THURSDAY 26 DECEMBER 2013

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE BELFIELD

LEADER: DAVID NASH

WOODLAND WALK

26th December was a spring-like day in the middle of a stormy week and signs of spring were already visible. Winter heliotrope was in full flower, fresh leaves were emerging on Birch but their unseasonality was betrayed by signs of frost damage. One small Horse Chestnut was in full leaf and some Holly flowers had opened. There were originally about 14 houses/villas on the current Belfield campus and we passed by two of the remaining and more imposing buildings. Some of the older trees on the campus are believed to date back to the 18th Century but there has been a very considerable supplementary planting in recent decades.

Near the entrance to the campus along the Stillorgan road there is a grove of conifers which mainly consists of Cupressaceae but includes a single specimen of Nootka’s Cypress Xanthocyparis nootkatensis  (native to North America) which is host to Juniper the Shieldbug. This tree is 'in front' of two specimens of Giant Sequoia (Redwood) Sequoiadendron giganteum native to the Californian Rocky Mountains. Near the edge of the running track is a deciduous Turkey Oak Quercus cerris. Across the internal road in Belfield are a large number of the ever green Holm Oak Quercus ilex native in southern Europe and north Africa and planted some 50 years ago. This species is quite variable with regard to leaf shape as noted elsewhere on the campus.

Just west of the running track is Belfield House originally built in 1801 by Ambrose Moore of the La Touche family, its large bow window overlooks Dublin Bay, while its entrance hall and Oval Room boast fine neo-classical plasterwork in the Adams style.  It now houses the Bill Clinton American Institute and nearby on the lawn is a recently planted specimen Lobolly Pine Pinus taeda the State Tree of Arkansas. The deciduous Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides discovered in China in 1941 and almost simultaneously described from fossilized remains was planted near the entrance to the walled garden more than a decade ago.  On the lawn are a number of fine specimens of Monterey Cypress Cupressus macrocarpra and a pair of Cedrus atlantica glauca trees. The most unusual tree/shrub there is Ilex x altaclerensis, a hybrid holly cultivar, which apparently originated in the Hodgins nursery in Wicklow in the mid-18th Century. It is a hybrid between Ilex aquifolium and Ilex perado (The Canary Island Holly)

Undoubtedly one of the finest houses on campus Merville was built around 1750 for the Right Honourable Anthony Foster, then chief baron of the Irish Exchequer. Upon his death in 1778, the house passed to his son, Sir John Foster, the last speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Foster Avenue and Foster Place still bear the family name. It subsequently passed through various hands until the Hume Dudgeons took up residence there in 1890 and in the early 20th Century a riding school was set up which existed until 1958 when the estate was acquired by UCD.   And one of the impressive sights on the campus is the three closely planted magnificent trees of Oriental Plane Platanus orientalis a tree of Balkan origin and a parent of the London Plane which has been planted on the Merrion Road in Ballsbridge and formerly was the roost for Pied Wagtails in O'Connell Street.

The pathway along Foster Avenue passes through a strip of woodland with  a mixture of beech, lime, yew and the occasional ash with an extensive understorey  of Holly. The older beech are showing signs of age and decay – bracket fungus and trunks which are becoming obviously hollow.

In the vicinity of the crèche we admired Himalayan Cedar Cedrus deodora (from the Western Himalays and Afghanistan),  Spanish Chestnut Castanea sativa, a variegated English Oak Quercus robur and Horse Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum which appear to be some of the oldest trees on the campus. We then crossed the campus by the Hockey Stadium and the Bowl and returned to the car park via the Millennium Walk with its newly planted oak and ancient Horse Chestnut.

Merville House

    

Ilex x altraclarensis     Xanthocyparis nootkatensis     Sequoia giganteum

    

Cedrus alantica  glauca         Petasites fragrans       Aesculus hippocastanum

     

Cupressus macrocarpa          Cedrus deodara      Thuja plicata

     

Platanus orientalis

Photographs © P Lenihan 

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