Britain’s oldest tree is changing its sex while intriguing botanists everywhere in the process. It’s a 5000 year old Fortingall Yew that has decided it is time to change its sex from male to female. The tree, which has lasted for 5000 years was known to be a male but is now producing seedlings which prove that it has started to undergo a sex metamorphosis.
The sex change is one of the most surprising behaviors ever to occur and has left botanists both excited and in awe as it is an anomaly they did not expect. The Fortingall Yew had been standing tall in Perthshire, Scotland for centuries and was known to be a male member of the Yew family of trees as it produced pollen.
In the case of Yew trees, male members produce pollen while female members create red berries that then get pollinized. The change was, of course, noticed when the ancient Fortingall Yew started sprouting these red berries.
Max Coleman of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh explains that, as strange as it may seem, not only yews but other conifers as well have two separate sexes and can sometimes change from one sex to another. In the case of the Fortingall Yew, it seems one of the branches has gone through the change and is now behaving like a female yew.
Although these trees have been known to have the ability of changing their sexes, the event is a rare and baffling one. It is also not very well understood yet by scientists, as they have not managed to come up with a scientific explanation for why or how this type of change can take place in nature.
There are theories trying to explain why this happens, such as that of an existing hormonal imbalance that could cause a male tree to sprout berries. It is also assumed that a polluted environment will play a major part in such a transformation.
Another possibility is that the tree could have gone through a relatively common process which is to grow a different “sport” that is morphologically different from the rest of its body. For now, botanists can only assume.
But despite the strange phenomenon of berries appearing on one of its branches, the tree was found to be otherwise healthy. Some of the curious berries were collected from the tree by members of the Royal Botanic Garden for analysis in an effort to try to preserve the tree’s diversity.
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