The Greatest Trees in London

The Greatest Trees in London

As one of the greenest cities in the world London is extremely lucky to have a very large tree population, some of which are of historic interest, very old, large or have grown into an unusual shape.

Sadly, after the Great Storm of 1987 many of London’s most beautiful trees were lost or damaged but this eventually led to an initiative being set up in early 1997 which asked Londoners to nominate some of the Capitals landmark trees to mark the tenth anniversary of the Great Storm.

Forty one trees were chosen and given Great Tree status with a further twenty selected in 2008, with all trees having a plaque placed beside them stating this fact.

In case you are wondering what makes a Great Tree, various criteria taken are taken into consideration from:

the trees physical character, for example the tree is either very old, very large or is of an unusual shape

the tree can be found in a place that is either considered special or is a landmark location

the tree is of historical importance, for example it has an interesting story behind it or it is connected to events and or people in the past

The last wave selected in 2008 also had to be publicly accessible and easily viewed from all sides so that everyone is able to visit and enjoy them.

We shall now take a look at some of these Great Trees of London and where they can be found.


Greatest Trees in London: Plane Tree (Platanus x hispanica), Berkeley Square, W1

There are about thirty Victorian plane trees in Berkeley Square all planted in 1789, making them over two hundred years old.

One of the reasons these plane trees have managed to survive for so long in what was once a very smoggy city is their unusual bark which flakes off shedding pollutants at the same time.

The Great Tree in question can be found in the south west corner of Berkeley Square, is nearly one hundred feet in height and has a circumference of six feet.

This plane tree may also be Britain’s most expensive tree as in 2008 it was given a value of £750,000.

Different criteria was used to reach this figure including how many people benefit from the tree, its age, history, size and health.


Greatest Trees in London: Hybrid Strawberry Tree (Arbutus x andrachnoides) Battersea Park

Not only is this beautiful hybrid strawberry an unusual tree species it is also rather rare in London and it is thought to date back to some time in the 1850s making this tree over one hundred and fifty years old.

At just under sixty feet in height, the girth of the lower trunk is very large and it is thought that it may be the largest for a hybrid strawberry in Britain, its trunk formation is also very interesting to look at.

As well as being recognised as a Great Tree of London, this hybrid strawberry also has the status of being a Champion Tree of London and can be found growing beside Battersea Parks boating lake.


Greatest Trees in London: Holm Oak Tree (Quercus ilex), Fulham Palace, London SW6

Found in the gardens of Fulham Palace and thought to have been planted in 1495 when the palace was built, makes this amazing evergreen holm oak just over five hundred years old.

It is also considered to be the oldest of its type in England and possibly the United Kingdom.

Multi-stemmed and with massive twisting branches due to being coppiced very many years ago, coppicing has also helped to greatly increase this historic trees lifespan – what incredible stories could it tell I wonder?

Find this magnificent holm oak in the south east corner of the main lawn, close to the Tudor Wall.


Greatest Trees in London: Spanish Sweet Chestnut Tree (Castanea sativa) Greenwich Park

It is thought that the oldest sweet chestnuts in London are those in Greenwich Park, estimated to have been planted between 1662-64, which makes them all nearly four hundred years old.

One of these sweet chestnut trees has been given the status of being a Great Tree of London and can be found in the flower garden of Greenwich Park.

Having been very well looked after for several centuries it is an excellent specimen of its type, has a massive trunk and also shows signs of having been pollarded during it early life.

If you are planning a visit to see this tree then autumn may be the ideal time as this is when the tree produces its edible nuts.

You can then join the ranks of those who have eaten them over the centuries.


Cork Oak Tree (Quercus Suber) Osterley Park Isleworth, Middx TW7

The cork oak tree in Osterley Park is said to have been planted in 1855 and is one of the oldest and largest in the entire country.

An evergreen oak and quite rare in the British Isles, this particular cork oak is an excellent specimen of its type and makes for a very majestic looking tree.

It can be found on the north side of the lake which is directly south of the mansion.

Originating from the Mediterranean, the bark of the cork oak is of high value as it can be harvested to make cork stoppers for wine bottles, although once harvested there is a wait of about another ten years before a further batch of bark can be harvested.


Tree of Heaven, Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith, W6

Although the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is often considered a noxious weed, is hard to get rid of, throws up suckers and the male flowers are vile smelling, this particular specimen is an extremely fine example.

One of the largest specimens growing in the United Kingdom you will find this tree located quite close to the children’s play area in Ravenscourt Park.


Mulberry Tree, Charlton Park, London SE7

Having been planted in 1608 makes this mulberry tree over four hundred years old and it is said to be one of the first ever brought over to England, thus probably making it the oldest or if not, one of the oldest specimens in the country.

The planting of mulberry trees was quite popular at this particular time in history as people were keen to follow in the example of James I, (or perhaps they were ordered to) who, in order to encourage a silk industry to develop in England, planted a mulberry orchard outside St James’ Park.

The tree is located about ten yards inside the entrance to the park when entering from Charlton Road, on the left hand side behind the public toilets.


Shagbark Hickory Tree (Carya ovata) Greenwich Park London SE10

The shagbark hickory tree, although introduced into England back in about 1629 is not a a tree that is commonly found in Great Britain.

A member of the walnut family, it is perfectly able to grow well in Britain but as far as the hickory nuts go and the reason it is grown in America, they seem to have no value here and perhaps that is why it never grew in popularity.

The Greenwich Park specimen can be found in the flower garden, in the south east corner of the park, it is just under one hundred feet in height and has the distinctive shaggy bark (hence the name) which can only be found on mature trees.


Greatest Trees in London: Black Walnut Tree (Juglans Nigra), Marble Hill Park, Twickenham

One of the most impressive examples of a black walnut tree to be found in the country, thankfully this magnificent tree survived the Great Storm of 1987 when so many trees in this particular park were lost, going on to become one of London’s Great trees.

Thought to have been planted when Marble Hill House was built in the 1720s, making this tree nearly three hundred years old, it is also considered to be probably the tallest black walnut tree in London standing at just over 87 feet tall, although it seems to have shrunk somewhat since 1905 when it was measured as being 98 feet tall and again since 1979 when it was recorded as measuring 92 feet tall (as stated on the plaque along side it) but I guess we all tend to shrink with age!

This tree, with its unusual dark black bark also has an impressive girth which measures  a huge four feet, along with a trunk containing many holes which have become home to some of London’s Green Parakeets.


Greatest Trees in London: Plane Tree (Platanus x acerifolia) Brunswick Square, London WC1

This magnificent plane tree which is considered to be the second oldest in London was planted in Brunswick Square by the Victorians.

Unlike most urban plane trees which, because of where they grow necessitates in them having to have their lower branches pruned or removed leaving them with long, branchless trunks, this tree has been allowed to grow to its natural shape, resulting in stunning, swooping branches which miss the ground by a matter of only a few feet.

With its massive trunk and wide spread of leaves from spring through to autumn also makes this stunning plane a great shade tree.


Greatest Trees in London: Lucombe Oak (Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’) London SW15

This magnificent tree can be found standing amongst the tower blocks of the Alton Housing Estate at the junction between Danebury Avenue and Tangley Grove in Roehampton, London SW15

A hybrid between the Cork oak and the Turkey oak, the Lucombe oak was given its name by the man who grew it in about 1763, although it naturally hybridises in Europe.

The tree is estimated to be about two hundred and fifty years old and stands at one hundred and five feet tall which is considered to be its ultimate height and was probably planted by Capability Brown who landscaped the area in around 1773.


Greatest Trees in London: London Plane Tree “Barney”, Barnes, London SW13

This magnificent London plane tree which is most probably a hybrid between the Oriental and American plane trees which cross pollinated, is one of the very first recorded plantings of this species of plane tree back in the 1680s making Barney over three hundred years old and considered to be the second oldest plane tree in the country of this type.

With a gigantic girth of nearly twenty seven feet and standing over a hundred feet tall, with a near equal spread, this amazing tree is a sight to behold and can be located near the Wetlands Centre, Queen Elizabeth Walk, where a circle of trees surround the angler’s pond in which Barney is included.


Yew Tree (Taxus baccata) St Andrews Church, Totteridge, N20

This amazing, ancient yew tree with a whopping girth recorded as being just under twenty six feet in 2000, can be found in St Andrews Churchyard, Totteridge Village, London N20.

Thought to be around two thousand years old makes this yew tree the oldest living thing in London and as well as being a Great Tree of London, it is also listed as a Champion Tree.

Apparently the tree bears masses of berries with the fleshy part being sweet and safe to eat (the pips are poisonous) although I think it would be far safer to leave them to the birds as I have read of several people being poisoned and even dying after consuming yew berries.


English Oak Tree (Quercus robur) Brockwell Park, Lambeth, SE24

This superb veteran English oak tree with a girth of just under twenty feet and a magnificent, and extremely large spread of leaves and branches is thought to be well over seven hundred years old.

In fact this oak tree would have been at one time a field hedgerow, long before the land became a public park in 1982 and would also have been a mature tree when the Brockwell Estate was first formed roughly two hundred years ago, from which Brockwell Park was created.

You can find this much loved tree in the south eastern corner of Brockwell Park, a little way down the slope leading from Brockwell Hall.


Copper Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica), St Mary’s Church, E18

This very fine example of a copper beech tree which has a virtually perfect crown stands to the front of St Mary’s Church, in Woodford, London E18. Unfortunately no further information as to size, age etc can be gleaned.


Dutch Elm Tree (Ulmus hollandica ‘Klemmer’), Lewisham, SE13

With Dutch Elm disease having killed off almost all of our elm trees, this lovely, large, mature specimen can be viewed in Ladywell Fields, near the park’s entrance at Malyons Road, Lewisham, SE13.

One of the very few large Dutch elms remaining in London, this particular cultivar, Ulmus hollandica ‘Klemmer’, is considered to be the only known British specimen.


Oak Tree (Quercus Robur), Richmond Park

Richmond Park is full of many old and veteran oak trees so if you do make a visit to this wonderful park do try and seek out the oak tree that is called The Richmond Royal Oak which can be found near the Richmond Gate end of the park on a pathway between the Queen Elizabeth Plantation and Sidmouth Wood.

Thought to be about seven hundred and fifty years old this oak has taken on a very unusual, gnarled and squat shape due to having been pollarded for several hundred years.

The hollow trunk has a split right down its centre with a gap that is big enough to allow a child to enter, thus enabling them to have a fun time playing hide-and-seek.


Cut Leaf Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica) York House Gdns, TW1

The cut leaf beech tree or fern leaf beech tree is probably the most beautiful of all the beech tree varieties and this stunning and large specimen can be found overhanging the river Thames in the riverside gardens of York House, Twickenham.


Article was written by Karen Arnold.

Edited by Conner D on 01/07/2019.

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2 comments on “The Greatest Trees in London”

  1. Wish to buy 1 or 2 specimens of Arbutus x andrachnoides as big as possible.
    Can you help?

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