Kew's 'Old Lions' celebrate 250 years
By: Tony Hall - 14/06/2012
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.
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)
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 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)
Chi chis growing on Kew's old Ginkgo
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)
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'
- maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)
- pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum)
- black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
- Caucasian elm (Zelkova carpinifolia)
- oriental plane (Platanus orientalis)
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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