Tree species are amazingly diverse, ranging from those that tower hundreds of feet into the sky to those that can live for 10,000 years; from species that live submerged in water for large parts of their lives to others than can survive desert conditions.
The importance of trees
There are thought to be between 60,000 and 80,000 species of tree in the world. Most of these occur in the tropics, with temperate regions such as the UK being home to only a small percentage of the total.
We depend on trees for many aspects of our lives; as well as continuously providing oxygen and soaking up carbon dioxide, they provide medicines, fibres for clothing, food, dyes, resins, spices, latex, and of course timber for everything from cricket bats to houses.
Trees are home to a wide range of other species of plants and animals and form vital habitats; it has been estimated that 50% of the biodiversity of land-based life on our planet is associated with tree canopies. Today woodland covers nearly 12% of the UK, half of which is deciduous broad-leaved woodland and half coniferous forest. It has been estimated that Britain is home to around 4 billion trees.
Trees at Kew
Kew Gardens contains around 14,000 trees, and our world-renowned Arboretum stretches across most of the Gardens’ 300 acres. It is home to some of the finest specimens of trees from all over the world, containing examples from as far back as the early 18th century to newly planted rarities from recent Kew plant collecting expeditions.
Every specimen is a piece of history in the development of an ever-changing landscape, representing the generations of a great historic tree collection. The collection is often arranged with plants that are related to each other grouped together for comparison and ease of research.
Our famous trees - the Old Lions
Kew’s ‘Old Lions’ are some of the Gardens' few remaining trees with the oldest actual known planting date of 1762. They are: Ginkgo biloba (maidenhair tree), Styphnolobium japonicum (pagoda tree) and Platanus orientalis (oriental plane) to the west of the Princess of Wales Conservatory; Robinia pseudoacacia (false acacia) on the lawn in front of the Orangery; and the Zelkova carpinifolia in the Herbarium paddock.
Some of these trees were brought from a neighbouring estate which belonged to the Duke of Argyll (the uncle of Lord Bute and botanical advisor to Princess Augusta). They became part of a new 5-acre arboretum laid out by William Aiton, which sat next to the Orangery.
A view from the canopy: Kew’s Xstrata Treetop Walkway
Opened in 2008, our 18-metre high Xstrata Treetop Walkway gives you the opportunity to wander high above the ground through the tree canopy of sweet chestnuts, limes and deciduous oaks to discover birds, insects, lichens and fungi that rely on these huge organisms.
The 200 metre-long walkway is a thrilling experience, and also offers a unique bird’s-eye view of the Gardens, as well as the London skyline.
Explore our species profiles: Trees
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