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Death of a Pontic Giant

HEW PRENDERGAST

I’m no great fan of Rhododendron ponticum. Its purple flowers may be attractive enough and its dense foliage good for screening unseemly objects but its ability to smother land on acid soils has made it a huge problem throughout the UK – and the Forest is no exception. As shown by the Conservators for many years, it takes dedication and money to eradicate it and continuing vigilance to ensure it doesn’t spring back from buries seed, semi-covered branches or re-invasion from adjacent land-holdings where it still forms almost impenetrable stands.

There is one plant, however, whose demise makes me a bit sad as I have admired and photographed it for nearly a quarter of a century. For that time, it has always seemed a giant, and a perfectly proportioned one at that, circular in the 17 to 18m branching spread of its 35 or so stems and evenly domed towards a central peak. Surrounded by full-canopied Silver Birches and a carpet of Bluebells before its own flowering in May, it has stood magnificently alone among its peers. Under it I found the decaying remains of a hut used in the 1970s by archaeologists during a series of summer digs.

Now neither infection – which has killed Ash and Swee Chestnut close by – nor age has led to its demise but – yes! – management. Near the base of some large stems are neatly drilled holes where a herbicide, most likely glyphosate, has been applied, a method that ensures no other plants are affected.

So, I am caught between two minds. This pontic was a true and splendid giant but I accept it had to go. And, anyway, another will surely eventually appear if there is any local let-up in the control of this relentlessly invasive species.

The giant in full bloom, May 2020

The dying giant, September 2023

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