Erskine House Tree Crowned Northern Ireland’s ‘Tree of the Year’
An oriental plane tree of ancient Greek descent based at Queen’s University and Belfast City Hospital has been crowned the Woodland Trust’s Northern Ireland ‘Tree of the Year’.
The Erskine House Tree is a direct descendent of the ‘Plane tree of Kos’, a famous oriental plane tree under which Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, first taught on the island of Kos in 500 BC.
It was planted from seeds gifted by Greek physician, Dr Dimitrios Oreopoulos in the 1960s, who was undertaking an MD in kidney research at Queen’s University and working at the renal unit at Belfast City Hospital.
After completing his studies, Dr Oreopoulos moved with his family to Canada, where he later became Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He made many contributions to the treatment of renal disease, as well as the promotion of medical ethics and humanitarian principles. Dr Oreopoulos also went on to develop ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis, a type of dialysis which is now used throughout the world.
The tree was nominated by Dr Gerard Gormley, Clinical Senior Lecturer and 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.”
Professor Christopher Elliott, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences at Queen’s, added: “We are delighted that this historic and significant tree based here at Queen’s and the Belfast City Hospital has won this esteemed award. This tree is a symbol of many things, including that of the excellent research and partnerships the University has had and continues to have with our colleagues in the NHS.”
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 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 commented: “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.”
Organ Donation champion and former MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, said: “This announcement is a terrific boost to the entire Organ Donation family in Northern Ireland!
“My son Mark and I were absolutely thrilled to be part of the bid team and to help to continue to promote the life-saving and life-enhancing power of Organ Donation. Now with its new title as ‘Tree of the Year’, the Erskine House Tree will continue to promote organ donation, symbolise Northern Ireland’s global kidney links and inspire the next generation of medical professionals. Mark and I send massive congratulations to Dr Gormley, Dr Douglas and the entire combined team at Queen’s University and the Belfast Trust.”
Patrick Cregg, Director of the Woodland Trust, added: “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. The annual competition saw six trees across Northern Ireland compete for public favour, with the Erskine House Tree securing 1,732 votes.