Skip to main content
You are here
Facebook icon
Pinterest icon
Twitter icon

Kew's 'Old Lions' celebrate 250 years

Tony Hall
14 June 2012
Blog team: 
2012 marked the 250th anniversary of Kew's 'Old Lions'. These magnificent trees are the oldest trees with known dates in the Gardens, dating back to 1762.

Oriental plane

The first of the five 'Old Lions' and my particular favorite, is the oriental plane (Platanus orientalis). This magnificent tree stands at the northern end of the Broad Walk, opposite the Orangery. But when it was planted as a young tree it would have stood along the eastern side of the White House, which was redesigned from Kew Farm in the 1730s. The footprint of the building can be seen marked out on the lawn in front of Kew Palace.


Platnaus orientalis image. Old Lion.
Oriental plane (Platanus orientalis)

Pagoda tree

The pagoda tree, with it's tongue twisting scientific name, Styphnolobium japonicum, is in fact native to China despite 'japonicum' suggesting that the tree is Japanese. This tree grows off of the Broad Walk's central path close to the Ice House. During its long life, it has been through the wars, literally. It has several props holding it up and has a large bricked-up cavity filled with rubble.


One of Kew's Old Lions the Pagoda tree
The pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum)

Maidenhair tree

The majestic Ginkgo biloba (maidenhair tree), here shown in spring with its lovely new lime green leaves, is a male tree with pollen-producing catkins. It is the female trees which produce the fruits with their smelly flesh coating. Kew's maidenhair tree was an early introduction from China and is one of the remaining trees from the first part of the botanic garden started by George III's mother, Princess Augusta, in 1759.

Ginkgos are known from fossil records as far back as 200 million years ago. They are now extremely rare in the wild and survive through cultivation. At Kew we have over 60 ginkgos, including a variety of cultivars growing close to the Minka House in the Bamboo Garden, some of which will hopefully be the 'Old Lions' of the future.

Older ginkgos produce what are called chi-chis, which look like long, woody stalactites. When these reach the ground, they root and sprout new growths, helping to prolong the life of the tree.

In 2002, Kew's maidenhair tree was picked as one of the 50 'Great British Trees' to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee.         


Image of Ginkgo, Old Lion.
The maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)


Picture of the Chi chi's growing on the old Ginkgo at Kew.
Chi chis growing on Kew's old Ginkgo

Black locust

Robinia pseudoacacia (the black locust or false acacia tree) was introduced to Europe in the 1630s. Our tree at Kew, planted in 1762, is thought to have originally come from the Duke of Argyll's estate close by in Whitton and is the last survivor of other trees brought to Kew from that estate in the 18th century.

Like the pagoda tree and maidenhair tree, it is also one of the original trees from Princess Augusta's early botanic garden. Also, like the pagoda tree, it is a member of the legume family, with showy, hanging inflorescences of fragrant white flowers in June.

Look closely at this tree and you will see that the trunk is held together with an old metal band. It was also home to the Chief Gnome in a CBBC children's cartoon 'Gordon the Garden Gnome'!


Image of the Robinia. Old Lion.
The black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia)

Caucasian elm

Finally, there is the Caucasian elm (Zelkova carpinifolia). This tree is the last of three original Zelkovas from 1760 and grows in the Herbarium paddock, which is not in the public area of the gardens. The other two were in front of the Herbarium and by the Main Gate. This is a great tree which in 1905 measured 60 ft (18.2 m). 


The Caucasian elm (Zelkova carpinifolia)

- Tony -

Find out more about the 'Old Lions' 


18 April 2013
How wonderful that these old trees are still standing. I loved reading more about them and have of course seen most of them on my visits to Kew, but without realising the history, so thanks for this. I plan to make a special effort to visit them all next time I visit the gardens. Cindy @3days_in_london
Abuse Reported. Comment will be reviewed and removed if necessary.
18 June 2012
How old is the black walnut in the woodland garden? Does it count as an old lion too or is it younger?
Abuse Reported. Comment will be reviewed and removed if necessary.

Browse by blog team