Two of RBGE’s oldest trees in battle for Tree of the Year title

The Edinburgh Garden’s 200-year-oldand a Giant Redwood in the avenue at Benmore have won through to the final of Scotland’s Tree of the Year competition. Staff at both Gardens are hoping their tree will beat off competition from the other five finalists by winning the most public support.

Scottish Tree of the Year is an annual search for the nation’s best-loved tree, organised by the Woodland Trust Scotland and supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The winning tree is decided by online voting which takes place through the Woodland Trust’s website until Monday 12 October. 

The Sabal is the oldest known plant in the collection at the Botanics. Residing in the Tropical Palm House, it is one of only two remaining plant specimens which grew first in the Leith Walk Botanic Garden, RBGE’s previous site, and transported by horse to its new home at Inverleith in 1822.

When it first arrived at Inverleith the Sabal spent the first 13 years in a lean-to glasshouse but it suffered from lack of space and in 1835 it was moved to the Octagonal Palm House, now the Tropical Palm House, which had been constructed the previous year.

When the Temperate Palm House opened in 1858 the Sabal and other palms were moved into the new house. At this time it was estimated that the Sabal and its rootball weighed seven or eight tons. In 1874 the Sabal was moved back to the Tropical Palm House where it remains today.

The Sabal Palm or bibby tree, as it is known on its native island of Bermuda, is now under threat in the wild from introduced, faster-growing oriental plants.

David Knott, Curator of the Living Collection at RBGE commented: “In this the year when RBGE finally completes the move from Leith Walk with the reconstruction of the Botanics Cottage as a centre for learning and community engagement it is fitting that the last surviving plant from this move and one of the oldest living specimens cultivated in the Garden the Sabal Palm, Sabal bermudana has been shortlisted for this award. There are very few plants in the Gardens that have such an impressive history and pedigree stretching back over 200 years.’’

The avenue of Giant Redwoods at Benmore Botanic Garden is thought by many to be the best entrance to any botanic garden in the world.

The majestic Sequoiadendron giganteum at Benmore stand 50 metres tall. In autumn 2013 over 1,500 people attended “Glowing Giants’’, a light show to celebrate the avenue’s 150th anniversary.

The story behind how Sequoiadendron giganteum first reached British shores is entwined in the telling of a particular period of our history. It involves a competitive race to cultivate this remarkable tree and it is tied up with the California Gold Rush. The man credited with introducing it to Britain is the Scot, Patrick Matthew (1790-1874). With three of his sons involved in the Gold Rush, Matthew took advantage of the situation and requested seeds be sent home by steam packet, so narrowly stealing the glory from the famous Exeter nursery, Veitch. Although it isn’t known for certain, it seems likely that the Redwood Avenue grew from the seeds of one of these two collections.

Curator at Benmore, Peter Baxter commented: “Our Giant Redwood is part of an historic avenue that has become an immediately recognisable feature of the Garden. When the trees were planted in 1863 the American Civil War was at its height and Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire

Carol Evans, director of the Woodland Trust Scotland, said: “Tree of the Year is all about finding trees with amazing stories to tell that can bring people together.

“It’s fantastic that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are lending their support to this unique celebration of Scotland’s best loved trees. All of the shortlisted entries are inspiring through their links to natural and cultural heritage, and I’m sure it will be a close run vote this year.”

The winner of Scottish Tree of the Year will go on to compete in the European Tree of the Year 2016 against trees from 15 other countries including France, Estonia and Germany.

To vote for your favourite tree in Scottish Tree of the Year visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/treeoftheyear

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)