Britain’s widest conifer, a giant redwood, at Cluny House Gardens

Britain’s widest conifer.

After I’d been around the Birks o’ Aberfeldy, I drove to the nearby Cluny House Gardens because I’d recently heard that Britain’s biggest-girthed conifer grows there…

…and I wasn’t disappointed. What an impressive tree it is! Not only is the trunk massively massive, it also reaches some pretty lofty heights. This champion tree is, surprise surprise, a giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) a.k.a. a Sierra redwood or giant sequoia or Wellingtonia. An information board in front of the tree informs the eager tourist:

A Perthshire plant collector, John D Matthew, introduced Giant Sequoias into the country from California, in 1853. The two Cluny trees were planted around this time possibly from the original seed collection. This magnificent specimen stands at around 45 m (135 feet) in height, has a girth of 11 m (35 feet) and is the widest conifer in Britain.

Giant Sequoias are very fast growing averaging 0.75 m (2 feet) per year in height until they reach a height of about 60 m (200 feet). Vertical growth then slows down but growth of the trunk continues at a rate of 50-70 mm (2-3 inches) a year sometimes as much as 150 mm (6 inches) annually.

The woody cones are 50-100 mm (2-4 inches) long and roughly spherical reaching full-size in the first year but maturing in their second. They can remain on the tree for over 20 years. In their native woodlands in California, forest fires are necessary to open the cones while they remain on the tree. The heat releases the seed which falls and germinates in the ash. The trees themselves are protected from fire by a very thick fissured layer of soft bark up to 300 mm (12 inches) thick.

A bit of zoom to peer into the canopy.

This is the massive tree at ground level with a human scale. It’s much more impressive in real life. The Tree Register’s excellent handbook, Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland by Owen Johnson, lists the tree as having a diameter at breast height (1.4 m) (dbh) of 360 cm and a height of 41 m in 2009. By comparison, the largest tree in the world (by stem volume) is the giant redwood General Sherman in California – Wikipedia records it as being 83.8 m tall with a maximum basal diameter of 1,110 cm and a dbh of 770 cm – therefore it is more than twice as tall and twice as thick as the British girth champ. There are even taller sequoias - the tallest is 95 m! - and even wider sequoias - General Grant has a dbh of 880 cm! (Wikipedia’s Sequoiadendron page has all the stats.)

A visitor to Cluny House Gardens is bound to see red squirrels. There is a feeder beside the redwood, and while I was marvelling at the tree one of the little fellas was eating its fill. This was my first opportunity to observe red squirrels up close – although I couldn’t class them as ‘being in the wild’. The info board next to the tree says that they have been seen just 2 metres from the top!

The Gardens have a relaxed vibe to them. Mind you, I was the only visitor in there! You can borrow a walking stick as you enter (free entry when I visited, but there’s a donation box), and one of the first things you see is a sign asking you to PLEASE WALK ON THE LAWN - I knew straight away this was a cool place.

There is a second giant redwood, although it isn’t quite as big as its buddy. My Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland gives its height as 33 m and its dbh as 331 cm (although it seemed to me there wasn’t much between the two redwoods’ heights).

This is where the second giant meets the grounds. Incredible.

Looking up at the No. 2 redwood. What a fantastic tree!

Here’s one of the cones. I’d love to collect some seed one day and grow my own redwoods.

Under the second redwood, a delicate mushroom: could it be a pink waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis)? But then wouldn’t it have a split cap, or is this just a young specimen?

Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

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