Usefulness and services of the tree :
Linked trees - twinning
Features and characters of the individual
This tree serves as the guardian of one of the entrances to the Sonian Forest. In the past it has seen horses, today it sees golf balls, mountain bikers, dogs, groups of runners, and sometimes a deer or a fox. Its high peak overlooks the Hippodrome and the city on one side, while the forest’s canopy stretches out on the other. This cherry tree is well placed to see the pressure that urban life and humans have on nature. It has three trunks, which could have come from very close seedlings, or growing back from the stump of an even older tree.
The gatekeeper of the Sonian Forest
This wild cherry or sweet cherry tree grows right next to one of the seven gates to the Sonian Forest: a symbolic location at the edge of the wood, not far from the Boitsfort racetrack.
Like a lighthouse
This individual signals from afar. It is the first to herald the awakening of the Earth before the arrival of spring, with buds wrapped in reddish-brown scales that emerge from the sides and tips of the young twigs in clusters. They form a kind of reddish halo around the crown. Later, the cherry tree erupts with white flowers, while all the trees around it still barely have buds, brightening the canopy like a flare. If only we could climb its branches, like Italo Calvino’s baron in the trees, or Lucy, our Australopithecine ancestor, we would get an even better view of this show. And in autumn we could witness the brief yellow and then red glow of its foliage. Whatever the season, we would be able see the Atomium to the north of the city, and the forest to the south and east. We can only imagine the events that this cherry tree has witnessed over the last 100 years. Light-hearted fun: horse racing and betting in the stands of the racetrack. Or historic milestones: the protection of the Sonian Forest by Natura 2000 (2016), or its World Heritage designation by UNESCO (2017). In addition, from 30 metres above the ground, we could watch all the activity that takes place around the tree: the swing of golfers on the neighbouring golf course, the passage of thousands of hikers, runners, equestrians, mountain bikers and cyclists, the daily assembly of dog-sitters, etc., a whole population that claims free access to the forest. Finally, from the vantage of the top of its crown, we would witness a rare convergence in our country: the harmonious joint management of the Sonian Forest by three municipalities, two provinces and three official regions. They are bound by a common challenge: safeguarding this heritage, the green lung of the capital.
Wild cherries belong to species capable of reproduction by means of roots (suckers). And, like this individual, they also have the ability to generate shoots from cuttings.
Once, this tree had a single trunk. It was probably chopped down approximately 70 years ago. Today, its stump would be at least 120 years old, while in general, wild cherries rarely live more than a century. From this stump, three healthy trunks now tower. Each one of them measures over 2 metres around.
This group of stems benefits from the particularly vigorous root system of the original tree. The roots bypass or push away obstacles, such as the concrete slabs from the old walls of the racetrack. They grip the rough terrain. At the top of the rise, they are anchored deep in the ground horizontally. While lower down on the slope, powerful buttresses grow vertically to firmly support the three trunks.
Strange cavities have formed between these buttresses. They reflect the open architecture of the tree: the empty space that separates the three trunks. Thus, the root collar is probably hollow, amplifying the sounds of the forest and the vibrations in the ground. It is also a gateway to the wood wide web: the communication network that connects the trees to each other via their roots and the mycelium (filamentous fungi) in the forest subsoil.
Who knows, perhaps wild cherry sentry warns the tree community of approaching visitors and sounds the alarm at the slightest danger.
Watching over the forest
This triplet cherry tree exudes a mysterious atmosphere. It suggests many stories. This three-trunked specimen seems to stand guard, like Cerberus, at the gate to the underworld. Some passers-by are reluctant to get too close: its root system and its dark cavities look spooky. The roots appear strangely alive.
A walker tells of how the young beech trees that surround this cherry greet those who tend the forest. They gently arch their branches above their heads like in the ancient texts of Pliny or Ovid, in which the trees lavish caresses on those who love them.
One of the trunks of the cherry is marked with a royal blue triangle. This is not a symbol of strange forest rites but a mark of distinction. In this way, the association of Friends of the Sonian Forest want to draw the public’s attention to its most striking trees.
And it is true, its bark is beautiful: smooth, a slightly coppery greyish-red, with horizontal striations. In many places it peels off the trunk in strips and unrolls a bit like an old parchment. On the forest side, it is entirely covered with mosses. While on the racetrack side, it is decorated with celadon green lichens and bright orange mould. These organic colours and textures interact with the graffiti tags on the nearby wall.
The cluster has been included on the scientific inventory of notable trees since 1 January 2014, in recognition of its strong presence that sculpts the landscape, and how it teems with life.
Home to a host of creatures
In addition to mosses, lichens and moulds, this cherry tree lodges and feeds a whole host of living creatures. In return, they help the tree to reproduce. Myriad insects pollinate its sweet-nectared flowers and all kinds of birds scatter the cherry stones far and wide.
If you tilt your head and look up about 25 meters higher, you’ll realize where the pantry is. With binoculars, you can see passerines, blackbirds, sometimes starlings or the elusive hawfinch. The tree’s scientific name couldn’t be more apt: ‘Prunus avium’, the cherry tree of the birds in Latin.
At the foot of the tree, many mammals can also be found: foxes, hedgehogs, red squirrels and other rodents. One of them surely lives in the hollows among the roots.
So, this cherry tree is one of the Wood Wide Web trees that supports the most wildlife. And that’s not even counting the teeming life invisible to our eyes.
This portrait is enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden. See attached. Thanks to the library (heritage collection) for this contribution. https://www.plantentuinmeise.be/en/home/