In the winter, when most trees drop their leaves, the gnarly knobs of some trees with antler-like branches stand out among the rest. Depending on the species, they may appear to be whippy, bulbous, twisted, grotesque, or even gothic-chic. Did some cosmic mutation befall these trees or has Edward Scissorhands gone berserk?
The truth is, they have been pollarded, a pruning technique dating back to medieval Europe, where the branches above the crowns were systematically removed so that the resulting water sprouts or suckers can be harvested yearly for timber and fodder without killing the tree. Today, pollarding trees is practiced worldwide for aesthetic and practical reasons, especially in urban areas.
Join me in this "pollard" expedition as I ventured to several cities in my quest for pollarded trees or pollards near where I live and work. Most photos were taken by me, unless otherwise indicated.
A lime tree takes a life of its own after being pollarded, a pruning technique where its shoots are cut back to the top of the stumps. The clubbed limbs look foreboding and ominous—not look pretty as a tree should be. Most of the nutrients are stored in the swollen pollard heads where dormant buds will eventually emerge as water sprouts or suckers.
Since the feudal days, the whippy willows provided a source of wood for fencing, shafts for brooms, basket-weaving, and crafts, and firewood. The trimmings and leaves were dried and stored to feed livestock in the winter.
Pollard trees never cease to turn heads and let the imagination run wild.
Take this quick poll
These pollarded linden trees in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, Denmark look like a bunch of bottle brushes in late winter. Trees were planted closer together and the crowns pruned to look more compact and uniform. There are also no long and heavy branches to break off and cause injury in case of gusty winds.
By late spring, these bristly trees have transformed into green and verdant lollipops.The trees are uniform in height and shape, with enough space between the crowns, creating cool shades without overcrowding.
The UK has a rich history of pollarding and has more ancient trees than any countries in Northern Europe. These trees were protected by a 1000-year old Forest Law enacted by William the Conqueror, to safeguard deer and wildboar and other animals for medieval hunting.
Pollarding trees kept the shoots 8-10 feet off the ground to keep grazing animals from eating them. For hundreds of years in Europe, pollarding guaranteed a yearly harvest of firewood and animal fodder. The resulting water sprouts would be cut off every year or two for use for basket weaving, broomsticks, and other crafts.
In 1834, six poverty-stricken farm laborers met under this sycamore pollard tree in the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset, UK, to demand that their slave wages of 6 shillings be increased to 10 shillings. The six men, known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, formed The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers were tried and arrested for swearing a secret oath. They were deported to Australia for violating the Mutiny Act, and then pardoned and released in 1836, paving the way to the formation of the modern day trade unions.
The Tolpuddle sycamore tree is still alive today and has become a place of pilgrimage for many visitors.
Vincent Van Gogh painted more than just "Starry Night"
Pollard birch trees were metaphors for his hidden feelings
Trees were a source of inspiration for some of Van Gogh's drawings and painting. In this oil reproduction of Van Gogh's 'Pollard Birches' (1884), Van Gogh saw 'something like a soul' in the gnarled, stark and tragic-looking pollarded birches.
Vincent van Gogh Hand-Painted Art
Vincent van Gogh at the KrÃ¶ller-MÃ¼ller Museum - Pollard Willows with the Setting Sun (March 1888)
The three flaming pollard willows against the setting sun is one of the most reproduced paintings of Van Gogh. The pollards almost have a human dimension to them. Could this painting of the pollard willows be a metaphor of how the artist saw human life - forlorn, solitary, and wasted.
Harry Potter's Whomping Willow
The Whomping WiIlow featured in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, uses its limbs to thrash anyone who comes near it. This magical and violent tree was planted in the grounds of Hogswarts to conceal a secret passage leading to the Shrieking Shack in the village of Hogsmeade. It is in the Shrieking Shack that Remus John Lupin secretly transforms into a werewolf.
How to Pollard a tree - Not for the faint of heart
- Pollarding Trees | Pollard Tree | Intensive Pruning | Prune Tree: Gardening
Pollarding trees is an intensive pruning method used to encourage abundant annual foliage to grow in a ball-like habit. It's not for every tree - or gardener. But if you've got the will, we've got the way. Just follow this step-by-step guide to trans
- | Woodswoman, Pollard That Tree | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
THE CLOISTERS MUSEUM & GARDENS Categories Botany for Gardeners (18) Food and Beverage Plants (32) Fragrant Plants (19) Gardening at The Cloisters (74) Introduction (2) Magical Plants (15) Medicinal Plants (55) Medie
- CUTTINGS; Art in Progress: The Quirky Appeal of Pollarding - New York Times
YOU either like the look of a pollarded tree, or you don't. A tree with its top branches cut back near the trunk surely does not have a natural look.
On to North Bay - San Francisco, California - Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park
The pollard trees in sunny Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California and the the pollard plane trees in the winter scene in Geneva, Switzerland below have the same signature clubbed and gnarled branches with upright water sprouts. The shoots will be pruned back to the original cuts so new growths will emerge in early Spring.
Plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia) or sycamore trees thrive well in urban soil and are the most widely pollarded and used in parks and along streets in temperate regions around the world. These vigorous plane trees are pollarded to keep them from outgrowing the allocated space, limiting the height and the size of the crowns, making them more wind-resistant.
Plane trees are among the most numerous large street and park trees planted in Greater London. The frequency of the occurrence of the common hybrid plane within the city has given rise to the common English name for these of 'London plane'.
Pollard tree in Lake Geneva, Switzerland
In the urban area, pollarding is practiced to limit the size of the trees and as a safety precaution in populated areas and near buildings. The trees which are pollarded are less likely to be blown down by high winds and drop broken branches causing injury to property and people.
Heading to the Silicon Valley- Santa Clara, CA - Pollarded sycamore tree - First week of March
While at a stoplight, I happened to glance to my right and noticed these pollarded trees in a small strip mall across a hotel. I believe these are sycamore or plane pollarded trees. The lateral branches have been but back to the pollard heads where water sprouts or suckers will emerge in early Spring. Shortly, these "ugly ducklings" will transform into beautiful trees with lollipop crowns.
Same pollarded Sycamore tree in early May
This is what the same pollarded sycamore looks like with a headful of green foliage in early May. The crown of the tree will not get any larger.
Heading to the South Bay - Sunnyvale, CA. - Pollarding is a commitment
It was dark and rainy and I could not help but stop by this frontage road along El Camino Real in Sunnyvale. These pollarded trees stand tall and eerie against the overcast sky. Their crowns have been pruned back to keep them from growing into the power lines.
Heading to the East Bay - Fremont, California - Terrifying row of antlered fruitless mulberry trees
A row of twenty-some years old fruitless mulberry pollard trees stand guard in the courtyard of this townhouse complex where my friend lives.The enormous knuckles of tissue called pollard heads are tell-tale signs of many years of repetitive pollarding to keep the size of the trees within the allocated space along the fence.
This multi-branched knuckled mulberry trees look like a tree porcupine that belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. It is easy to see how these shoots were harvested in the feudal days for firewood and fencing material, livestock feed. Pollarding afforded a valuable source of renewable resource.
Aliens in the garden
A closeup of two of the grotesque pollard heads can make your head spin and run for your life. Not too different from The Ents from the Lord of the Rings, these mulberry pollards speak volumes without saying a word. These branches were cut off and used as firewood in medieval times without having to chop down the trees.
Just pollarded fruitless mulberry trees - Fistful of knuckleheads
Two months later, these same fruitless sycamore trees had their "hair cropped" or pollarded. These knobbly limbs do not look attractive at all until a new crown of foliage covers the knuckles.
Most shoots grow from this tissue which enlarges slightly every year and are cut back to the knuckles at each pruning. These are the calloused knobs from which the dormant buds will grow and regrow and cut off again and again.
Closeup of newly pollarded fruitless mulberry tree
Ugly duckling mulberry pollard turns into a lollipop tree - What a difference two months make
What a difference two months make. The hideous-looking pollarded mulberry tree has turned into a lovely lollipop tree. It's crown is nicely rounded and will not branch out to the nearby fence. The pollarding pruning technique keep these trees from growing larger than the space allocated for them in this townhouse courtyard.
In the University of California, Berkeley Campus, the grid of pollarded London plane trees along the Campanile Esplanade were planted close together so that when the skinny lateral branches sprout in Spring, the ground beneath the trees will be shaded and the surrounding air cooler.
London plane trees with headful of leaves
With a headful of green foliage covering the clubbed stems, these London Plane trees are now displaying the results of systematic pollarding. These trees were moved here in 1916 from the grounds of the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.
What's your take on pollarding trees - Manipulating nature
Pollarding trees dates back to medieval Europe as a practical way to harvest firewood and fodder for livestock. Today, pollarded trees can be found all over the world in parks, along urban streets, university campuses, etc. to keep them contained within their allocated spaces and away from powerlines.
Do you think pollarding trees is a form of tree mutilation?
- Death by Pollarding
"Pollarding" is a much misused term. Cutting the top off a tree and hoping it will grow back is not pollarding, whatever the man with the chain saw may tell you. Pollarding is a treatment that is given to young trees in order to make them grow with a
Are you pollard-aware now? - Do leave me your thoughts about pollarding.
anonymous on June 11, 2013:
Arborists and landscape architects (the ones I know) are usually disturbed when they see this sort of "tree care". These unending application of severe cuts into the main structure of the tree can invite disease and compromise an otherwise healthy tree. The post stress shoots that result are unsightly, weak, and worse than weedlike in their fast growth rates. Please do not disfigure your trees like the amputees you see featured here! This shoddy looking treatment is most often carried out by uninformed persons who don't know any better. Imagine wearing white tennis shoes and a t-shirt to (along with the top hat and tails) to your black tie event. Similarly ridiculous to witnesses, is the tree thusly "trimmed". Just don't.
SteveKaye on May 20, 2013:
Wow! Now I know what these things are. Thank you for publishing this lens with the beautiful photos and valuable info.
Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on July 05, 2012:
Your lenses are always so beautiful, packed with wonderful photography and filled with great information. I really enjoyed learning about the Pollarding trees.
JoshK47 on June 21, 2012:
Popping back in to refresh the angel dust on this lens! :)
sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on May 16, 2012:
really amazing trees. enjoyed your photo collection. ~blessed~
Lee Hansen from Vermont on May 02, 2012:
I've seen trees with this type of pruned shape many times and wondered if it was a deliberate process or the result of an earlier disease or accident. Thanks for a wonderful education on pollarding - without the leaves they're really creepy. I prefer to grow a dwarf or prune a tree more artfully. But the harvesting concept makes lots of sense.
anonymous on March 05, 2012:
After reading this I remembered I need a haircut! :-)
I never even heard of "pollarding" before this.
Very interesting and informative.
MelonyVaughan on March 05, 2012:
Great lens! Very informative!
MillBucks on March 05, 2012:
Great presentation, I never knew what this process was called on some of the trees I noticed around my area. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
WriterJanis2 on March 05, 2012:
Your beautiful photographs brought such life and beauty to this lens.
emmaklarkins on March 05, 2012:
You know, I always wondered what this strange practice was all about. Thanks so much for sharing!
flycatcherrr on March 05, 2012:
I loved looking at these photographs! Yes, I have a pollarded tree - I call it my "science experiment" and/or my "alien tree"; it's great fun, and only a self-sown ash tree so no harm done. :)
anonymous on March 05, 2012:
What an awesome lens! I think I'll go on a pollard expedition when I am in Europe in May.
Sabre1000 on March 05, 2012:
Y'know that is a very unique idea for a Lens!
JoshK47 on March 05, 2012:
What an awesome, informative lens! Blessed by a SquidAngel!