Dulwich Trees - Persian Silk Tree, or Siris - Albizia Julibrissin
by Jill Manuel

In the last three or four years an unusual small tree has appeared outside the Crown and Greyhound, joined a year or so later by a companion.

It is the pretty pink ‘flowers’ that catch the eye in August and September, but they have no petals, but instead a tight cluster of pink stamens, looking like so many delicate soft brushes. The complex leaves are dark green, 20-45 cm long, arranged in pairs, and then each leaflet being divided again along a central vein.

The names are interesting, indicating the trees’ origins in the East and Middle East. The modern Persian name is SHABKHOSB, meaning Night Sleeper as the leaves slowly close at night, and under rain. It was brought to Europe by the Italian family Albizzi in the mid 18th century, hence ALBIZIA Julibrissin, the latter part being an attempt at the two Persian words for silk flower. In Japan it is known as the Sleeping Tree.

It used not to be considered hardy, but stronger strains have been produced which seem to tolerate frost, as ours did in the winter 2010-11. Interestingly it is not even mentioned in the well known Alan Mitchell’s earlier ‘Tree Bible’ ** but it is nowadays, being quite widely planted in gardens and as an ornamental roadside tree. It will not grow much over 10m, and after flowering produces flat brown seed pods, constricted between each seed. These can be planted in pots for a year or so, and then moved to grow on.

A grove of 4 dozen Persian Silk Trees has been planted in Hatcham Gardens, on the borders of Southwark and Lewisham
 
Correction: - At the time of writing about Catalpa trees in the Autumn 2011 issue, it was thought that the village tree planted in memory of Mark Evison was a Catalpa.  It is now found to be a Paulownia, easily confused in the young state, and as such is rather more appropriate in the village position that it occupies. We can already see the buds of the mauve foxglove-type flowers, which blossom in May and are said to have a lovely scent.

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