As I think we all know, I’m not much of a gardener. I’m no botanist either – just about the only thing I remember doing with plants in ‘A’ level Biology was taking thin stem slices with a razor blade, and staining them for viewing under a microscope (and I only managed to master that skill a couple of days before the practical exam). So you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve needed to ask mollyblobs to explain to me what these are.
The answer, for anyone as ill-informed as myself, is that they’re immature male flowers or cones. They’re red like this when young, but as they develop and fill with pollen they’ll turn green. There will also be bluish female flowers on the ends of some of the leaf sprays, though I didn’t notice any today, and when the male cones release their pollen the fertilised female cones will develop and eventually turn brown.
The tree is a Lawson cypress, also known as a Port Orford cedar or Oregon cedar. It’s native to a relatively small area of Oregon and northern California, but was introduced to the UK in the C19th. It’s widely grown in parks and gardens, but has also naturalised in places. It likes damp soil, which probably explains why it’s doing so well in our garden: it’s growing on what is essentially flood plain. The wood from these trees is strong, fine-grained and aromatic, and is especially prized in Japan for building, but it’s used for making a whole range of objects, from arrow shafts and Venetian blinds through to boats. I hope R doesn’t find out that it’s regarded as highly suitable for the manufacture of guitars – he’s an absolute demon with a chainsaw.