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Arboretum team blog

Kew's Arboretum team is responsible for managing approximately 240 acres of the Gardens at Kew and all of the trees on site, including all tree planting.

The Arboretum is made up of predominantly woody collections of trees and shrubs, laid out taxonomically, with some herbaceous plantings which support these collections, mainly in the Woodland Glade. Key features in the arboretum are the Japanese landscape with the Chokushi-Mon, the Mediterranean Garden, the Rhododendron Dell and Berberis Dell, the bamboo collection with the Japanese Minka House and the Xstrata Treetop Walkway. Some of the key shrub collections include Caprifoliaceae, Oleaceae, Celastraceae and Rosaceae.

Sward management, management of the Natural Areas surrounding Queen Charlotte’s Cottage and the management of the Arboretum Nursery also fall under the direction of the Arboretum team, and will feature on this blog.

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Autumn colour - Six of the best

By: Anthony Hall - 12 Nov 2012
So many of the trees and shrubs at Kew show outstanding autumn colour that it has been difficult choosing just the best six
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There are so many great trees that put on a colourful autumn display here at Kew Gardens, that trying to pick my favorite six is really difficult.

I haven't for instance included any oaks, many of which produce really good autumn colour. 

I remember visiting Boston this time last year and seeing the fall colour, mainly comprising oak, ash and maples – a truly amazing sight if you get the timing right.

The first of my six is the white ash – Fraxinus americana (below) from eastern North America. So good is the autumn colour of this tree that we have grafted several others from the original tree at Kew, which I also photographed for the front cover of The pruning of trees, shrubs and conifers by Brown and Kirkham.

The young grafts have now been planted in the Arboretum as a loose group to add more interest to the display of autumn colour.


Fraxinus americana in autumn showing it's beuatiful yellow and red leavesAutumn red Fraxinus americana leaves.

Above: White ash – Fraxinus americana


                                                                                                                 Carya ovata large tree in wonderful yellow autumn colour.

ARB_Carya ovata leaves

Shagbark hickory – Carya ovata

The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), in the walnut family, has leaves that turn a wonderful bright yellow during the autumn. We have several specimens at Kew Gardems growing close to the Pagoda and Japanese Gateway. These are also from North America and produce sweet edible nuts in a good summer.


Large Liquidambar styraciflua turning purple in autumn. Close up og the beautiful dark red leaves of Liquidambar cultivar 'Stella'

Top: Sweet gum –  Liquidambar styraciflua

Below: The leaves of Liquidambar 'Stella'


Liquidambar or sweet gum has to be favorite number three. In autumn the leaves turn through shades of red becoming purple before they fall. It also has a corky bark on the older stems, which can be seen during winter once the leaves have fallen. The colour can be variable on seed-raised plants, but as with the cultivar 'Stella' (shown above), this colour and leaf form can be guaranteed. You can see Liquidambar adjacent to the Orangery and on the Broad Walk. The Arboretum team also planted a matching pair on the Pagoda Vista and 12 young plants around the perimeter of the small Kew Green outside the old Main Gate, now restored and re-named the Elizabeth Gate to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.


Acer opalus, large maple glowing golden yellow in the autumn sunshine. Close up of the bright yellowy orange Acer opalus leaves

Acer opalus

This particular Acer opalus is a wonderful specimen, around 15 m tall, with a rounded habit typical of the species. It flowers in early spring on leafless stems. However, it is its autumn colour that is its crowning glory. Yellows and oranges glow in the autumn sunshine, drawing you from afar for a closer look.


Cotinus obovatus in wonderful scarlet red autumn colour Close up of the scarlet red Cotinus obovatus leaves

Cotinus obovatus


This particular tree (above), close to the Victoria Gate and Temple of Bellona, is a British Champion Tree for its species. More often seen as a largish shrub, here it grows as a medium-size tree and at this time of year turns to shades of yellow, orange, red and purple. Apparently old specimens of Cotinus obovatus are rare in the wild, partly due to the fact that many were cut down during the American Civil War for the orange dye the wood produces.


The bronze autumn colour of the beech clump

ARB_Fagus sylvatica, beech leaves

Beech – Fagus sylvatica

My final choice is the beech. This is not only a great autumn tree at Kew, with many dating from the 1800s, but is also the dominant tree in much of the woodland in the south-east of England. They are a wonderful sight at this time of year. The beech clump in the picture above is the result of long-gone central trees layering themselves to form this small copse, which in late autumn looks like a giant bonfire. The existing trees have been grafted and re-planted in the middle to ensure the clump's colourful future.



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Tags: fruity | vibrant

1 comment on 'Autumn colour - Six of the best'

 Fabulous fungal foray

By: Anthony Hall - 30 Oct 2012
Autumn is the best time for spotting an amazing variety of fungi in Kew's Arboretum
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Fungi are fascinating and extremely varied in their colour, shape and structure. Most people's image of fungi is of the classic mushroom or toadstool, but there are many thousands of species and they come in a wide variety of intriguing forms. What you see above ground is actually just the fruiting body - produced to release spores. Fungi are not plants and do not have chlorophyll – the green pigment which enables most plants to manufacture their food using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. Fungi rely on the living (if they are parasitic) and decaying (if they're saprophytic) tissues of plants and animals for their nutrients.

Once mature, the fruiting bodies produce millions of microscopic spores. A classic example of this can be seen in the puffballs, which when knocked by wind or rain, eject clouds of spores.

At the moment there is an amazing variety of fungi to be seen in Kew's Arboretum. Below are just a few examples of what you might encounter on even a short walk with a keen eye.


Sulphur caps small cluster of honey coloured fungi 

Beautiful honey coloured sulphur caps on decaying wood. Their colour becomes a
darker orange towards the centre.


Young white  puff balls. Handkea excipuliformis

 Puffballs, ready to eject millions of spores once mature.


Young shaggy parasol mushrooms, under pine. Macrolepiota rhacodes

Very pretty looking shaggy parasol mushrooms under a pine tree,
distinguished from normal parasol mushrooms by their smooth stalks.


Edible horse mushrooms in grass. Agaricus arvensis

 A group of edible horse mushrooms. These can grow to an
impressive size with caps up to 20 cm across.


large brown ad white bracket fungus growing on tree trunk. Ganoderma australe

Two similar looking, but different, bracket fungi. Above is Ganoderma
with it's brown spores...

Alarge white bracketfungus growing on tree trunk.Perenniporia fraxinea

 . . .while Perenniporia (above) has white spores.


Spongey looking yellow fungi. Phaeolus schweintzii

The young, spongy, yellow fruiting body of the Dyer's mazegill, usually
found on conifers, turns brown as it matures.

Small group of star shaped fungus. Gerastrum sp.

This fascinating looking fungus, initially looks like a hyacinth bulb before
splitting into these radiating arms, which resemble a star. Earth stars
are another fungus which eject their spores.


Group of commomn inkcaps in shine shine.Coprinus atramentarius

Finally, the ink cap. This one gets it's name from the fact that as the
spores mature they turn black and liquify.


So, why not come on a fungus foray of your own this autumn at Kew? There's plenty to see, and looking for these beautiful structures reveals plenty of other autumn delights around the Gardens too.

-Tony -

Remember - please don't pick fungi in the wild - leave them to disperse their spores and play their part in their natural habitat.


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The fruits of autumn at Kew Gardens

By: Anthony Hall - 17 Oct 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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Kew's 'Old Lions' celebrate 250 years

By: Tony Hall - 14 Jun 2012
This year marks 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.
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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 foot print of the building can be seen marked out on the lawn in front of Kew Palace.

Oriental plane (Platanus orientalis)

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. Through 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.

The pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum)

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 old 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.         

The maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)  

The maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)

Chi chis growing on Kew's old Ginkgo

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 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'!

The black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia)

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)

The Caucasian elm (Zelkova carpinifolia)

- Tony -


Find out more about the 'Old Lions' 

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Visiting botanic gardens in the southern hemisphere

By: Anthony Hall - 22 May 2012
With the weather being so unseasonably cold in the UK recently, I thought I'd share with you some botanical warmth down under with the highlights of botanic gardens in Sydney, Perth and Singapore.
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I have just returned from a trip to Australia and Singapore visiting some of the botanic gardens in those countries. With the weather being so unseasonably cold in the UK this month, I thought you might enjoy seeing a bit of sun in some other gardens! If you visit these countries yourselves you will also be able to see what there is to look forward to botanically. 

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney & the Domain

The  Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney & the Domain covers 30 hectares (74 acres) and is in the heart of the city, close to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, with the central business district towering above its eastern side.    

Photo:The Fernery at Sydney Botanic Gardens.

The Fernery, Sydney Botanic Gardens

The Fernery is a wonderful area, with a great display of ferns growing under a metal framed shade house. With glimpses through the roof of towering buildings showing just how close it is to the city. I liked the easy to follow signage and inclusion of walking times.

Photo: Sydney sign post

Sign post with indication of walking times 

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah

There are two other gardens attached the the Botanic garden. Mount Annan south west of Sydney and Mount Tomah in the Blue mountains. I only had time to visit one of these so decided to visit Mount Tomah, At 1000 metres above sea level, and in the Blue mountains, this cool climate garden is able to grow plants that are not suited to Sydney's climate. Most succulents enjoy high daytime temperatures, but like cool evenings, so do well here, as do many other trees and shrubs needing cooler conditions. Great plants and great views into the Blue mountains.

Photo: Views of the Blue Mountains from Mount Tomah     Photo: Gardens at Mount Tomah

Left: The Blue mountains seen from Mount Tomah, and right: Succulent gardens at Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens 

Kings Park and Botanic Garden

Kings Park and Botanic Garden with a total area of just over 400 hectares (988 acres), is in Perth, WA.  Like Sydney, it is close to the city and provides wonderful views of the Swan river and the Darling range. The Banksia Garden was a favorite of mine, as I had seen a lot of these on my travels in Australia.

Photo: Kings Park Botanic Garden mosiac

Kings Park mosaic

 Almost two thirds of the park (267 hectares) are natural bushland with 319 native species growing there and a great raised boardwalk taking you through some parts of the park.

Photo: Baobab tree with view across the Swan river   Photo: Bushland board walk

Image left: Baobab with views across the Swan river, and right: Raised walkway through bushland, Kings Park

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Finally to Singapore Botanic Gardens, which is under the new directorship of Dr Nigel Taylor, the ex-Curator of Kew Gardens. The original botanical garden established in 1822 by Sir Stamford Raffles was short lived and closed after his death in 1829. It re-opened at its present site in 1859.

Photo: Entrance to Singapore Botanic Gardens     Photo: Water feature in the orchid garden

Image left: Singapore Botanic Gardens main entrance and right: A water feature in the orchid garden 

This is a truly tropical garden, with amazing orchids and huge trees, like the Kapok below covered with ferns. It has 6 hectares of original rain forest with 314 species of ferns, climbers, shrubs and trees, some over 40 metres tall towering above the forest floor. Again, it has a raised walkway to make passage through the gardens easier.

Photo: Rainforest fig

Strangler fig in Singapore rain forest

Photo: Kapok tree

Big Kapok tree with buttresses and birds nest ferns

There is also an amazing new garden being built in Singapore called the Gardens by the Bay. We were given a sneak preview prior to the official opening in June. It boasts two iconic conservatories: the Flower Dome with it's cool Mediterranean climate and the Cloud Forest, with a 35 metre waterfall and over 130.000 plants. The Supertrees Grove towers 50 metres high and certainly has an impact.  There are also lots of  themed gardens.             

Photos: Gardens by the Bay houses    Photo: Chinese themed garden

Image left: View showing new glasshouses and supertrees, and right: The Chinese garden, Gardens by the Bay 

All great gardens and well worth a visit if you're ever passing through this part of the world.

- Tony -

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The Arboretum team blog includes stories about individual plants growing at Kew, information about the growing techniques that we use, and reports on our field trips to see woody plants growing in their natural habitats. You can also find out how we look after Kew's renowned world plant collections.

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