The unusual fruits of this plant look so much like pine cones that it was originally misidentified as a pine. Now it is known to be part of the walnut family, but it is a bit of a black sheep, being all alone in the Platycarya genus.
About Kew's platycarya trees
These trees are rarely seen in Britain but we have five specimens at Kew Gardens. These are mostly grouped with other members of the walnut family near the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway. The one exception is a Korean specimen collected from the wild by Kew's Head of the Arboretum, Tony Kirkham, in 1994.
In cultivation, just a few individuals often give rise to most, if not all, specimens that end up in people's gardens – so for genetic diversity and to seek out new varieties, wild collecting is important.
Take a closer look
- Don't miss the unusual flowers of this tree in spring. Male catkins are erect and grouped around the female part which looks more like a cone. The whole assembly smells like apples.
- All members of the family have large, aromatic leaves. Only some – and not this species – produce edible nuts.
Although it is not a common sight outside of its native habitat, this species it is an attractive tree where it can be grown. It can tolerate some cold but is not happy if temperatures drop below -12°C. While it fruits regularly in its native China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea, it does so less often in Britain, although hot summers can bring about a bumper crop. Kew's young plant near the Treetop Walkway, however, fruits most years.
Platycarya trees can grow to about 12 m but are often smaller and more of a large shrub, where conditions are not ideal.
Cultivation and uses
Both the fruit and the bark of Platycarya strobilacea are used as dyes to colour cloth and nets. The bark contains tannins, which also help preserve the nets. The wood is a good fuel, and the root in particular burns with an attractive smell. It has been used historically in baths for this reason. The youngest leaves are edible if you have no alternative – they are generally not eaten except in cases of emergency.
- Scientific name: Platycarya strobilacea. At one point this species had the name Fortunaea chinensis after it was misidentified as a pine because of its unusual inedible fruits that look more like cones than nuts.
- Family: Juglandaceae
- Place of origin: Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China.
- Conservation status: Least Concern
- Date planted: 1994
- Height: 8 m