This short Tree Trail is along the public open space between Frome Terrace and the Millstream in Dorchester. Old maps of Dorchester (from the 17th century) suggest that this open space was once an island as there appears to have been a second millstream along the line of what is now the road.
Starting at the eastern (Orchard Street) end, the first tree to note is the magnificent Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) by the Millstream itself. This Sycamore is reported to be the tallest in Dorchester and it has a girth of at least three hugs. The cottages in Frome Terrace date from the 1870s and so it was quite possible that this Sycamore was already present when the houses were being built. This tree has probably thrived as it’s roots have an abundant supply of water from the Millstream itself. Note the bark which is pinky grey and becomes shaggy with age, with distinctive grey plates forming.
Moving westwards along the Terrace we come across a Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior). This is one of the gathering places of the Mallard that frequent the Millstream. They come here for the grain in the bird feeders and you can see how their webbed feet have eroded the soil from the roots of the tree. The Ash has small but striking purplish flowers in the spring, before the leaves emerge. After flowering, you will see bunches of seeds, commonly called ‘keys’, hanging down from the branches. The bark is greyish-green, smooth in young trees and then becomes fissured with age.
Westwards again, and we have a fairly young Horse Chestnut and a Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera) growing by the fence adjacent to the Millstream. This has probably been cut down at some stage in the past and is now growing as a shrub rather than a tree with just one trunk. Cherry Plum is one of the earliest trees to flower in Dorchester (after the varieties of Winter Cherry), producing lots of clear white blossom before the Blackthorn (with which it can be easily confused). A Cherry Plum will produce fruit in good years, like a large cherry or a small plum, so the trees can be found in some unusual places depending where the stone (which contains the seed) was dropped.
Moving back towards the houses, we come across a wonderful old Silver Birch (Betula pendula). These trees do not live to a grand old age like an Oak or a Beech might, but they are fast growing and show their age well in their deeply fissured bark. The fruiting catkins stay on the twigs until winter, shedding very small, winged seeds when they are ready. The Silver Birch and the Downy Birch (Betula pubescens) are lovely native trees for gardens as they can attract a lot of wildlife at all times of the year.
Next along the open space we come to a Common Lime (Tilia x vulgaris, a hybrid between the Broad- and Small-leaved Lime). The Common Lime has been planted extensively around Dorchester over the centuries and they are a big feature in Queens Avenue and in the avenues that line the Walks, where they have been planted alongside Horse Chestnut and Sycamore. The Common Lime flowers in high summer, after the leaves have emerged. Although each flower is quite small, they are scented and attract bees to their rich source of nectar. The mature bark is an unremarkable grey-green brown, irregularly ridged.
Passing by the Weeping Ash, we come to a magnificent Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), one of the great trees of Dorchester. Horse Chestnuts were first planted in the UK in the early 1600s and apparently the name comes from their association with medicine for horses. This particular tree seems to be one of the last Horse Chestnuts to flower in the town and produces a magnificent display of upright plumes of creamy pink or white flowers. The Horse Chestnut is, of course, the source of a much admired and often collected fruit – the conker.
Next, and in striking contrast to the Chestnut, we have a partially variegated Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). The majority of the branches carry fully green leaves but there are several that carry distinct silvery white margins and seedcases. The Norway Maple carries a profusion of small, lime green flowers in spring, before the leaves emerge, giving the trees a very welcome fresh appearance as spring arrives. The winged fruit is spread by the wind and seedlings can sometimes be found around the base of the parent tree.
Skip passed the small Flowering Cherry and look for the old Hawthorn (Crataegus mongyna) by the railings adjacent to the Millstream. This tree gives us a wonderful display of white blossom in the spring. The roots of the tree are probably watered by the Millstream and the fruit, the ‘haws’, attract flocks of songbirds in autumn and winter. The bark on the trunk of a young Hawthorn is smooth but becomes strikingly fissured with age.