Arboretum team blog
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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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Fruits and leaves of autumn

By: Tony Hall - 04 Nov 2011
Tony Hall shares his favourite fruits and leaves from this autumn's show.
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Luscious leaves

Trees display an array of vibrant colours at this time of year. Here's my pick of some of the best to look out for:

Vitis leaves         Maple leaves

Images: Vitis leaves (left); maple leaves (right)

Diospyros leaves          Parrotia leaves

Images: Diospyros leaves (left), Parrotia leaves (right)

Quercus coccinea leaves         Psuedolarix amabilis

Images: Quercus coccinea leaves (left), the conifer Psuedolarix amabilis (right)

Fabulous fruits

There is a wonderful show of autumn fruits this year: some are edible for us, such as the hazel and sweet chestnuts, but many more are palatable for birds and mammals. I'm sure that for most people, the prime autumn fruit is the blackberry.


Image: Blackberries - a favourite autumn fruit

However, there are many fruits from around the world in our collections and now is the best time to see them. The fruits of the ash, called ‘keys’ because they resemble bunches of keys, the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) whose fruits can be as big as tennis balls, and the smelly fruits of Ginkgo, are just a few to watch out for.

ash keys   Osage orange fruits  Ginkgo fruits

Images: Ash "keys" (top left), Osage orange (top right), Ginkgo biloba fruits (bottom)

Keep an eye out for the Sorbus fruits as well - especially the Kew hybrid with its white and pink contrasting fruits.

Sorbus x kewensis fruits   Sorbus forestii fruits

Images: Sorbus x kewensis fruits (left) and Sorbus forestii fruits (right)

- Tony -

Tags: beautiful

3 comments on 'Fruits and leaves of autumn'

A very strange autumn

By: Tony Kirkham - 21 Oct 2011
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.
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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. 

Ilex (holly) in flower Oct 2011
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
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
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 in fruit  Diospyros lotus in fruit
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
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)

Dead man’s fingers (Decaisnea fargesii)

Strange smells

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

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!). 

Rosa roxburghii
Rosa roxburghii

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 -

Tags: big

0 comments on 'A very strange autumn'

Autumn in the Arboretum

By: Tony Hall - 19 Sep 2011
Autumn is a wonderful time in Kew's Arboretum. Here Tony Hall explains what creates the leaves' fantastic colours and shares some highlights of what you can see now.
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Autumn is a wonderful time in Kew’s Arboretum. Some of the deciduous trees, shrubs and climbers are changing into their autumn hues: wonderful shades of yellows, oranges and bright reds, with many colours in between. The colours can vary from year to year and are down to a number of factors, but mainly to weather and day length. Warm sunny days produce lots of sugars in the leaves and it is these that help produce lots of anthocyanin pigments, which make the red and purple hues. The yellows and oranges are from the carotenoids, another pigment which is always present in the leaves, and so these colours are constant in most years. As the day length shortens the leaves are cut off from the tree by what is called the abscission layer, trapping the sugars in the leaves, and as the chlorophyll disappears we are left with the wonderful autumn leaf colour.

What type of weather makes the best colour?

Warm, wet springs with good summers, late summer sun, and cool autumn nights produce the best colour. With October and November generally being the best months, this year seems a little early as the following photos show. This is possibly due to the hot dry spring we had.

Fraxinus americana 'American Ash'

Fraxinus americana 'American Ash'

Beech leaves  Liquidambar leaves

Images: The coppery tones of beech are always a wonderful sight (left), and the stunning red of Liquidambar (right)

What else to look out for in Autumn

Fungi are also a wonderful sight in the autumn, and grow all over the Arboretum so be sure to look out for them over the next few months too. Here are some that can be seen now.

Puffballs and honey fungus in arboretum  Honey fungus

Images: Puffballs and honey fungus (left) and honey fungus(right)

There are still a few bulbs of the large flowered Colchicum autumnale, which will flower for a few weeks yet, as well as the true autumn crocus (Crocus speciosus) and the lovely small purple flowered cyclamen under some of our mature oaks.

Cyclamen hederifolium under an oak tree
Cyclamen hederifolium under an oak tree

Finally, there's more than just the plants, trees and fungi to see... Ivy is one of the last nectar and pollen sources of the year. On warm autumn days butterflies and bees will cover plants for a final feed.

Bee and comma butterfly feeding

Bee and comma butterfly feeding

- Tony -



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2 comments on 'Autumn in the Arboretum'

Tony visits the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens and mountains of southern Spain

By: Tony Hall - 09 Mar 2011
Follow Tony Hall, Manager of the Arboretum at Kew, on his visit to the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens. See the new rock garden they are creating and look at the wonderful array of wild Narcissus, orchids and spring flowering shrubs in the mountains of southern Spain.
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The Arboretum at Kew Gardens has links and involvement with many botanic gardens around the world. Recently I visited the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens, which I have developed personal links with over the last ten years. When I'm out there I often research Mediterranean plants in their natural habitat and take part in seed collecting trips for Kew' s plant collections.

Gates of Gibraltar botanic garden   Map of Gibraltar Botanic Gardens

Entrance to Gibraltar Botanic Gardens and a mosaic map

The Gibraltar Botanic Garden has recently recruited a new plant propagator, Chris, who has just returned back to Gibraltar from Kew. Whilst here at Kew she shadowed some of the propagators, including Andrew Luke who runs the woody plant nursery in the Arboretum. The changes Chris has made in the nursery since my last visit to Gibraltar are already plain to see. I took some seed and plant material over with me for their collections and use in the new rock garden they are creating.

The new Rock Garden

Building the new rock garden

I also took the time to drop into the gardens to catch up with friends; the Director John Cortes, Jon Hammerton who moved from Kew's Arboricultural Unit to the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens three years ago, and I was also joined for a day in the field by Keith Bensusan, who is in charge of research and collections there.

Friends at Gibraltar Botanic Gardens

Keith, Chris and Jon behind-the-scenes at the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens

Viewing species in the Gardens

During my recent trip I was mainly looking at wild Narcissus which are a great interest of mine.

Narcissus jonquilla in the wild   Narcissus cuatrecasasii in the wild

Narcissus in the wild - Left: Narcissus jonquilla Right: Narcissus cuatrecasasii

The weather was great, dry and sunny, and apart from the seven species of Narcissus I saw, there were some early orchids and sand crocus (Romulea clusiana) too.

Barlia robertiana in flower   Romulea clusiana in flower

Left: Barlia robertiana in flower, Right: Romulea clusiana in flower

I also saw heathers and many legumes out in flower, including the wonderful honey scented Coronilla valentina.

Coronilla veluntina in flower

Coronilla veluntina in flower

Many of the plants collected from Gibraltar and Spain can be seen growing in Kew's Mediterranean Garden.

- Tony -

2 comments on 'Tony visits the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens and mountains of southern Spain'

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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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