The fruits of autumn at Kew Gardens

By: Anthony Hall - 17/10/2012

Autumn is a great time to see fruits and seeds, and Kew's Arboretum has a fantastic array from temperate areas around the world. Some are amazingly colourful and they come in all shapes and sizes too.

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At this time of year, many of our summer flowers develop into an array of fruits and seeds, and some are as attractive (if not more so) than the flowers that came before them. The definition of a seed is complex, but basically seeds are produced by the plant to ensure their survival in the next generation.

Not all plants produce seed though, as some plants are either male or female, and it is only the females that produce fruit and seeds. Our native holly is an example of this. Then there are other plants, like tulip trees (Liriodendron sp), which need to be semi-mature before they will flower and produce seed.

I am always amazed when I look at seeds, particularly those produced by trees which, from a relatively small and often vividly coloured seed, have the potential to grow into giants. An example of this is our very own mighty oak tree, which can grow up to 20 metres tall from a seed not much bigger than a twenty pence piece (although this does take around a thousand years).

Fruits and seeds at Kew Gardens

Here are a selection of fruits and seeds which have caught my eye around the Gardens to whet your appetite this week.


Photo: Multi-colour fruits of Ampelopsis brevipedunculata 

Porcelain berry vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata)

These amazingly coloured small fruits of porcelain berry vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) offer a really showy end to the vine season.  

Red and orange fruits of our commoon spindle, (Euonymus)

European or common spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

These brightly coloured fruits, although enticing, should not be eaten as they are poisonous. There are many other species of Euonymus with different coloured fruits that are equally attractive.     

Seed pods on Koelreuteria paniculata 

The golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

The golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) is a really showy autumn plant. With its golden flowers (from which it gets its common name), this tree goes on to produce wonderful bladder-like seed pods, which turn dark red before they open. This transition is followed by a burst of autumn colour in the foliage. 

Photo: Large green apple like fruits on Maclura pomifera

Osage orange fruits (Maclura pomifera)

The fruits of Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) have a very distinctive citrus fragrance. The flowers of this tree are small and not very showy, but it also produces large brain like fruit. Osage orange is in the same family as the mulberry and seeds from this tree are edible. Its fruits are often found pulled apart by squirrels.


Edible fruits of Arbutus unedo 

Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)

The Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) has fruits that are edible but neither look like or taste like strawberries. The Latin name unedo means "I only eat one", and this is supposed to be because most people find the taste rather bland. I must say that I have collected this seed in Spain and I find the fruits rather tasty! They are also attractive, as the tree produces two coloured fruits, ripe and unripe and flowers all at the same time. 

Photo: Vivid blue pods of Decaisnea fargesii

"Dead man's fingers" (Decaisnea fargesii)

The wonderful blue pea-like pods of Decaisnea fargesii from China, nicknamed "dead man's fingers", is not actually in the pea family, but rather the chocolate vine family. This family also includes Akebia quintata, with its chocolate scented flowers and colourful seed pods.


  Photo: Long pencil like fruits of Catalpa bignonioides 

Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides)

The Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides) is from the USA and has the most wonderful large orchid-like flowers, which are produced in June and July. The flowers turn into long thin pods of around 40 cm, but can grow up to almost twice this length. These long thin pods remain hanging on the tree all winter before falling to the ground.

Photo: Four hanging  pine cones

Bhutan pine (Pinus wallichiana) becoming coated in resin

The Bhutan pine (Pinus wallichiana) is a really elegant looking tree which produces long clusters of banana shaped cones, up to 25 cm long. 

And just because it's autumn, here's a squirrel with eyes bigger then his belly!


Squirrel collecting sweet chestnuts.

A Squirrel enjoying autumn in the Gardens at Kew

- Anthony -

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5 comments on 'The fruits of autumn at Kew Gardens'

Miriam Hammond says

02/10/2013 11:21:31 PM | Report abuse

Like many "plant" lovers when I see something I am not familiar with I have to find out what it is. From your site I have just been enlightened as to the Koelreuteria paniculata - Golden rain tree. I have recently collected some seeds of this but did not know what it was! Now I hope I can grow it. Also the osage orange which I acquired last year. What a wonderful world we live in.

Rama Sarkhel says

30/09/2013 10:06:21 PM | Report abuse

There is a sapling of Koelreuteria paniculata xpride of India planted in the Dean's garden at Canterbury Cathedral to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi's stay with Red Dean in the 1930s, a city where I live and love.

Tony hall says

24/10/2012 7:13:54 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry oakleaf, but these pictures are only taken for the web site as a taste of what looking good in the gardens.Really glad you enjoyed them though.

Sarah Oz says

19/10/2012 12:11:54 PM | Report abuse

Great pics!! Living in Oz I miss the crisp cold autumn in London :)

oakleaf says

18/10/2012 12:26:49 PM | Report abuse

These photos are wonderful. Is it possible to buy any of them?

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