Elms Again in Dulwich?
by Stella Benwell,
If you had happened to be in Gallery Road one evening in March, you would have been surprised to see four law-abiding citizens putting a ladder against the gate into Dulwich College Prep playing field and climbing over.

This was because the Trees Committee had suddenly and unexpectedly, been given five whips of Ulmus Lutece Manguen, an elm hybrid which is resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, bred in Holland and now being grown in France. The planting season was technically over – only extended by the unusually severe winter, and the precious elms (sole survivors of an overwintered batch of 20) needed a protected site if the Committee’s scheme to Bring Back the Dulwich Elms for this International Year of Biodiversity stood a chance of succeeding.  

Dulwich lost hundreds of elms to the disease – many of them used to line Gallery Road. They feature in a number of old water colours and prints, such as the one reproduced in Brian Green’s Dulwich,a History, which shows the “new” (Old) Grammar School, built by Sir Charles Barry in 1842. That print shows the magnificent tree that once stood in front of the school’s main entrance – it now exists only in the form of a huge slice, labelled with brass historical dates covering its long life, and displayed in St Barnabas parish hall.

We know how long that life was until it was cut short in the 1960s. Dulwich College’s archives hold not only old maps showing the lines of trees and old field boundary hedgerows. They also contain records of Private Sittings of the college fellows (antecedents of the Estate Governors) who ordered, on January 20th, 1748, that English Elms be planted there, where the Dutch elms had “failed to grow”.

Suckers from the original stock continue to spring up along Gallery Road (previously called Back Lane), but they always die off once they reach about 20 feet. The new whips were given to us by Malcolm Bridge, Surrey Recorder for Butterfly Conservation, and there will be more plants to come next year. Malcolm, a member of the Wildlife Committee, is particularly interested because elms are the food plant of the larvae of the White Letter Hairstreak, a tiny brown butterfly with a white line on the underside of its wings. It’s hardly ever seen – not only because it is “another British butterfly on the verge of extinction, just hanging on by its fingertips, and still surviving locally in woodlands around Dulwich”, says Malcolm, but because it normally frequents the high treetops zone and is seldom seen nearer ground level.

We had permission from the Estate to put the five hybrids in a line inside the hedgerow, where we (along with the butterflies) will be keeping our fingers crossed in the hope that we may see big elm trees there once again.

Plants recorded around the perimeter of Dulwich Park January 2010

On two cold, and in one case, snowy afternoons in January a group of South London Botanical Institute people and Friends walked around the perimeter of the Park and recorded the plants which they found.  They recorded any plant they were able to identify, regardless of whether it was native or planted, and compiled a list of approximately 90 species.

There are, as Friends already know, many fine and interesting trees in the Park and it was interesting to see that some of the shrubs were producing seedlings.  The native herbaceous plants which we recorded were mostly the usual species which can be found in the less vigorously maintained parts of any London open space.  Perhaps the most interesting find was several plants of alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), a member of the Carrot Family which was introduced to the British Isles in Roman times for use as a vegetable, but fell out of favour in the 15th century, when celery became popular.   Alexanders is widespread in coastal areas, but was unexpected in Dulwich Park.

A full list of the plants recorded is reproduced below.  We probably missed a large number of plants during our January walks, so another walk was carried out in May and any additions to the first list will be notified later.

Roy Vickery, Chairman, South London Botanical Institute, 323 Norwood Road, SE24 9AQ
Species marked with an asterisk (*) are believed to have been planted.

* Acer negundo, ash leaf maple
Acer pseudo platanus, sycamore
* Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Agrostis sp., bent
Alliaria petiolata, garlic mustard
Allium triquetrum, three-cornered garlic
Anthriscus sylvestris, cow parsley
 Arctium sp., burdock
Arum maculatum, lords-and-ladies
 Aster sp., Michaelmas daisy
*Aucub ajaponica, spotted laurel
Ballota nigra, black horehound
Bellis perennis, daisy
* Berberis spp. (x 2), barberry
* Betula sp., birch
* Brachyglottis 'Sunshine', shrub
* Buxus sempervirens, box
 Calystegia sp., bindweed
*Carpinus betulus, hornbeam
*Cedrus sp., cedar
*Cercis siliquastrum, Judas tree
Cirsium arvense, creeping thistle
Conyza sp.
Corn us sp., dogwood
*Corylus avellana, hazel
*Cotoneaster sp. (x 2)
Crataegus monogyna, hawthorn
Dactylis glome rata, cock's-foot
Epilobium hirsutum, great willowherb
 * Euonymus japonicus, evergreen spindle
* Fagus sylvatica, beech
 * Fatsia japonica
* Forsythia sp., forsythia
*Fraxinus excelsior,ash
Galium aparine, cleavers
Geum urbanum, wood avens
 Hedera helix, ivy
Hyacinthoides sp., bluebell
* flex aquifolium, holly (+ seedlings)
 Iris foetidissima, stinking iris
Lamium purpureum, red deadnettle
Lapsana communis, nipplewort
*Laurus nobilis, bay (+ seedlings)
* Ligustrum lucidum, glossy privet
Ligstrum vulgare, wild privet
 Lunaria annua, honesty
Mahonia sp., Oregon grape
*Quercus cerris, Turkey oak
*Quercus ilex, evergreen oak
*Quercus robur, pedunculate oak [galls: .
  Andricus aries, ram' s-hom gall &
  Andricus lucidus, hedgehog gall}
*Parrotia persica, Persian ironwood
Pentaglottis sempervirens, green alkanet
*Phillyrea latifolia, mock privet
Phleum sp.
* Pinus nigras sp., pine
* Pittosporum tenuifolium, kohuhu (+ seedlings)
Potentilla replans, creeping cinquefoil
* Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
* Prunus lusitanica, Portugal laurel
* Pyracantha sp., firethom
* Pyrus sp., pear .
Ranunculus repens, creeping buttercup
* Robinia pseudacacia, false acacia
Rosa sp., rose
Rubus fruticosus agg., bramble
Rubus idaeus, raspberry
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Sagina sp., pearlwort
Sambucus nigra, elder 
Senecio vulgaris, groundsel
Sonchus sp.,sow thistle
Stellaria media, common chickweed
Symrnium olusaltrum, alexanders
*Symphoricapos albus, snowberry
 * Syringa vulgqris, lilac
Tanacetum parthenium, feverfew
Taraxacum officiale agg., dandelion
*Taxus baccata, yew
*Tilia x vulgaris, lime
Trifolium repens, white clover
Ulmus sp., elm [gall: Eriosoma lanuginosum]
Urtica dioica, common nettle
* Viburnum lantana, wayfaring tree
* Viburnum tinus, laurustinus
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viola odorata, sweet violet