Struggling Shrubs, Sycamore Warning! & Veg In

Taken from Lynne’s weekly column ‘Green Scene’ for the Western Mail. 13th May 2017

Leaf_Para_DividerStruggling Shrubs

I am having a lot of enquiries from people worried that established shrubs and small trees seem to be dying, with withered and scorched leaves. It is due to the strong, cold winds we have been having lately. The wind accelerates the transpiration process, where the water is pulled up through the plant from the ground. The increased transpiration means that the plant can’t take up water as quickly as it is lost – plus of course the ground is very dry at the moment, adding to the water shortage for the plant. As a result leaves will wilt and be scorched – especially around their edges.

It is a tricky one to advice on; if feasible it certainly won’t hurt to water the shrubs but you will need to water liberally to be effective and to avoid encouraging the roots to come up to the surface for water. Alternatively, if left alone, the shrub or tree will develop a stronger root system to provide necessary water and will recover as soon as the winds drop and we have some rain. Nature has an amazing ability to cope with all the adverse weather conditions thrown at it and it is often better not to interfere. The exceptions would be with newly planted shrubs or shrubs or small tree in pots – both will need a helping hand and a good drink as long as the dry weather continues.

Sycamore Warning!

A little while ago I wrote about the incredible number of sycamore seedlings I was encountering in beds, borders, paths, patios, lawns and even guttering, this year. I have never seen so many – the seedlings in the bucket (pictured) were pulled out of a small patio area around a swimming pool in just a few hours.

Whilst it is just additional work for gardeners, there is a darker side to the prolific seeds – they can kill horses, as an unfortunate neighbour recently discovered.

Atypical myopathy, or Sycamore poisoning, is a potentially fatal disease of horses in the UK and Northern Europe caused by eating Sycamore seeds (helicopters) or possibly leaves.  The disease results in muscle damage and particularly affects the muscles that enable the horse to stand, the muscles that allow breathing and the heart muscle. As a result, horses can display a range of signs but typically become very dull, weak, tremble, show signs of pain may be unable to lift their heads or even remain standing.  Even with intensive veterinary treatment, severely affected horses often die.

Horses suffering from atypical myopathy have high levels of a toxin called hypoglycin A, that prevents energy being produced within their muscle cells. The toxin is found within Sycamore (the European sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus) seeds and to a lesser extent in their leaves and it is therefore assumed that the disease is caused by horses eating Sycamore seeds.

One of the most reliable signs is the presence of red or brown urine. There are very few diseases that will cause this to occur and if a horse has signs of atypical myopathy, and has been grazing near Sycamore trees, then the presence of red/brown urine is as good as proof that the horse has the disease.

Outbreaks occur in the spring as it is speculated that horses eat Sycamore seedlings, which may also contain the toxin. But be warned – the disease is even more common in the autumn (typically around October) and often occurs as an outbreak when large numbers of seeds are falling. Bad weather also seems to trigger the disease. So far, UK cases have been linked with the European Sycamore, however Acer Campestre or the “Field Maple” which is common in hedgerows does not appear to produce the toxin.

I think it only prudent to be extra vigilant with other pets too. It is unlikely that your dog or cat would choose to eat the seeds or seedlings but inquisitive puppies often chew all sorts of things and I would advice keeping an eye on them if in the vicinity of sycamore trees in spring and autumn.

Veg In

Next week is National Vegetarian Week and as a vegan who once thought they would never give up meat, I highly recommend a vegetarian diet. As with everything I do, I don’t preach about it but just like to share things I have found to be beneficial, and since giving up meat (and diary) I have never felt fitter and been healthier. And you don’t have to give up meat totally to feel the benefits, just have a couple of meat-free days in the week, to start with! There have never been so many sources for quick and easy veggie recipes and alternatives, so why not use next week to try a new way of eating? You can get more details including newsletters and recipes at – even the Hairy Bikers are involved – not so much vegging out, as vegging in!

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