The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are vast by comparison with many botanic gardens. Despite my frequent visits over the years, there is always something new to discover or to see in a different season. In late September, I entered via the Lion Gate for the first time. This gave me an opportunity to focus on the magnificent trees in Kew’s arboretum, just as some were starting to take on their autumn colours. Towards the end of my walk, I learnt that many of the large trees that had attracted my attention are known as Kew’s Old Lions. One of those ancient trees collapsed just weeks after my visit. A remarkable find balances this sad loss.
Kew plays an important global conservation role. After admiring the huge Cedars near the Pagoda, I was delighted to find several Wollemi Pines, Wollemia nobilis, near the Davies Exploration House. This tree has the highest EDGE score. EDGE stands for Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered. During my visit, I also saw two other tree species with high EDGE scores: the Maidenhair tree, Gingko biloba at number two and the Monkey Puzzle, Araucaria araucana, at number nine. Unfortunately, I was a little too early to see the gloriously yellow autumn leaves of the Maidenhair tree.
Close to the above Maidenhair tree is one of Kew’s 5 Old Lions. The Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, was planted in 1762. It was one of Princess Augusta’s original arboretum trees. While it may now be showing its age, it is still a great sight.
Another original tree is the Oriental Plane, Platanus orientalis, near the Orangerie and Kew Palace. Again its presence at Kew dates back to 1762, although it is thought to have previously grown on the Duke of Argyll’s estate. It was planted close to the site of the original royal residence.
Ill-fated Stone Pine
There is plenty to enjoy at Kew even on the wettest of autumn days. My photo of the Stone Pine, Pinus pinea, at the top of this blog reveals how wet a day it turned out to be during my visit. I am now especially glad that I still photographed it, for a few short weeks later it was no more. This Stone Pine was one of the first trees planted in 1846 by Sir William Jackson Hooker, as he became Kew’s first official director. Princess Augusta had grown it in a pot. The early restriction explains its odd shape. Sadly, its major collapse on 21st October 2022 meant that it had to be removed for public safety.
Unlucky Corsican Pine?
Not far away is a great survivor. Dubbed Kew’s unluckiest tree, it has continued to grow since 1814 nonetheless. It has survived two strikes by lightning and even a hit by a low-flying light aircraft. This remarkable tree is believed to be the oldest specimen of its type in this country: a Corsican Pine, Pinus nigra subsp. laricio.
One tree that holds a special place in my heart is the magnificent Chestnut-leaved Oak, Quercus castaneifolia, near the Orangerie. It was the site of one of the best photos of my sons as young children and forever brings back memories of a great family day out. This special Oak dates back to 1846.
Kew’s ugliest Champion?
Kew has a Champion Tree in its Narrow-leaved Ash, Fraxinus angustifolia. Champion Trees are considered exceptional examples of their species because of their enormous size, great age, rarity or historical significance. Unfortunately, this particular Champion also has a reputation as Kew’s ugliest tree. Its remarkably bulbous trunk stands out as you approach. This is the consequence of a vigorous scion grafted onto a less vigorous rootstock.
My visit was timed a little early for the full range of autumn leaf colours, here are two of the best viewed at the time:
Autumn Flower Power
Trees were not the only providers of autumn colour. There was also a great display of Autumn Crocus, Colchicum. A visit to the grass garden is always rewarding even on the drabbest autumn day. While there, I always like to check out the plant displays in the Davies Alpine House. I always have a soft spot for Cyclamen. The Green Daffodils, Narcissus viridifolius, were decidedly cute.
A Great New Find
My highest priority on this particular visit was to see Kew’s newly discovered Water Lily species in both the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the Water Lily House. Like many of the botanic gardens’ trees, Victoria boliviana has been around for a while. It had been sitting awaiting discovery in Kew’s Herbarium for 177 years!
A visit to Kew never disappoints whatever the weather.
Previous Blogs on Kew Gardens and Wakehurst Place
Reflections on Nature at Kew. 7 October 2019.
Book Review: The Plant Messiah. 17 September 2018.
Meeting Kew’s Daisy Experts. 9 September 2018.
Happy Fungus Day! 8 October 2017.
Early Spring at Wakehurst Place. 5 March 2017.
Kew’s Indian Orchid Festival Video. 26 February 2017.
Christmas Spectacle at Kew Gardens. 2 December 2016.
From British winter to Brazilian tropics. 2 March 2016.
References and Further Reading
Brewer, Grace (2022): Uncovering the giant water lily: A botanical wonder of the world. Kew. 4 July 2022.
Harrison, Christina (2019): Kew’s Big Trees. Second Edition. Kew Publishing.
Kew Gardens (2022): We’re sad to announce that the old stone pine suffered a major collapse on 21 Oct and had to be removed for public safety. This beloved tree was in the Gardens for over 250 years and was a favourite of many visitors (…). Twitter. 3 November 2022.
Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.