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National Southern Beech Collection (Coates’ Wood)

Wakehurst's National Collection of southern beeches (Nothofagus) is located within Coates' Wood, roughly to the north of the Main Gate and Visitor Centre.

Did you know?

  • Chile contains 5,000 native plant species (compared to 1,400 in the British Isles). Around half of these are endemic (not found in the wild anywhere else).
  • Botanists classify trees as being over three or four metres tall with a single clear woody stem that lasts for years and with a branched crown. Shrubs, on the other hand, have a characteristic tangle of branches and no discernible central stem.

What is a National Collection?

Loss of variety within horticulture in the 1970s led to the foundation of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG). The Council set out to conserve the rich garden flora of the British Isles by forming ‘national plant collections’. The idea is that each collection is as complete a representation of a genus or section of a genus as possible, incorporating both species and cultivars. Today, there are some 650 National Plant Collections representing around 350 genera ((Ed – I checked these figs are current with the NCCPG)). Wakehurst Place holds four National Collections.

About southern beeches

Nothofagus is a genus of around 35 species of trees and shrubs. The continents of South America, Africa, Antarctica and Australasia were at one time one great landmass called Gondwanaland. At this time, forest of southern beech extended right across the continent. Today, beeches occur as remnants of this former range in Australia, New Zealand and South America. The name Nothofagus actually means false beech, but Notofagus, meaning southern beech might have been more correct. Enthusiasts of the genus pronounce the Latin name this way.

Things to look out for

The southern beeches planted in Coates’ Wood represent a Southern Hemisphere temperate rainforest from Chile and Argentina. Different types of southern beech on display include specimens of Antarctic beech (Nothofagus antarcticus) and hualo (N. glauca) from Chile, along with the red beech (N. fusca) and black beech (N. solandri) from New Zealand. The hualo (this is the Mapuche Indian name), is a deciduous species with papery bark. Its range is now restricted to forests near Constitucion around Chile’s River Maule.

Another rare beech in the collection is Nothofagus glauca, which has an attractive, peeling, varicoloured bark. Its claim to fame is that it is the ‘champion tree’ of its species, on account of The Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI). There are also some young specimens close by, all planted from seed collected in the tree’s native habitat, now restricted to a remote valley in northern Chile.