Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mate sought for endangered tree

Black Poplar
The black poplar tree featured in John Constable's 1821 work The Hay Wain

Efforts are being made to find female varieties of a rare tree to save the species from extinction in Norfolk.

Environment Agency officers have found 17 endangered native black poplar trees at Saddlebow, near King's Lynn.

In the past, female trees were removed across the country because of the fluffy seeds they produced and there is thought to be only one left in Norfolk.

The county council is now propagating some female trees in the hope at least one can be planted with the males.

Because black poplars have separate male and female trees, both sexes need to grow close to each other for an exchange of pollen.

Fluffy seeds

The Norfolk Species Action Plan for black poplars states there are only 70 mature trees now left in Norfolk and only one of these is female, but it is too far from the Environment Agency's group to help.

Black poplars, which featured in John Constable's 1821 work The Hay Wain, have become one of Britain's rarest native trees despite once being common in the East.

Julia Massey, from the Environment Agency, said: "We are excited to have identified the black poplars as they are one of the most endangered native trees in Britain, with a third of the trees recorded in Norfolk now gone.

"These 17 trees are so important to the county and we intend to do all we can to ensure their survival by finding them the fluffy females they need."

Black poplars thrive in wet woodlands, near streams or in natural flood plains.

Their numbers have been decreasing due to human intervention draining land and clearing woodland, and also because of the reduction in numbers of females whose fluffy seed was seen as a nuisance.

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