alba)
The Mulberry tree is a broadleaf evergreen that grows to between 9 to 12 m (30-40 feet). It is a fast growing tree. The White Mulberry, native to China, has been an integral part of silk production for thousands of years. In fact it was introduced into North America by the British in an attempt to establish a silk industry. It is extremely adaptable, but it is also prone to suckering and is known for its weak wood. It flowers in spring with small blossoms. The fruit is the main attraction of this tree. Similar to raspberries, mulberries are tasty to humans and birds alike. Fruitless forms are also available if one wants to avoid messy cleanup.
The Walnut (Juglandaceae)
The walnut is a family of trees, or sometimes shrubs. Various members of this family are native to the Americas, Eurasia, and Southeast Asia.
Members of the walnut family have large aromatic leaves. The trees are wind-pollinated, the flowers are usually arranged in catkins, and the fruit is a true botanical nut.
There are eight genera in the family, including the commercially important nut-producing trees walnut, pecan, and hickory. The Persian walnut is one of the major nut crop producers of the world. Walnut and hickory are also valuable timber trees.
The Buckthorn (Rhamnus)
Buckthorn consists of about 100 species of shrubs or small trees from 1 to 10 m (3 to 32 feet) tall (rarely to 15 m [50 feet]). They are native throughout the temperate and subtropical Northern Hemisphere, and also more locally in the subtropical Southern Hemisphere in parts of Africa and South America.
The plant bears fruit which are dark blue berries. The name is due to the woody spine on the end of each twig in many of the species. Buckthorns are used as food plants by the larvae of some moths and butterflies.
Purging Buckthorn is a widespread European native species. In the past used as a purgative, though its toxicity makes this a very risky herbal medicine and it is no longer used. It was introduced into the United States as a garden shrub and has become an invasive species in many areas there. It has recently been discovered to be a primary host of the soybean aphid, a problem pest for soybean farmers across the US. The aphids use the buckthorn as a host for the winter and then spread to nearby soybean fields in the spring. Another European species, Alder Buckthorn was of major military importance in the 15th to 19th centuries, as its wood provided the best quality charcoal for the manufacture of gunpowder. Dyer’s Buckthorn is used, together with the Asian Chinese Buckthorn, to produce the dye “china green”. Another species, Avignon Buckthorn provides the yellow dye “Persian berry”, made from the berries.