The Trees of Bushy Park: What Are the Strange-Looking Tree Stumps?

Ever wondered about the trees of bushy park? Bushy Park is a well-loved Royal Park situated in Richmond upon Thames, between south and west London.

It is home to lots of great tree species including lime trees, horse chestnut trees and some strange-looking tree stumps.

These are part of the root system of the Swamp Cypress tree! There is a lot of mystery surrounding them but if you want to know more about these bizarre woody projections, read on!


Bushy Park history

Stream Through the Waterhouse Woodland Garden
Stream Through the Waterhouse Woodland Garden

The Royal Parks website talks of Bushy Park as a “patchwork quilt of English History” and it’s true: Bushy Park certainly has a great history.

In Medieval times, the ground where Bushy Park now stands was agricultural farmland.

In fact, a medieval ditch and track are still visible near to the Woodland Gardens.

The hawthorns that we see today are the remnants of the hedges of field boundaries.

Also, there is evidence of ridge and furrow ploughing, which is typical of farming in the middle ages.

It wasn’t until 1529 that Bushy Park became a Royal Park.

It was part of a gift from Cardinal Wolsey to King Henry VIII alongside Hampton Court Palace.

Herd of deer in Bushy Park
Herd of deer in Bushy Park

Henry VIII was a keen deer hunter. On acquiring the park, he created a deer chase, encasing Bushy Park with a brick wall. Some of this wall is still visible on Hampton Court Road.

The 17th century saw Bushy Park still a place for deer hunting but there were other changes afoot. King Charles I oversaw the creation of the Longford River.

This was, in fact, a 12-mile ornamental canal whose purpose was to bring water to fountains and water features in Bushy Park from the River Colne.

It’s hard to picture it now but the canal’s creators dug it entirely by hand.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw houses added to the park. These were the ranger’s homes and hunting lodges.

The 20th century inflicted a military presence upon Bushy Park. In World War I in was a station for Canadian troops and in World War II it became an air force base.


Bushy Park Today

Fountain in the Upper Lodge Water Gardens
Fountain in the Upper Lodge Water Gardens

Bushy Park is famous for starting the Parkrun craze – it was the original Parkrun and started back in 2004.

Bushy Park is great because it has so many different features.

As far as sports clubs are concerned, you have 4 cricket clubs, as well as Teddington Hockey Club and Teddington Rugby Club.

There are ponds where you can fish or use model boats and you can ride horses.

As far as greenery goes, there are formal plantations containing trees and other plant life.

The deer made famous by Henry VIII, are also still a big part of Bushy Park – both the red and fallow breeds.


Trees in Bushy Park

Trees in Bushy Park

The trees of bushy park are one of the key features of this Royal Park.

Mature trees form wonderful avenues. Chestnut Avenue, aptly named for its line of horse chestnut trees, runs from Teddington Gate to Hampton Court Gate.

Lime Avenue, again named after the trees that form it, runs from the Diana Fountain to White Lodge.

According to Friends of Bushy and Home Parks, Bushy Park is home to 140 veteran trees.

These include oak, hawthorn, lime, silver maple and black poplar. Bushy Park’s oldest tree is a sweet chestnut tree with a circumference of 9.5m.

There are also remnants of an oak that was around 1000 years of age. This measured 12 metres in circumference, but unfortunately irreparable damage occurred during a lightning strike in 1982.

To reference how Bushy Park was an American base during WWII, the Big Cone Pine (Pinus coulteri), which is native to the U.S., was introduced to the park.

As the name suggests, the pine cones on the Big Cone Pine are huge! They can be between 20 and 40cm in length.

The Great Storm of 1987 saw big changes to the treescape in Bushy Park. Some trees even split in half!


The Strange Looking Tree Stumps

Roots of Swamp Cypress
Roots of Swamp Cypress

So, onto these strange-looking tree stumps that we’ve been wondering about. These are growths from the roots of the Swamp Cypress tree (Taxodium Distichum) or ‘Cypress knee’.

Once native to Britain, there have been ancient remains of this tree species found in Bournemouth. However, the swamp cypress was reintroduced to Britain by John Tradescant the Younger in 1640.

Unlike most conifers that grow in Britain, the swamp cypress is deciduous with its needles turning a glorious red before dropping.

Alongside the needle colour change, the pine cones change too, going from a green colour to a purple colour.

The swamp cypress is also monoecious. This means that both female and male flowers grow on the same tree.

As its name suggests, the swamp cypress does well in wet ground and grows well near rivers and lakes, which leads us on nicely to the swamp cypress woody projections.


Cypress Knee

When the ground is particularly waterlogged, the swamp cypress tree grows pneumatophores. These are like knobbly woody stumps that grow out of the ground and serve as a sort of snorkel.

These ‘knees’ are only seen on trees that grow in swampy ground and are not unique to the swamp cypress. Although we’ve said they serve as a snorkel, their purpose isn’t understood fully.

Cypress knees have puzzled botanists for a long time. François André Michaux declared in 1819 that “no cause can be assigned for their existence.”

Some people believe that these woody projections serve to aerate the tree’s roots. Others believe they act as a barrier to help reduce erosion by catching sediment.

Another theory is that they act as an anchor to make sure the tree stays rooted firmly in the wet ground.

The most popular theory is the aeration theory. This is explained by the fact that an air source is essential for tree roots for cellular respiration to occur.

Since the swamp cypress grows in sodden ground, it could simply be that the roots don’t have enough air for cellular respiration and thus grow the knees.


Swamp Cypress Wood

Due to its water resistance, swamp cypress wood doesn’t shrink, which means it is a good material for things like fence posts, doors, flooring, window frames and even caskets!


Article was written by Louise W.

Edited by Conner D on 01/07/2019.

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4 comments on “The Trees of Bushy Park: What Are the Strange-Looking Tree Stumps?”

  1. I’m from North Carolina, USA, and grew up around cypress trees just like these. There’s a lot of folklore about those knees, mostly revolving around gnomes. Anyway, I was wondering if these particular trees were introduced from my home state. (?)

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