Monday, 5 January 2015

Witches' broom

This is witches' broom (or witch's broom) on a silver birch at Wallington Hall.  I haven't yet found out why it is called that, although birch is used for making besoms - the type of broomstick associated with witches (or Quidditch).  Perhaps anything abnormal, mysterious or unexplained was blamed on witchcraft.

It is caused not by witches but by a fungus (Taphrina betulina) which interferes with auxins or phytohormones that regulate normal branching.  It produces a dense mass of abnormal shoots from a single point.  In this tree they have been present for many years without appearing to do much harm.  Quite what the fungus gets out of it is difficult to say.

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