Trees of the Botanic Garden

Our trees provide a framework around which the other elements of the Garden have evolved. Follow this trail around the western half of the Garden to discover the major tree families and the characteristics that make them unique.

By Cambridge University Botanic Garden

This trail starts by dropping you in front of one of the most outstanding features of the Garden. Use the Streetview arrows to explore your surroundings and then zoom into the unique features of the trees found in the first family- Juglandaceae.

Juglandaceae

This stand of Caucasian Wingnut  is one of the most outstanding features of the Garden. Originally it consisted of two trees, but it is now an immense thicket of suckers. 

Pterocarya fraxinifolia (2016-06-28) Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Pterocarya fraxinifolia (Caucasian wingnut)

Pendant, green plaited catkins elongate in July before developing winged fruits.

Pterocarya fraxinifolia fruit

Some liken the fruit to small elephants showing the ears and trunk.

After walking through the woodland garden, the Sapindaceae family is encountered next. Trees here have large fan shaped leaves made up of leaflets radiating out from a central point like a star.

Sapindaceae

This family includes Maples and Horse chestnuts.

Aesculus indica (2013-06-24) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Aesculus indica

The Indian Horse Chesnut is a spectacular sight in early summer. The flowers have yellow centres until they have been pollinated, at which point they turn pink. Pollinating bees carry off its brick red pollen on their hind legs.

Passing the old main gate to the Garden, you will encounter the Malvaceae family. Use Streetview to explore the Lime trees in this family, leaves of which inspired the logo for the Garden. The European Lime next to the old gate was planted in November 1846 by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, to mark the opening of the Botanic Garden on this site.

Malvaceae

Lime trees were formerly in their own family (Tiliaceae), but DNA evidence shows that they belong to the Mallow family instead which includes many herbs and shrubs such as Hibiscus and Cotton, and trees such as Cocoa.

Tilia tomentosa (2018-11-14) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Tilia tomentosa

The silver lime from south-east Europe has flowers with rich nectar and honeybees make a pale green honey from it in summer. Spectacular autumn colour is revealed as the days get shorter. 

Tilia tomentosa (2019-08-08) by Kate Dawson Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Tilia tomentosa

Leaves of all Tilia species are heart-shaped and asymmetrical at the base. Pea-like fruit hang from a green ribbon-like bract. The leaves of this Silver Lime from south-east Europe, rustle in the wind, revealing their silvery undersides putting on a magical show.

Our next stop is at the Ulmaceae family, home of the magestic Elm trees. Unfortunately, Dutch Elm Disease caused by a fungus spread by Elm Bark Beetles, resulted in more than 25 million Elm trees dying in the UK since the 60s when the disease entered the country. Very few native mature Elm trees remain in the UK today, though Cambridgeshire still boasts a number of spectacular specimens that have managed to escape the effects of the disease. A notable tree, 35 m tall, still prospers in the grounds of Queen's College in Cambridge and can be seen from Queen's Green.

Ulmaceae

This is a family composed of shrubs and trees including Elms and Zelkova, all of which have sticky substances in their leaves and bark. 

Zelkova carpinifolia (2018-03-26) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Zelkova carpinifolia

The Caucasian Elm is an elegant tree valued for its goblet shape and attractive leaves, which are elegantly and regularly toothed. The foliage turns a rich copper colour in autumn. Zelkova trees are often more resistant to Dutch Elm Disease than the native Elm species.

Now we encounter a familiar family to those interested in silk production. The Moraceae family includes the mulberries, commercially important food plants for caterpillars of the silkworm.

Moraceae

In addition to the mulberries, this family includes well-known plants such as fig, bread fruit and jack fruit.

Maclura pomifera (2012-11-08) Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Maclura pomifera

The Osage Orange is one of the most unusual members of this family. The tree bears strange orange-sized fruit, a lurid neon green in colour, high up in the tree.

Maclura pomifera (2018-11-05) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Maclura pomifera fruit

In autumn the ground below this tree becomes littered with these large, green, deeply wrinkled tennis balls.

Maclura pomifera (2012-11-08) Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Pickled Gardener's brains

Our horticultural staff's affectionate label. Perhaps you can come up with another name?

Arriving at the south western side of the Garden we now encounter the Oleaceae family which includes the well known Olive tree, though we don't hold any specimens of this species here.

Oleaceae

Plants in this family have numerous scented flowers and trees are often used to produce hardwood timber. 

Fraxinus pennsylvanica (2006-08-10) Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Fraxinus pennsylvanica

Green ash grows quickly and tolerates pollution and road salt so it used to be a popular street tree in North America. However it is susceptible to damage from the Emerald Ash borer beetle and its planting across the USA, assisted in the spread of this pest species.

As you come round the bend, your pass may seem obstructed by a tree with low hanging branches. You have reached the Hamamelidaceae family, more commonly known as the Witch-hazels.

Hamamelidaceae

The Witch-hazel family were widely distributed in the northern hemisphere until around 2.5 million years ago , when glaciation restricted them to areas around the equator.

Parrotia persica (2010-06-23) Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Parrotia persica

This Persian Ironwood displays ornately tangled branches, some of which have fused together over time to create an intricate lattice. It grows slowly- this specimen was planted in the 1880s- and its wood is so dense that it sinks in water.

Parrotia persica (2017-03-01) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Winter flowers

In addition to spectacular autumn colour before the leaves are lost, this tree produces these beautifully delicate flowers in late winter, early spring, sure to cheer the spirits when it is cold and dark.

As you continue in an easterly direction along the southern boundary of the Garden, the Rosaceae family starts to come into view on your right. This family includes many economically important species such as apples, plums, raspberries and almonds.

Do you notice anything unusual?

Legend has it that a gardener was once bricked up inside of this Wild Pear, but the truth is less exciting: a branch split from the trunk in the 1960s and the wound was filled with bricks and covered in tar, following arboricultural practices of the time.

Pyrus communis (2019-04-08) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Pyrus communis

Our bricked up Wild Pear looks lovely in spring when in full blossom. The tree is gradually growing around the bricks and encasing them. This treatment for branch loss is no longer recommended.

Now we encounter a whole different type of tree. Those that have needle shaped rather than broad leaves. The Pinaceae family includes cedars, firs, larches, pines and spruces.

Pinaceae

This grove of majestic trees consists mostly of different types of Black Pine which held a special place in the heart of the Garden's founder, John Stevens Henslow. He designed these plantings to show the variation within species.

Pinus nigra (2017-02-22) Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Pinus nigra

Despite being the same species, Black pines from warm climates hold their branches erect, while those from cold areas have sloping branches to allow snow to fall off. This limits the load on their branches and ensures the leaves are free to photosynthesise.

Make your way northwards and you will encounter the eastern side of the glasshouses where a spectacular member of the Fagaceae family is situated.

Fagaceae

The beech family includes the oaks and beeches and many species are commercially useful for timber and several are planted as ornamental trees. 

Quercus suber (2019-06-22) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Quercus suber

This spectacular Cork Oak remains evergreen throughout all but the coldest of Cambridge winters, despite its reputation for poor growth in England.

Quercus suber (2010-06-28) Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Cork

The bark of the cork oak is remarkable. It is thick and spongy and slow to burn, making it ideally adapted to its fire prone native range. It also has the unusual property of not expanding sideways when squashed, making it easy to push a wine cork into a bottle.

No tree trail in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden would be complete without visiting at least one of our spectacular Magnolias.

Magnoliaceae

It is thought that the first flower to have evolved was similar in appearance to the Magnolia flower, which is  often pollinated by beetles.

Magnolia soulangeana (2005-04-19) Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Magnolia x soulangeana

The flowers of this family appear in fossils dating back to 95 million years ago, which predates the evolution of bees. The flowers are thought to have evolved to encourage pollination by beetles, while the fleshy , brightly coloured seeds are dispersed by birds.

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