Tony Kirkham shares his thoughts and observations on autumn this year - with its record high temperatures, confused plants and the best fruiting season in memory.
Well this is one of the strangest autumnal seasons that I can ever remember. It started early in September, with cool nights without a frost and high day temperatures with moisture in the ground. Everything was looking good for a timely fall with bumper leaf colour, but that all ended in early October with an incredibly hot week where we saw record day and night temperatures reaching about 29°C during the afternoon.
This has confused many plants and suddenly they think they are in spring again with many species flowering for a second time this year. The hollies on Holly Walk are flowering better than they did in May, which could mean no fruit next winter.
A holly in flower
Best fruiting season in memory
With the warm, dry spring this year, however, I have to say that this is the best fruiting season in memory, with the fallen acorns and beech nuts covering the root plates of mature trees in such quantities that they crunch under foot as you walk across the grass.
Acorns covering the ground
This weekend I drove back home to Twickenham from Cornwall along the A303 where hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna) along the hedgerows were thick with their red haws in huge quantities and sloes creating a matt blue haze through the leafless thickets of Prunus spinosa along the roadside.
Highlights at Kew Gardens
Back home in Kew Gardens, the displays of fruit in the arboretum are impressive and must not be missed this year. I love the North Canal beds on the location between the Mediterranean Garden and the Temperate House where you don’t have to walk far to see some unusual fruiting trees and shrubs.
The North American osage orange (Maclura pomifera) has unusual heavy green, brain-like fruits, but be careful when handling these as they ooze a sticky, white milky latex sap when damaged. Both male and female trees are needed for a good show of fruit.
Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) fruiting
Close by are the persimmons in the ebony family, Diospyros virginiana from south-east USA with small, golden, tomato-like fruits and the date plum (Diospyros lotus). Look out for the edible “kaki” (Diospyros kaki), the Chinese date plum, which will ripen to a rich golden yellow, if we get some sunshine before the frosts.
Diospyros virginiana (left) and Diospyros lotus (right)
Despite the flowering confusion with the hollies, some have really excelled with the fruiting, including one species that I collected in Sichuan, China in 1996. It has one of the longest scientific names, Ilex fargesii ssp. fargesii var. fargesii.
Ilex fargesii ssp. fargesii var. fargesii in fruit
One of the most bizarre-coloured fruits are those of Decaisnea fargesii, sometimes known as dead man’s fingers as they look like swollen fingers in a strange most un-natural violet colour.
Dead man’s fingers (Decaisnea fargesii)
If we could have touch and smell on the computer, Viburnum opulus var. xanthocarpum has one of the most vile-smelling fruits when crushed, a smell that is hard to describe. But probably one of the worst smelling fruits, especially when over-ripe, are the golden fruits of the Chinese maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba), which you will find on the female tree on Pagoda Vista at the Palm House end.
The vile-smelling Viburnum opulus var. xanthocarpum
In the Rosa species beds, the yellow hips of Rosa roxburghii are covered in short bristles and have a lovely scented aroma when crushed (if you don’t mind the bristles that is!).
The weather is due to get cold again by the end of the week, so winter is likely to be with us soon. This could mean the end of what was promising to be a bumper fall colour - but the best fruiting autumn.
- Tony -
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