Category: Feature plants

My wife and I had Sunday lunch at a pub (‘The Trout and Tipple’) in Tavistock, Devon a couple of months ago. It was hot and sunny, so we decided to sit outside in a secluded courtyard…with its own magnificent Gunnera plant providing us with some welcome shade.I was amazed by the close up of the leaf structure, which resembles an aerial shot of an urban landscape…

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Old School Gardener

Washingtonia robusta in the National Garden, Athens, Greece

Washingtonia robusta in the National Garden, Athens, Greece

Whilst there are a few trees with common names beginning with ‘W’ (e.g. Whitebeam, Willow) the choice on botanical names is once more limited. So you could argue that my choice is really a large (very large), grass rather than a tree, and a bit of a rarity in the U.K. But as the Washingtonia palm can be grown as an ornamental garden tree, I think I might just get away with it…

Common name: Named after George Washington, there are two species:

  • Washingtonia filifera, known also as California Washingtonia, Northern Washingtonia, California fan palm, or Desert fan palm.

  • Washingtonia robusta also known as Mexican Washingtonia, Southern Washingtonia or Thread Palm.

Native areas: Washingtonia is a genus of palms, native to the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico Both Washingtonia species are commonly cultivated across the southern USA, Middle East, southern Europe and north Africa, where they have greatly hybridized. The filifera species is also attempted in cooler climates, including the milder parts of the southern British Isles.

Washingtonia in a natural setting by Jim Harper

Washingtonia in a natural setting by Jim Harper

Historical notes: There is a persistent myth that these palms were brought to the Americas by the ancient Egyptians and their seeds were distributed in the waterways of the Western Californian area. The fruit of the Washingtonia was eaten raw, cooked, or ground into flour for cakes by native Americans. The Cahuilla and related tribes used the leaves to make sandals, thatch roofs, and baskets. The stems were used to make cooking utensils. The Moapa band of Paiutes as well as other Southern Paiutes have written memories of using this palm’s seed, fruit or leaves for various purposes including starvation food.

Features:  They are fan palms, with the leaves with a bare petiole terminating in a rounded fan of numerous leaflets. The flowers are in a dense inflorescence, with the fruits maturing into a small blackish-brown drupe 6–10 mm diameter with a thin layer of sweet flesh over the single seed. W. filifera can grow to around 23 metres tall, whilst robusta gets up to 25 metres. W. filifera has white flowers and large leaves and robusta pale orange-pink flowers, smaller leaves and narrower trunk. The fruit are eaten by birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings after digesting the fruit pulp.

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Uses: Both species are cultivated as ornamental trees, as specimens, or more often in groups along side roads, in parks and other such open spaces. W. robusta is suitable for coastal gardens.

Growing conditions:  W. filifera is very hardy in a dry climate and able to survive brief temperatures in the vicinity of -15 °C (5 °F), provided the air and soil are not too wet, and the afternoon temperatures are not too cold. Intolerance of wet, prolonged cold is the main reason the filifera species cannot grow properly in temperate marine climates. W. robusta is less sensitive to moisture than filifera, grows faster, but is far more easily damaged by cold. Grow outside in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun.

Further information:


Old School Gardener

vitexI’m getting close to the end of the alphabet, and it doesn’t get any easier…so today’s feature tree (or large shrub), is the interestingly named Vitex agnus – castus…

Common name:  Vitex, Chaste Tree, chasteberry, Abraham’s balm, lilac chastetree, or monk’s pepper.

Native areas: Vitex agnus-castus is a native of the Mediterranean region and China. It is one of the few temperate-zone species of Vitex, which is on the whole a genus of tropical and sub-tropical flowering plants. It has a long history in the U.S.A. where it was first cultivated in 1670, and since that time it has become naturalized throughout the Southern part of the country. Many southerners use it as a replacement for lilacs, which don’t tolerate hot summers.

Historical notes: : Theophrastus mentioned Vitex as agnos (άγνος) in ‘Enquiry into Plants’. Vitex, its name in Pliny the Elder, is derived from the latin vieo, meaning to weave or to tie up, a reference to the use of Vitex agnus-castus in basketry. Its specific name repeats “chaste” in both Greek and Latin, and was considered to be sacred to the goddess Hestia/Vesta. In folk legends the tree is associated with Greek hagnos, ‘pure’, since it was strewn in bedchambers during Thesmophoria, the Greek religious festival when Athenian women left their husbands’ beds to remain ritually chaste-   “to cool the heat of lust”. At the end of the thirteenth century John Trevisa reports “the herbe agnus-castus is always grene, and the flowre therof is namly callyd Agnus Castus, for wyth smel and vse it maketh men chaste as a lombe”. More recently, this plant has been called monk’s pepper in the thought that it was used as anti-libido medicine by monks to aid their attempts to remain chaste. There are disputed accounts regarding its actual action on libido, with some claims that it is anaphrodisiac and others that it is aphrodisiac. Because of it’s  complex chemical action it can be probably be both, depending on the concentration of the extract and physiological variables. Today, Vitex agnus-castus is used to alleviate the symptoms of various gynaecological problems.

Features: Vitex blooms from late spring until early autumn with long, upright spikes of butterfly- attracting pink, lilac and white flowers (depending on variety) in late summer in cooler climates. It also has delicate-textured aromatic foliage. It develops small hard berries that ripen to a dark colour and look like peppercorns. It grows to a height of 1–5 metres.

Uses:   Whether left to grow as a large, multistemmed shrub, pruned to a standard tree or cut back annually for a more compact look, this selection is a winner. Fine, lacy leaves are glossy and green. Bright blue flower panicles begin to form in early summer and continue through the heat of the season and into autumn. This is a reasonably cold-hardy, deer-resistant woody plant. Vitex, also a traditional plant in Africa, is a little-known fruit plant that has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.

Growing conditions:   It requires full sun or partial shade along with well-drained soil. It’s best not to plant them in soil that is rich in organic matter because these soils hold too much moisture close to the roots. Chaste trees do very well in dry gardens. Under ideal conditions it is hardy to -10 degrees Fahrenheit and will grow in South West England (and possibly in suitable micro-climates and sheltered parts of gardens eleswhere) and the more temperate zones of north America. Wildlife shuns the seeds, and it’s just as well because you’ll have to remove the flower spikes before they go to seed to keep the plant flowering. You’ll need to prune annually to control the shape and size and encourage branching.

Further information:


How to grow Vitex (U.S.A.)

Vitex agnus-castus- The British Gardener

Old School Gardener

Camperdown Elm in Leamington, Ontario, Canada. Picture: jim5870

Camperdown Elm in Leamington, Ontario, Canada. Picture: jim5870

As we come to the end of this A-Z the options open become rather constrained; so today I’ve chosen a neat and compact variety of the Wych Elm, which can also be resistant to Dutch Elm disease.

Common name:  Camperdown Elm

Native areas: Ulmus glabra (Wych elm or Scots elm), the parent of this variety, has the widest range of the European elm species, from Ireland eastwards to the Urals, and from the Arctic Circle south to the mountains of Greece; it is also found in Iran. The tree was by far the most common elm in the north and west of the British Isles and is now acknowledged as the only indisputably British native elm species.

The original sport in Camperdown Park, Dundee. Picture: Peter Bourne

The original sport in Camperdown Park, Dundee. Picture: Peter Bourne

Historical notes: About 1835–1840, the Earl of Camperdown’s head forester, David Taylor, discovered a young contorted elm tree (a sport) growing in the forest at Camperdown House, in Dundee, Scotland. The young tree was lifted and replanted within the gardens Camperdown House where it still remains to this day. The original tree is less than 3 m tall, with a dramatic weeping habit and contorted branch structure and grows on its own roots. The earl’s gardener is said to have produced the first of what are commonly recognised as Camperdown elms by grafting it to the trunk of a Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra). Every ‘Camperdownii’ is descended (as cuttings taken from that original sport) and usually grafted on a Wych elm trunk.  Other grafting stock has been used. In Dundee, Scotland, there are two well established Camperdownii Elms at the gated entrance to a private residence on Constitution Terrace. Both trees have grown so they intertwine with each other and create the illusion of one tree in the summer months. The tree is likely to have been cultivated around 1850, the same age as the Victorian mansion situated in the grounds which was built around 1850. 

Ulmus_glabra_Camperdownii in Québec-Coulonges. Picture: Gilbert Bochenek

Features: The grafted Camperdown Elm slowly develops a broad, flat head that may eventually build as high as 4 m (13 feet) and an incommensurately wide crown with a contorted, weeping habit. The tree is often confused with the much taller ‘Horizontalis’ (Weeping Wych elm) owing to both being given the epithet ‘Pendula’ at some stage. It does not reproduce from seed. Neat and compact, it produces clusters of attractive hop-like flowers in the spring and its lustrous leaves add to its overall effect.

Uses:   Camperdown Elms satisfied a mid-Victorian passion for curiosities in the ‘Gardenesque’ gardens then in vogue. Many examples were planted, as ‘rarities’, in Britain and America, wherever elite gardens were extensive enough for tree collections. There are many on university campuses, often planted as memorials. Camperdown Elms are used in stately landscaping of American university campuses and others feature in townscapes. A small weeping tree with a dome shaped head, it looks good growing  as a specimen in a lawn in parks and gardens.

Growing conditions:  Camperdown Elm is cold hardy, suffering more from summer drought than winter cold. ‘Camperdownii’ can be susceptible to Dutch Elm disease, however there are still many examples to be found in parks and gardens across the British Isles as it often avoids detection by the Scolytae beetle (a major vector of Dutch Elm Disease) because of its diminutive height. Grow in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerant of light shade. Prefers rich, moist loams. Adapts to both wet and dry sites. Generally tolerant of urban conditions. Non-suckering. 

Further information:


Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’– Missouri Botanical Garden

Old School Gardener

Trees and shrubs stand up well for viewing from a distance through seasons and year after year. Many reward you with flower, foliage, hips and bark interest…here are a few to think about.

Cornus controversa 'Variegata'

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

Wedding Cake Tree (Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’)- tiered growth, flat heads of white summer flowers and vivid autumn leaves.


Acer_rubrum_'Scanlon' - autumn leaves

Acer_rubrum_’Scanlon’ – autumn leaves

Red Maple (Acer rubrum ‘Scanlon’) – slow growing tree with dense, conical crown and glowing autumn colour.


Prunus serrula - bark

Prunus serrula – bark

Birchbark Cherry (Prunus serrula) – peeling trunk and branches show gleaming red-brown new bark, which is particularly good in winter.


Rosa moyesii- flowers

Rosa moyesii- flowers

Shrub Rose (Rosa moyesii) – tall shrub with red single flowers all summer and shiny scarlet flask-shaped hips to follow.


Fuchsia magellanica- flower

Fuchsia magellanica- flower

Fuchsia magellanica – bushy shrub with a profuse show of dangling crimson and purple flowers from midsummer to October.


Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’

Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’) – feathery plumes of pink flowers in July and deep purple leaves lightening to red in autumn.


Cercis siliquastrum - flowers

Cercis siliquastrum – flowers

Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) – pink spring flowers followed by heart-shaped leaves flushed red at first, then yellow in autumn. I also have Cercis s. ‘Forest Pansy’ here in Old School Garden– the leaves turn lovely shades of crimson and magenta in the autumn.

Source: ‘Good Ideas for your Garden’- Reader’s Digest (1995)

Old School Gardener


1YC9C3UYXThis exotic looking palm is pretty tolerant of cold, and has lovely fan foliage – a good choice if you want to bring a touch of the ‘exotic’ to the garden.

Common name:  Chinese Windmill Palm, Windmill Palm or Chusan Palm

Native areas: Central China (Hubei southwards), southern Japan (Kyushu), south to northern Burma and northern India, growing at altitudes of 100–2,400 metres

Historical notes: Trachycarpus fortunei has been cultivated in China and Japan for thousands of years, for its coarse but very strong leaf sheath fibre, used for making rope, sacks, and other coarse cloth where great strength is important. The species was brought from Japan to Europe by the German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold in 1830. The common name refers to Chusan Island (now Zhousan Island), where Robert Fortune first saw cultivated specimens of the species. In 1849, Fortune smuggled Windmill palm plants from China to the Kew Horticultural Gardens and the Royal garden of Prince Albert. The Windmill Palm was later named Trachycarpus fortunei, after him. RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2002.

Features: Trachycarpus fortunei is slow growing but can grow to 12–20 m tall on a single stem, the diameter of which is up to 15–30 centimetres. The trunk is very rough with the persistent leaf bases clasping the stem as layers of coarse fibrous material. It is a fan palm with the leaves with the long petiole bare except for two rows of small spines, terminating in a rounded fan of numerous leaflets; each leaf is 140–190 centimetres long, with the petiole 60–100 centimetres long, and the leaflets up to 90 centimetres long. It is a somewhat variable plant, especially as regards its general appearance and some specimens are to be seen with leaf segments having straight and others having drooping tips. The flowers are yellow (male) and greenish (female), about 2–4 millimetres across, borne in large branched panicles up to 1 metre long in spring; it is dioecious, with male and female flowers produced on separate trees. The fruit is a yellow to blue-black, kidney-shaped drupe 10–12 millimetres long, ripening in mid autumn.

Uses:   Trachycarpus fortunei is cultivated as a trunking palm in gardens and parks throughout the world in warm temperate and subtropical climates. Its tolerance of cool summers and cold winters makes it highly valued by palm enthusiasts, landscape designers and gardeners. Chusan Palms make attractive garden focal points, and look good alongside other exotic plants such as Cordyline australis, the New Zealand cabbage palm and the semi-hardy banana, Musa basjoo. Large-leafed plants such as cannas or bamboos also work well. Although usually grown as a solitary plant, the impact is greater with a clump of three or more.

Growing conditions:  It can be grown successfully in such cool and damp but relatively winter-mild locales as Scotland, Southern New England, Long Island, and British Columbia, Canada, as well as in warm temperate climates in parts of the United States, Europe (predominantly UK, France and Germany), New Zealand, and Asia. It does not grow well in very hot climates. It will grow in most soils as long as they are well drained and ideally needs a sheltered position, out of full sun.

Chusan Palms at Vancouver, Canada. Pic by Keepitsurreal

Chusan Palms at Vancouver, Canada. Pic by Keepitsurreal

Further information:


RHS- Trachycarpus fortunei

How to Grow : Chusan Palm- Daily Telegraph

Barcham Trees Directory- Trachycarpus fortune

Trachycarpus fortunei in the Exotic Garden, Norwich

Choosing a Palm

Old School Gardener

1280px-Rowan_tree_20081002b by Eeno11This wonderful tree, native to the U.K., is often associated with Scotland. It certainly suits bird life as the profuse red autumn berries provide a lot of autumnal sustenance. As they are not regular in shape,  the parent Rowan can be grown as a multi-stemmed specimen to achieve more uniformity of shape, or alternatively one of it’s clones, such as Sorbus aucuparia ‘Rossica Major’ can be used.

Common name: Rowan , Mountain Ash (due to the fact that it grows well at high altitudes and its leaves are similar to those of the ash, Fraxinus excelsior – however, the two species are not related). It’s latin name is composed of Sorbus for ‘service tree’ and aucuparia, which derives from the words ‘avis’ for “bird” and ‘capere’ for “catching” and describes the use of the fruit of S. aucuparia as bait for fowling. 

Native areas: The Rowan can be found in almost all of Europe and the Caucasus up to Northern Russia and Siberia, but it is not native to Southern Spain, Southern Greece, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, the Azores, and the Faroe Islands. The species was introduced as an ornamental species in North America.

Historical notes: Fruit of S. aucuparia were used in the past to lure and catch birds. To humans, the fruit are bitter but they can be debittered and made into compote, jelly, jam, a tangy syrup, a tart chutney, or juice, as well as wine and liqueur, or used for tea or to make flour. The robust qualities of S. aucuparia make it a source for fruit in harsh mountain climate and Maria Theresa of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy recommended the planting of the species in 1779.

The colour red was considered to be the best colour for fighting evil, and so the rowan, with its bright red berries, has long been associated with magic and witches. Its old Celtic name is ‘fid na ndruad’, which means wizards’ tree. In Ireland it was planted near houses to protect them against spirits, and in Wales rowan trees were planted in churchyards. Cutting down a rowan was considered taboo in Scotland. The wood was used for stirring milk to prevent it curdling, and as a pocket charm against rheumatism. It was also used to make divining rods.

The tallest S. aucuparia in the United Kingdom stands in the Chiltern Hills in South East England. This exceptional specimen is 28 m tall and has a trunk diameter of 56 cm.

Features: Sorbus aucuparia occurs as a tree or shrub that grows up to between 5 and 15 m in height. The crown is loose and roundish or irregularly shaped but wide and the plant often grows multiple trunks. The trunk is slender and cylindrical and reaches up to 40 cm in diameter, and the branches stick out and are slanted upwards. The bark of a young S. aucuparia is yellowish grey and gleaming and becomes grey-black with lengthwise cracks in advanced age; it descales in small flakes. Lenticels in the bark are elongated and coloured a bright ochre. The plant does not often grow older than 80 years and is one of the shortest-lived trees in a temperate climate.

6092500778_965c21d14d_bUses:   Rowans are planted in mountain ranges to fortify landslides and avalanche zones. It is also used as an ornamental plant in parks, gardens, or as an avenue tree. It is well suited to wildlife gardens. Cultivars are vegetatively propagated via cuttings, grafting, or shield budding. Ornamental cultivars include:

‘Asplenifolia’, which has divided and sharply serrated leaflets

‘Blackhawk’, with large fruit and dark green foliage

‘Fastigiata’, an upright columnar form

‘Fructu Luteo’, orange yellow fruit

‘Michred’, brilliant red fruit

‘Pendula’, which is a weeping tree

‘Sheerwater Seedling’, upright and slender, has vigorous growth, good-sized leaves and reliable and plentiful berries. It has been used as a street tree and is ideal for sites with little sideways space 

‘Xanthocarpa’ has orange yellow fruit

Growing conditions:  S. aucuparia is an undemanding species and can withstand shade It is frost hardy and can tolerate winter dryness and a brief growing season.  The plant is also resistant to air pollution, wind, and snow pressure. S. aucuparia mostly grows on soil that is moderately dry to moderately damp, acidic, low on nutrients, sandy, and loose. It often grows in stony soil or clay soil, but also sandy soil or wet peat. The plant grows best on fresh, loose, and fertile soil, prefers average humidity, and does not tolerate saline soil or waterlogging. It can be found in light woodland of all kinds and as a pioneer species over fallen dead trees or in clear cuttings, and at the edge of forests or at the sides of roads.

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Further information:


RHS- Sorbus aucuparia

Sorbus aucuparia- the Woodland Trust

Growing S. aucuparia ‘Sheerwater Seedling’- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory- Sorbus aucuparia

Old School Gardener

rhus typhina trio


This is a small tree (which can also be grown as a shrub) that can be a bit of a thug, as it spreads freely by root extension, but it’s lower growth is thin enough to allow other plants to live alongside it. I have a few here at Old School Garden and it is a great tree for adding an oriental feel, has interesting foliage (especially in the autumn) and some unusual flowers.

Common name: Stag’s Horn Sumac

Native areas: It is primarily found in Southeastern Canada, the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Appalachian Mountains, but is widely cultivated as an ornamental throughout the temperate world.

Historical notes: Introduced to the U.K. in 1620’s it won the R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit in 2002. Some beekeepers use dried sumac bobs as a source of fuel for their smokers. The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink lemonade. The leaves and berries have been mixed with tobacco and other herbs and smoked by Native American tribes. All parts of the Stag’s horn Sumac, except the roots, can be used as both a natural dye and as a mordant. The plant is also rich in tannins and can be added to other dye baths to improve light fastness. In both French and German, the common name of the species (Sumac vinaigrier, Essigbaum) means “vinegar tree”.

Features: Rhus typhina is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5 m (16 ft) tall by 6 m (20 ft) broad. It has alternate, pinnately compound leaves 25–55 cm (10–22 in) long, each with 9–31 serrate leaflets 6–11 cm long. The leaf petioles and the stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs. The velvety texture and the forking pattern of the branches, reminiscent of antlers, have led to it’s common name. The Sumach is dioecious (male and female flowers produced on separate plants), with yellow-green flower clusters, followed on female plants by dense crimson fruiting heads. 

Rhus typhina 'Tiger Eyes'

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’

Uses:  Rhus typhina provides interest throughout the year and is spectacular in autumn when its foliage turns fiery orange, gold, scarlet or purple. The effect is greater when set against the dense cones of red fruit borne by female plants. To get the best from this autumn colour plant it in a sheltered position away from strong winds; otherwise, as here in Old School Garden, you won’t see the leaves for very long! It’s vigorous, suckering habit makes it unsuitable for smaller gardens. Some landscapers remove all but the top branches to create a “crown” effect in order to resemble a small palm tree. There are about 200 species of Rhus and numerous cultivars have been developed for garden use, of which ‘Dissecta’ (syn.’Laciniata’ or Cutleaf Stag’s Horn Sumac) has deeply cut leaves. ‘Dissecta’ will survive winters as low as minus -12°C and then regain new growth the following season. 

Growing conditions:  It can grow under a wide array of conditions, but is most often found in dry and poor soil on which other plants cannot survive. Some species can be pruned hard to the ground every other year in early spring to produce handsome foliage plants. The inner sections of the trees are woody and pithy . It is advisable to wear gloves because the sap is potentially harmful.

Picture by Alain Delavie

Picture by Alain Delavie

Further information:


RHS- Rhus typhina

RHS- Rhus typhina ‘Dissecta’

Horticulture Week- ~Rhus typhina

‘Thorny Problems: How can I get rid of Sumach suckers?’- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory- Rhus typhina

Old School Gardener

WP_20151116_13_08_33_ProRecently, I was attending a meeting at a museum in Luton and in the lunch break had the chance to see the travelling exhibition of photographs from the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition (the eighth in the series to date). I was enthralled by the many wonderful images on show. Unfortunately the lighting in the room made taking photographs of these difficult without them being affected by reflections. However, I’ve put together a gallery of a few that seem less affected by this- I hope that you enjoy them.

You can see all of the photographs and buy prints here.

Old School Gardener

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Appalachian Red Oaks-picture Jason Hollinger

Appalachian Red Oaks-picture Jason Hollinger

There can’t be many trees with a botanical name beginning with Q, but the Oaks provide plenty of variety and what for the U.K. (or maybe just England?) is probably the ‘people’s choice’ as our national tree (Quercus robur).

I’ve chosen a rather large variety, which will not fit easily into smaller gardens, but I just love it, especially for its autumn foliage…

Common name: Red Oak, American Red Oak, Northern Red Oak or Champion Oak

Native areas: North America, in the eastern and central U.S. and southeast and south-central Canada.

Red Oak early in the year

Red Oak early in the year

Historical notes: The Red Oak is one of the most important oaks for timber production in North America. Quality red oak is of high value as lumber and veneer, while defective logs are used as firewood. It’s bark is also rich in tannin, making it valuable in tanning leather. It was introduced to the U.K. in 1724 and has won the R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit in 2002 (and before this in 1971). There are 3 well known, very old specimens in the U.S.:

  • Ashford Oak – A very large Northern Red Oak in Ashford, Connecticut. The tree has suffered falling limbs because of its great age. However, this tree is still a sight to behold; the trunk is 8 m (26 ft) in circumference and the root-knees are also particularly impressive.

  • Chase Creek Red Oak – This forest tree is located on a very rich steep slope in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The circumference at breast height is 6.7 m (22 ft), the height 41.5 m (136 ft) and the spread 29.9 m (98 ft)

  • Shera-Blair Red Oak – This majestic red oak tree is located in the South Frankfort neighbourhood of Frankling County, Kentucky. The circumference at breast height is 6.4 m (21 ft), with the trunk reaching higher than 40 feet before the branches begin and an estimated height of 130 feet.

Red Oak specimen Tortorth Arboretum. Picture by Velela

Red Oak specimen Tortorth Arboretum. Picture by Velela

Features: A large, broadly oval tree which does best in deep fertile soils, but tolerates most others. Under optimal conditions, Red Oak is fast growing and a 10-year-old tree can be 5–6 m (16–20 ft) tall. Trees may live up to 500 years and a living example of 326 years was noted in 2001. Red oak is easy to recognize by its bark, which features bark ridges that appear to have shiny stripes down the centre.  Young growth emerges almost yellow in the spring befoe expanding into large, broad green and lobed leaves by May. It’s autumn foliage is a rich red, turning dark reddish grey brown before falling. The acorns mature in about 18 months after pollination. Its kernel is white and very bitter. Despite this bitterness, they are eaten by deer, squirrels and birds. It appears to tolerate polluted air well.

Uses:  As a large tree the Red Oak is best used in parks and large gardens as specimen tree.

Growing conditions:  Red Oak is not planted as often as the closely related Pin Oak as it develops a taproot and quickly becomes difficult to transplant. Acorns should either be sown in the location where the tree is intended to be planted or else moved to their permanent location within the seedling’s first year. As the tree gets older, the taproot gradually shrinks and the lateral root network expands. Red Oak is easy to start from seed, however the acorns must be protected from animal predation over the winter months. As with other oaks, germination takes place in late spring when all frost danger has passed. The seedling grows rapidly for its first month, then pauses for another month, and sends out more new shoots until September when growth stops for the year. If the weather stays favorable, a third burst of growth may occur.

Mature Red Oak, autumn foliage

Mature Red Oak, autumn foliage

Further information:


RHS- Quercus rubra

Barcham trees directory- Quercus rubra

Old School Gardener

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