May Tree It’s Because I’m A Londoner

By Charlie Beckett

April 28, 2011

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Category: Swim

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The Hawthorn’s, or May Tree’s musky scent is rolling across the ponds, perfuming my swim.

Naturalist Richard Mabey expounds an interesting theory about the May smell in his wonderful Flora Britannica. He says that it contains triethylamine which is ‘one of the first chemicals produced when living tissue starts to decay.’ So for some it is the scent of death. It is also the slightly fishy smell of sex. Mabey suggests that both those associations may be reasons why in folklore it was taboo to bring the blossom into a house.

It also has political and historic associations as the tree that made up a lot of the hedging for the Enclosure of common land in the 18th and 19th centuries that has defined the look of so much of the English landscape. The Heath was, of course, arable farmland so it has plenty of those boundary-marking bushes and trees.

So here in the heart of the capital we have this wonderful creamy-flowering tree that signals the shift from spring to summer and links urban and rural life.


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