It’s never too late for a change, and one of the most ancient trees in Europe confirms it. Estimated to be 5,000 years old, Scottish Fortingall Yew ancient tree changed sex.
The aging process of trees is still an incipient science. Researchers have only recently started to look into what happens to trees as they get older. And the ancient trees of Europe and of the world are the best place to start.
Fortingall Yew is a must see if you’re ever in the small Scottish village of Perthshire. Here, the yew tree has been casting its shadow for millennia. It’s still unclear how old it is, with some accounts dating it back to 9,000 years ago, while most researchers agree it’s approximately 5,000 years old. Whichever age the Fortingall Yew might be celebrating, the most interesting fact is that it has been recently observed that the Scottish Fortingall Yew ancient tree changed sex.
Not overall, yet one branch is now female. Typically, yew trees are either male or female. Rare accounts and cases document a sex change with yew trees and even more rare are those documenting the coexisting of sexes in one yew tree.
Male yew trees produce conical structures which, upon maturity release pollen. On the other hand, female yew trees are recognizable by the groups of red berries hanging from their branches.
Since the first records of the Fortingall Yew, the tree has been confirmed to be exclusively male. Century after century, it has produced the pollen needed for reproduction. Doctor Max Coleman working with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh observed only recently that a change occurred.
One of the branches of the Fortingall Yew harbored the specifically-female red berries, with the rest of the Fortingall Yew remaining male.
Doctor Coleman cited a similar recording dating back to 1996, which led him to believe that the Fortingall Yew is harboring the female branch for decades now. In addition to the rare example of coexistence of the male and female sex, the finding is underpinned by other exciting facts and puzzling questions.
How did a male yew tree recorded as such for centuries suddenly change sex? And what are the factors underpinning this shift?
According to scientists looking into the unique case, the sex change might be an indication for the process of maximizing survival chances and reproduction.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia