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Pollarding Trees

Updated on August 23, 2017
An alien creature? - No, it is a pollard tree.
An alien creature? - No, it is a pollard tree. | Source

What Is Pollarding?

Pollarding involves lopping off the branches of a tree to encourage growth. It dictates the shape of trees and inhibits the growth of trees within limited spaces.

Pollarded Trees

In the winter, when most trees drop their leaves, the gnarly knobs of some trees with antler-like branches stand out among the rest. Depending on the species, they may appear to be whippy, bulbous, twisted, grotesque, or even gothic-chic. Did some cosmic mutation befall these trees or has Edward Scissorhands gone berserk?

The truth is, they have been pollarded, a pruning technique dating back to medieval Europe, where the branches above the crowns were systematically removed so that the resulting water sprouts or suckers can be harvested yearly for timber and fodder without killing the tree. Today, pollarding trees is practiced worldwide for aesthetic and practical reasons, especially in urban areas.

Join me in this "pollard" expedition as I ventured to several cities in my quest for pollarded trees or pollards near where I live and work. Most photos were taken by me, unless otherwise indicated.

Origin of the Word "Pollard"

"Poll" was originally a name for the top of the head, and to poll was a verb meaning to crop the hair. This term included both the treatment of the branches of trees and the horns of animals. "Pollarding" has now largely replaced "polling" as the verb in the forestry sense. (Wikipedia)

A lime tree takes a life of its own after being pollarded, a pruning technique where its shoots are cut back to the top of the stumps. The clubbed limbs look foreboding and ominous—not look pretty as a tree should be. Most of the nutrients are stored in the swollen pollard heads where dormant buds will eventually emerge as water sprouts or suckers.

Since the feudal days, the whippy willows provided a source of wood for fencing, shafts for brooms, basket-weaving, and crafts, and firewood. The trimmings and leaves were dried and stored to feed livestock in the winter.

Pollard trees never cease to turn heads and let the imagination run wild.

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Pollarding is best started on young trees, as young wood heals rapidly, reducing the risk of decay.

Pollarded linden trees in late winter look like bottle brushes.
Pollarded linden trees in late winter look like bottle brushes. | Source

These pollarded linden trees in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, Denmark look like a bunch of bottle brushes in late winter. Trees were planted closer together and the crowns pruned to look more compact and uniform. There are also no long and heavy branches to break off and cause injury in case of gusty winds.

Linden trees in late spring - lollipops in the woods - compact and uniform.
Linden trees in late spring - lollipops in the woods - compact and uniform. | Source

By late spring, these bristly trees have transformed into green and verdant lollipops.The trees are uniform in height and shape, with enough space between the crowns, creating cool shades without overcrowding.

Pollarding creates uniform trees with identical heights and crowns.

Pollarded trees at Swan Pool, Sandwell Valley, England.
Pollarded trees at Swan Pool, Sandwell Valley, England.

Pollarding kept tree branches off the ground level away from grazing animals, like deer and livestock.

Photo Credit: pigsonthewinguk

The UK has a rich history of pollarding and has more ancient trees than any countries in Northern Europe. These trees were protected by a 1000-year old Forest Law enacted by William the Conqueror, to safeguard deer and wildboar and other animals for medieval hunting.

Pollarding trees kept the shoots 8-10 feet off the ground to keep grazing animals from eating them. For hundreds of years in Europe, pollarding guaranteed a yearly harvest of firewood and animal fodder. The resulting water sprouts would be cut off every year or two for use for basket weaving, broomsticks, and other crafts.

In 1834, six poverty-stricken farm laborers met under this sycamore pollard tree in the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset, UK, to demand that their slave wages of 6 shillings be increased to 10 shillings. The six men, known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, formed The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers were tried and arrested for swearing a secret oath. They were deported to Australia for violating the Mutiny Act, and then pardoned and released in 1836, paving the way to the formation of the modern day trade unions.

The Tolpuddle sycamore tree is still alive today and has become a place of pilgrimage for many visitors.


The Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree

Pollard trees were a source of inspiration for Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh painted more than just "Starry Night"

Pollard birch trees were metaphors for his hidden feelings

Trees were a source of inspiration for some of Van Gogh's drawings and painting. In this oil reproduction of Van Gogh's 'Pollard Birches' (1884), Van Gogh saw 'something like a soul' in the gnarled, stark and tragic-looking pollarded birches.

Read more here

Oil Painting:

Pollard Birches:

Vincent van Gogh Hand-Painted Art

Vincent van Gogh at the Kröller-Müller Museum - Pollard Willows with the Setting Sun (March 1888)

Photo Credit: artesoy

The three flaming pollard willows against the setting sun is one of the most reproduced paintings of Van Gogh. The pollards almost have a human dimension to them. Could this painting of the pollard willows be a metaphor of how the artist saw human life - forlorn, solitary, and wasted.

Pollard tree made a scene as The Whomping Willow

Harry Potter's Whomping Willow

The Whomping WiIlow featured in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, uses its limbs to thrash anyone who comes near it. This magical and violent tree was planted in the grounds of Hogswarts to conceal a secret passage leading to the Shrieking Shack in the village of Hogsmeade. It is in the Shrieking Shack that Remus John Lupin secretly transforms into a werewolf.

Listen to Near the Parenthesis Pollarding Trees

Pollarding contains the size of trees in parks and along streets in urban areas worldwide.

The species most commonly pollarded are, Willow, Beech, Poplar, Oak, London Plane, Chestnut and Hornbeam.

On to North Bay - San Francisco, California - Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park

Photo Credit: mdesisto

The pollard trees in sunny Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California and the the pollard plane trees in the winter scene in Geneva, Switzerland below have the same signature clubbed and gnarled branches with upright water sprouts. The shoots will be pruned back to the original cuts so new growths will emerge in early Spring.

Plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia) or sycamore trees thrive well in urban soil and are the most widely pollarded and used in parks and along streets in temperate regions around the world. These vigorous plane trees are pollarded to keep them from outgrowing the allocated space, limiting the height and the size of the crowns, making them more wind-resistant.

Plane trees are among the most numerous large street and park trees planted in Greater London. The frequency of the occurrence of the common hybrid plane within the city has given rise to the common English name for these of 'London plane'.

Pollarded trees world's apart almost look identical.

Pollard tree in Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Photo Credit: cgeith

In the urban area, pollarding is practiced to limit the size of the trees and as a safety precaution in populated areas and near buildings. The trees which are pollarded are less likely to be blown down by high winds and drop broken branches causing injury to property and people.

Heading to the Silicon Valley- Santa Clara, CA - Pollarded sycamore tree - First week of March

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

While at a stoplight, I happened to glance to my right and noticed these pollarded trees in a small strip mall across a hotel. I believe these are sycamore or plane pollarded trees. The lateral branches have been but back to the pollard heads where water sprouts or suckers will emerge in early Spring. Shortly, these "ugly ducklings" will transform into beautiful trees with lollipop crowns.

Same pollarded Sycamore tree in early May

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This is what the same pollarded sycamore looks like with a headful of green foliage in early May. The crown of the tree will not get any larger.

A lifetime commitment

Once a pollard, always a pollard.

Heading to the South Bay - Sunnyvale, CA. - Pollarding is a commitment

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

It was dark and rainy and I could not help but stop by this frontage road along El Camino Real in Sunnyvale. These pollarded trees stand tall and eerie against the overcast sky. Their crowns have been pruned back to keep them from growing into the power lines.

Polarded trees tend to live longer keeping the trees in a juvenile state.

Heading to the East Bay - Fremont, California - Terrifying row of antlered fruitless mulberry trees

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

A row of twenty-some years old fruitless mulberry pollard trees stand guard in the courtyard of this townhouse complex where my friend lives.The enormous knuckles of tissue called pollard heads are tell-tale signs of many years of repetitive pollarding to keep the size of the trees within the allocated space along the fence.

This multi-branched knuckled mulberry trees look like a tree porcupine that belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. It is easy to see how these shoots were harvested in the feudal days for firewood and fencing material, livestock feed. Pollarding afforded a valuable source of renewable resource.

Aliens in the garden

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

A closeup of two of the grotesque pollard heads can make your head spin and run for your life. Not too different from The Ents from the Lord of the Rings, these mulberry pollards speak volumes without saying a word. These branches were cut off and used as firewood in medieval times without having to chop down the trees.

Pollarding is considered a pruning art.

Just pollarded fruitless mulberry trees - Fistful of knuckleheads

Photo Source: jennysh_who

Two months later, these same fruitless sycamore trees had their "hair cropped" or pollarded. These knobbly limbs do not look attractive at all until a new crown of foliage covers the knuckles.

Most shoots grow from this tissue which enlarges slightly every year and are cut back to the knuckles at each pruning. These are the calloused knobs from which the dormant buds will grow and regrow and cut off again and again.

Closeup of newly pollarded fruitless mulberry tree

Closeup of newly pollarded fruitless mulberry tree
Closeup of newly pollarded fruitless mulberry tree

Ugly duckling mulberry pollard turns into a lollipop tree - What a difference two months make

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

What a difference two months make. The hideous-looking pollarded mulberry tree has turned into a lovely lollipop tree. It's crown is nicely rounded and will not branch out to the nearby fence. The pollarding pruning technique keep these trees from growing larger than the space allocated for them in this townhouse courtyard.

Pollarding creates a stately and formal garden design.

In the University of California, Berkeley Campus, the grid of pollarded London plane trees along the Campanile Esplanade were planted close together so that when the skinny lateral branches sprout in Spring, the ground beneath the trees will be shaded and the surrounding air cooler.

Read how workers "train" the London Plane Trees in UC Berkeley in California

London plane trees with headful of leaves

Photo Credit: Colorado Sands

With a headful of green foliage covering the clubbed stems, these London Plane trees are now displaying the results of systematic pollarding. These trees were moved here in 1916 from the grounds of the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

What's your take on pollarding trees - Manipulating nature

Pollarding trees dates back to medieval Europe as a practical way to harvest firewood and fodder for livestock. Today, pollarded trees can be found all over the world in parks, along urban streets, university campuses, etc. to keep them contained within their allocated spaces and away from powerlines.

Do you think pollarding trees is a form of tree mutilation?

Are you pollard-aware now? - Do leave me your thoughts about pollarding.

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Arborists and landscape architects (the ones I know) are usually disturbed when they see this sort of "tree care". These unending application of severe cuts into the main structure of the tree can invite disease and compromise an otherwise healthy tree. The post stress shoots that result are unsightly, weak, and worse than weedlike in their fast growth rates. Please do not disfigure your trees like the amputees you see featured here! This shoddy looking treatment is most often carried out by uninformed persons who don't know any better. Imagine wearing white tennis shoes and a t-shirt to (along with the top hat and tails) to your black tie event. Similarly ridiculous to witnesses, is the tree thusly "trimmed". Just don't.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow! Now I know what these things are. Thank you for publishing this lens with the beautiful photos and valuable info.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 

      7 years ago from Connecticut

      Your lenses are always so beautiful, packed with wonderful photography and filled with great information. I really enjoyed learning about the Pollarding trees.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Popping back in to refresh the angel dust on this lens! :)

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      7 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      really amazing trees. enjoyed your photo collection. ~blessed~

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      7 years ago from Vermont

      I've seen trees with this type of pruned shape many times and wondered if it was a deliberate process or the result of an earlier disease or accident. Thanks for a wonderful education on pollarding - without the leaves they're really creepy. I prefer to grow a dwarf or prune a tree more artfully. But the harvesting concept makes lots of sense.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      After reading this I remembered I need a haircut! :-)

      I never even heard of "pollarding" before this.

      Very interesting and informative.

    • MelonyVaughan profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! Very informative!

    • MillBucks profile image


      7 years ago

      Great presentation, I never knew what this process was called on some of the trees I noticed around my area. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      7 years ago

      Your beautiful photographs brought such life and beauty to this lens.

    • emmaklarkins profile image


      7 years ago

      You know, I always wondered what this strange practice was all about. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      7 years ago

      I loved looking at these photographs! Yes, I have a pollarded tree - I call it my "science experiment" and/or my "alien tree"; it's great fun, and only a self-sown ash tree so no harm done. :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      What an awesome lens! I think I'll go on a pollard expedition when I am in Europe in May.

    • Sabre1000 profile image


      7 years ago

      Y'know that is a very unique idea for a Lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      What an awesome, informative lens! Blessed by a SquidAngel!


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