An oriental plane tree of ancient Greek descent has been crowned Northern Ireland’s Tree of the Year in a search for the nation’s best-loved tree.
Organised by the Woodland Trust, the competition saw six splendid specimens compete for public favour, with the champion securing 1,732 votes.
The winner, the Erskine House Tree, is sandwiched between Belfast City Hospital and Queen’s University Belfast and, in terms of height, could give the high-rise buildings a run for their money. It is, however, taking a bow, not because of its size, but because of a remarkable story backed by powerful public support.
This much-loved tree is a descendent of the famous Greek ‘Plane Tree of Kos’, under whose shade Hippocrates, the father of medicine, taught in 500 BC.
In the 1960s a young Greek doctor, Dimitrios Oreopoulos, undertook kidney research at Queen’s University and Belfast City Hospital, later gaining worldwide fame for developing a form of kidney dialysis.
In appreciation of his time here, Dimitrios presented seeds from the Plane Tree of Kos for planting in the hospital grounds. Only one – the Erskine House Tree – flourished and survived and is, today, an oasis of calm and a symbol of hope for patients, staff and students.
Dimitrios’ son, Dr George Oreopoulos, who recently visited the Belfast tree, said the gifting of the seed was “a symbolic gesture of thanks from a young Greek doctor who was grateful for an opportunity. It is with this that I hope my own son learns never to underestimate the importance of small gestures of thanks that can grow into something great long after you’re gone”.
The Erskine House Tree was nominated by Dr Gerry Gormley, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Queen’s; Professor Peter Maxwell, Clinical Professor from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s; and Dr James Douglas, former Nephrologist at Belfast City Hospital.
Dr Gormley said: “The team are thrilled and honoured to be announced as this year’s winner. There were many worthy trees in the competition, each of them with such a unique story.
“Being involved with the Erskine House tree has truly been a humbling and uplifting experience. The tree’s heritage, and what it represents, made a connection with so many people.
“Not only symbolising the huge advances that Northern Ireland has made to the treatment of individuals with renal disease, but also providing a beacon of hope to those living with renal disease.”
The tree received widespread support throughout the region, with TV presenter and patron of Northern Ireland’s Kidney Patients’ Association Eamonn Holmes also lending his support.
Eamonn said: “The Erskine House tree means many different things to many different people throughout the world, especially the transplant family.
“I am delighted that the tree has received this prestigious accolade and will forever remain a symbol of ‘the gift of life’ and a representation of our brave organ donors.”
Patrick Cregg, director of the Woodland Trust, added: “We’re very grateful to those who nominated trees, and indeed to everyone who took the time to vote.
“We had six wonderful contenders, each with an amazing story and each backed by a passionate individual, group or community.
“Thanks to the public vote, we’re now delighted to announce and congratulate our winner, the magnificent Erskine House Tree. The team campaigned tirelessly to put their tree, and indeed trees in general, well and truly in the limelight.”
The Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition aims to highlight and celebrate our country’s remarkable trees, and to ultimately ensure they are given the recognition and protection they deserve.