The Oldest Trees in Kew Gardens
Two of Kew’s oldest trees are a locust tree or false acacia, and a maidenhair or ginkgo, both planted in 1762 in the first botanic garden initiated at Kew by Princess Augusta. The locust tree, approaching the end of its natural lifespan, certainly looks its age with several metal bands encircling the decaying trunk. The ginkgo, on the other hand, still has many years to go before it reaches the reputed great age of some specimens planted around Buddhist temples in the Far East, where it is regarded as a sacred tree. Belonging to an ancient plant group which flourished some 200 million years ago, at a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, it has curious tan-shaped deciduous leaves resembling those of a maidenhair fern.
As the male and female flowers are produced on separate trees, both kinds of ginkgo must be planted in close proximity for the oval, yellow fruits to be produced – although some people might argue that it is better to avoid producing the fruits with their evil-smelling fleshy coats. Ginkgos are often planted as street trees in Japan, where care is taken to plant only male trees; but the nut inside the fruit, when roasted, is considered a delicacy in both Japan and China. The large Kew tree is male and, after a female branch was successfully grafted in 1911, it bore fruit until, it is reputed, the branch was inadvertently pruned! There is a female tree in the nursery border near the Tea Bar and, close to the original ginkgo, young specimens have been planted.
Another tree dating from the original botanic garden is a Japanese pagoda tree, which grows near the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Planted in 1761, it is long past its best and, having developed a prostrate habit, it has to be propped up in several places. Because it was suffering some decay, part of the main trunk was filled in by tree surgeons and, where a crack developed between the filling and the trunk, a delightful pair of Blue Tits managed to squeeze through to make their nest inside.