John Claudius Loudon

Extracts from Loudon’s “Arboretum et fruticetum britannicum” Volume 3 (1838). Darwin lists this book among the most important read by November 1842, and he no doubt read it again in the 1850s, when he cited it no less than 5 times. Bold emphases are mine.

The Elm p.1380

The wood of the elm loses a great deal in drying: weighing, when green, nearly 70 lb. the cubic foot; and, when dry, not more than 48 lb. The wood is of a brownish colour, and is hard and fine-grained. It possesses greater lateral adhesion, and less longitudinal toughness, than that of U. montana, and, consequently, does not crack so much as that sort in drying. In ship-building it is valuable for forming the blocks and dead eyes, and other wooden furniture of rigging, being particularly suitable for these purposes, from its hard and adhesive nature, and indisposition to crack or split when exposed to sun or weather. (See Matthews on Naval Timber, &c., p. 57.)


The timber, Matthews observes, has much sap-wood, and great longitudinal toughness; but, from the great quantity of sap-wood, and want of lateral adhesion, it splits considerably when dry. The tree has a peculiar fan-like spread of the branches, often tending to one side, and most perceptible in young trees. Hence the tree, when grown up, “has generally a slight bending in the stem, which renders it very fitting for floor-timbers of vessels; the only part of a ship, except the bottom plank, to which it is applicable, as it soon decays above water. Its great toughness and strength, however, render it fit for floors.” (On Naval Timber, &c, p. 52.)

“The tree,” Matthews continues, “when come to some size, on the primary branches being lopped off, like the common elm and the oak, often throws out a brush of twigs from the stem; and these twigs impeding the transit of the sap, the brush increases, and the stem thickens considerably, in consequence of a warty-like deposit of wood forming at the root of the twigs. This excrescence, when of size, after being seasoned in some cool moist place, such as the north reentering angle of a building exposed to the dripping from the roof, forms a richer veneer for cabinet-work than any other timber.”

The Willow p.1460

The red-wood willow, or stag’s-head osier (S. fragilis), according to Matthew, produces timber superior to that of S. alba, or of any other tree willow. It is much used in Scotland for building small vessels; and especially for fast-sailing sloops of war, by reason of its lightness, pliancy, elasticity, and toughness. The wood, when dry, is easily known from that of all other willows, by its being of a salmon colour; on which account it is sometimes used in cabinet-making and for children’s toys. “Formerly,” says Matthew, “before the introduction of iron hoops for cart wheels, the external rim, or felloe, was made of this willow; and, when new, the cart or wain was drawn along a road covered with hard small gravel (and, in preference, gravel somewhat angular); by which means the felloe shod itself with stone, and thus became capable of enduring the friction of the road for a long time, the toughness and elasticity of the willow retaining the gravel till the stone was worn away. Under much exposure to blows and friction, this willow outlasts every other home timber. When recently cut, the matured wood is slightly reddish, and the sap-wood white. When exposed to the air, and gradually dried, both are of salmon colour, and scarcely distinguishable from each other.” (On Nav. Timb., p. 63.)


Accidents, Diseases, and Insects. The willow is subject to few accidents or diseases; but it is liable to be attacked by many insects. Salix fragilis Matthew states to be subject, in Scotland, to a disease similar to what the canker is in the apple tree. This disease, he says, is generally concentrated in certain parts of the bark and alburnum of the trunk; a portion of the branches above which withers, and the uppermost boughs, after a time, assume the appearance of a stag’s head and horns; which, from the indestructibility of these dead branches, the tree retains for many years; and hence the name of stag’s-head osier, which is applied to this species. This disease, and other causes, especially in old trees, give rise to rottenness in the trunk; which, in the willow, from its being comparatively a short-lived tree, takes place, more especially in wet soils, much sooner than in most other species.

The Oak p.1798-1800

Propagation and Culture. The propagation and nursery culture of the oak have been already treated of in our introduction to the genus (p. 1727.). The after-culture of the common oak embraces the subjects of artificial shelter, pruning, thinning, training, &c. No specific mode of pruning is applicable to the oak; except that, where the object is ship timber of the crooked kind, the trunks ought not to be freed from branches for more than 12 ft. or 15 ft. in height, in order to throw strength into the larger limbs. It may also be advisable, in some instances, to stop the leading shoot for the same purpose. In general, however, the oak, if planted in open situations, and if the stem be divested of its side shoots only to a moderate height, will produce a sufficient number of crooked arms and branches for every purpose in naval architecture. It is almost unnecessary to observe, that, when the object is ship-timber, and timber fit for making furniture, the acorns and plants of Q. pedunculata should be chosen, in preference to those of Q. sessiliflora.

Eligibility of the Oak for planting with a View to Profit, as compared with other Trees. The slow growth of the oak is by many alleged as a reason why plantations of it will prove less profitable than those of other trees. In answer to this it may be stated, 1st, that, as the oak is almost in every case planted among nurse trees, which are not cut down till they are of some value as poles or timber, there can hardly be said to be such a thing as a young oak plantation; and, 2dly, that though the oak, in ordinary circumstances, is of a slow growth while young, yet, after the trunk has attained a diameter of 6 in. or 8 in., the oak grows as fast as almost any other hard-wooded tree, and certainly faster than some; such as the beech and the hornbeam. The value of the timber of the oak, even when of small size, the value of the bark, and, as Matthew observes, the slight comparative injury of its shade to coppice-wood, hedge-plants, grass, corn, or other crops, “should give a preference to this tree for planting, wherever the climate and soil are suitable, over every other kind, with the exception of the larch and willow, which, in particular soils, will pay better.”

For Hedgerow Timber, it is agreed by most writers that the oak is superior to all other trees. It produces the most valuable timber and bark in that situation, and does less injury to the hedge, and to the herbage or corn beneath it, than any other species, unless, perhaps, as Matthew observes, the apple and the pear be excepted; because the horizontal roots do not run near the surface, and the buds come later into leaf than those of any other British tree. The general form, and the great variety of outline, of the oak, as well as its colour, both in spring and autumn, also harmonise in a superior manner with the general scenery of an enclosed country. To be convinced of this, we have only to reflect on those parts of the country where larches, pines, and Lombardy and other poplars prevail in hedgerows, in which they are as bad in an agricultural, as they are in a picturesque, point of view. “The disadvantages,” Matthew observes, “attending the planting of hedgerows with oaks are, that the removal of the oak, when young, is not in general so successful as that of other trees, especially in this exposed dry situation; also, that the progress of the plant, for a number of years, is but slow, and that it is thus for a longer time liable to injury from cattle. Fair success may, however, be commanded by previously preparing the roots, should the plants be of good size; transplanting them when the ground is neither too moist nor too dry; and, in autumn, as soon as the leaves have dropped or become brown, particularly in dry ground; performing the operation with the utmost care, so as not to fracture the roots, and to retain a considerable ball; opening pits of considerable size for their reception, much deeper than the roots; and should a little water lurk in the bottom of the pit, it will be highly beneficial, provided none stagnate so high as the roots ; firming the earth well around the roots, after it is carefully shaken in among the fibres ; and, especially, keeping the surface of the ground, within 4 ft. of the plant, friable and free from weeds, by repeated hoeings during the first two or three summers. Of course, if the plant is suffered to waver with the wind, or to be rubbed and bruised by cattle, or by the appendages of the plough, it is folly to expect success. On this account, stout plants, from 8 ft. to 12 ft. high, the branches of which are more out of the way of injury, may, in sheltered situations, under careful management, be of the most proper size. Much also depends on procuring strong plants from exposed situations. We have,” continues Matthew, “experienced better success with hardy plants from the exposed side of a hill, having unfibred carrot roots, much injured by removal, than with others from a sheltered morass, having the roots most numerously fibred, and well extricated.” (Matthew on Naval Timber, p. 38.)


Matthew says, “The easiest way to procure good oak knees is to look out in hedgerow and open forest for plants which divide into two or four leaders, from 5ft. to 10ft. above ground; and, should the leaders not diverge sufficiently, to train them as horizontally as possible for several feet, by rods stretching across the top, or by fixing them down by stakes.” (On Naval Timber, &c., p. 26.)

The Beech p.1953

According to Matthews, “the yellow beech grows faster and straighter, and is cleaner and freer of black knots, and also more pleasantly worked than the white; but it corrupts much sooner in the bark when cut down. This variety of beech, when properly trained,” he continues, “is, probably, the most profitable hard wood that we can raise: when planked, it bends pleasantly under the shipwright to the curvature of the vessel’s side. The tree is also much superior in size and grace of outline to the white.” (On Nav. Tim., p. 49.)


The durability of the wood is said to be increased by steeping it in water; and, according to some, by disbarking the tree while standing. Matthews, who always writes from experience, says that the timber of the beech “soon corrupts, if it be not speedily dried, or kept in water after being cut down;” and that it is equally liable to corruption in the tree, when deprived of life by wounds or other injury. The beech has, he says, “a matured and a sap wood, although they are not very distinguishable, being nearly of one colour. The former has considerable durability when kept dry; but the latter is speedily consumed by worms.” (On Naval Timber, &c., p. 49.) Mathews recommends the beech with yellow-coloured wood, found on good soil, as superior in durability to that with white wood, which is only to be found on light soils. The grain of the wood is not sufficiently homogeneous to receive a very high polish. The uses of the wood of the beech, notwithstanding all its faults, are more extensive than those of almost any other tree. The keels of vessels are often made of it; and Matthews, as we have seen (p. 1953.), says that a tree, when properly trained, affords, probably, the most profitable hard wood that we can raise for planking the sides and bottoms of vessels.

The Chestnut p.1993

Matthew seems to confound the wood of the chestnut with that of the oak, observing that, in England, “many of the largest of our ancient piles are wooded of it.” Its decrease, he thinks, may be owing to a slight refrigeration of climate; but, as the climate is rather improved, and the spirit of planting become more general, this, he thinks, may give encouragement to more extended planting of the chestnut. There is one circumstance, he says, connected with the timber of the chestnut, in Scotland, which must prevent its general use in ship-building; and that is, that few trees of it of any size are found without the timber being shaky or split; some to such a degree, that the annual rings, or concentric growths, have separated from each other. Mr. Matthew, who is evidently an original observer, though, in this case, he has mixed up facts that have come under his own observation with the current opinion respecting the use of chestnut timber in old buildings, and in the Spanish navy, remarks, with Bosc, that the timber, though a good deal similar to that of the oak, is not “quite so reedy and elastic, but is destitute of the large laminae, or plates (flosh), which, radiating from the pith to the outside, become so prominent to view in the oak, when the longitudinal section is parallel to the plane of the laminae.” (Nav. Tim., p. 47.)

Those were the citations of Matthew I discovered in “Arboretum et fruticetum britannicum” from the internet in 2009. In Mike Weale’s list of citations in the middle of his website essay “Matthew’s Influence?”, which was self-evidently written after he read “Darwin’s Guilty Secret”, there are several more.