Which came first, the sheep or the hedge?

Brockley Way, London, SE4

Is the sheep trapped in the hedge, or is the hedge trapped in a sheep?

As I contemplate this I realise that there is no sheep, and there is no hedge. Instead, there’s just a big fluffy rug in the middle of the pavement decorated with candy-coloured horse-chestnut flowers and other bits and pieces of tree. I pick up some of the white fluffy stuff for a feel. It’s so soft, like cashmere. I imagine having a big coat of fluff and flowers. I imagine feeling like a sheep on cloud 9. Or like a sheep trapped in a hedge on a hot day.

What is this fluffy stuff anyway? Where had it come from? I look up at the trees overhead. One of them had grown a pretend sheep and deposited it on the pavement in the middle of London. But which one? There were several candidates, all sporting fluff in their branches…but on closer inspection the fluff was always just nestling, not properly attached.

But there was one tree I couldn’t reach, its trunk and high branches safe beyond tall metal railings. I couldn’t see any fluff in its branches, but perhaps it had dumped it all before I came along, shaking its branches clean whilst planting some choice pieces of evidence on its neighbours in the process. The perfect crime.

So, like any good detective I continued my search for clues. I made my way to the other side of the railings, via a long path and a cemetery. I discovered that the ‘clean’ tree seemed to be at the epicentre of an extended ring of ground fluff. More importantly, I discovered a piece of twig that definitely originated from the ‘clean’ tree and was properly attached not only to fluff but also to some kite-shaped leaves with serrated edges. Poplar tree leaves! I recognised them!

Back at investigation headquarters I learnt that there are a number of species of Poplar tree, but one, the Black Poplar, produces significant amounts of soft white fluff on the scale of that which I found. Black Poplars are relatively rare in the UK. They have separate male and female trees, the females being the ones to produce the fluff – which has little black seeds attached. When the fluff doesn’t drop down in one big sheep, it helps the seeds get carried away by the wind to a place where they can hopefully germinate, providing it’s moist and quiet there, and they were lucky enough to have been fertilised by pollen from a nearby male Black Poplar tree…

I  didn’t manage to get to the bottom of my question about the sheep and the hedge, but I did happen upon this excellent and fun explanatory animation answering the more commonly asked question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

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  1. claire says:

    baaa!! hahaha :-) xxx

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