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4 Aug 2023

The PLANTS project: three tree highlights

Written by Lucrezia Rossi, PLANTS Inventory Officer
A large tree looms over a collection of shrubs in the foreground. The tree is covered in large white flowers, which especially stand out against the deep blue sky.
Arduaine Garden | Image: Lucrezia Rossi
The PLANTS project has just celebrated its first anniversary and, after a winter of data inputting, the time has finally arrived for the teams to explore some new gardens. The first of the season for the West team was Arduaine: a beautiful garden located on the west coast of Scotland, in picturesque Argyll and Bute.

Arduaine Garden traces its origins back to the early 20th century when it was created as a private estate by James Arthur Campbell, a tea planter. James was an avid plant collector who sourced plants and seeds from various parts of the world and, over the years, managed to build a large and diverse collection of rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs. The garden became neglected after the Second World War but was rescued by the Wright brothers who continued to develop the rhododendron collection. In 1992 the garden was donated to the National Trust for Scotland, who has been looking after it ever since.

Arduaine Garden features a variety of plant habitats, including ponds, coastal plantings and a woodland area. Until recently, the latter consisted mainly of Japanese larches (Larix kaempferi), most of which had been planted by Campbell to provide shelter around the garden. In 2018, the Trust had to fell the larches in the woodland area in an effort to prevent the spread of the deadly plant disease Phytophthora ramorum. The removal of over 900 mature trees has caused significant changes in the garden layout as well as in its microhabitat and climate.

While working in what was once the woodland area, my colleagues and I were amazed by the great number and variety of plants that are still present in these beds. We all agreed that if it wasn’t for some of the felled trunks still lying on the ground, we would probably never have thought that so many trees had been removed from the site. This is testament to both the amazing job that has been carried out by the team at Arduaine in trying to save as many plants as possible during the felling process, and also the extent and therefore significance of the collection. Among some of the trees that were saved during the felling, I have decided to mention three in this story, either because of their beauty or because of their conservation value.

Cornus kousa var. chinensis (Chinese dogwood)

This tree has to be mentioned for its very attractive appearance; in fact, you could not walk past it without noticing it. The Chinese dogwood is a variety of Cornus kousa native to East Asia, and belongs to the Cornaceae family. The genus name Cornus derives from the Latin word cornu, which means ‘horn’, and references the hardness of the wood; the species name kousa is the Japanese name for this plant.

The Chinese dogwood is a medium-size, deciduous tree that typically grows 4–8 metres tall. It has a spreading habit, with horizontal branches that create an attractive layered look, and it usually develops a broad, rounded crown with age, like the one that can be admired at Arduaine. One of the distinctive features of this plant is its showy flowers: in late spring to early summer, it produces clusters of small, creamy-white/yellowish flowers surrounded by four large, pointed bracts that resemble petals. The bracts provide an eye-catching display and change in colour as they mature, going from creamy-white to pink – a transition we were lucky enough to witness.

Apart from its beautiful flowers, Cornus kousa var. chinensis is popular for its elegant bark that exfoliates with age, revealing a smooth, cream-coloured bark underneath. Its foliage turns beautiful shades of reddish-purple and orange in autumn, thus making this tree a year-round beauty.

Lomatia ferruginea (fuinque)

This plant, commonly known as fuinque, is a species of evergreen tree native to the temperate rainforests of Chile and Argentina. It belongs to the Proteaceae family. The genus name Lomatia derives from the Greek word loma, which means ‘margin’. This likely refers to the serrated or toothed edges of the leaves or other plant structures in the genus. The specific epithet ferruginea is derived from the Latin word ferrugo, which means ‘rust’, and refers to the colour of the undersides of the leaves in this species. The botanical name Lomatia ferruginea could therefore be interpreted as ‘serrated leaves with a rust-coloured underside’, a description that accurately reflects one of the distinctive characteristics of this plant.

Aside from its beautiful foliage, Lomatia ferruginea produces very attractive and showy flowers that can be admired in late spring or early summer. Like other Proteaceae species, Lomatia ferruginea exhibits adaptations to fire-prone environments. Its seeds have thick, hard coats that are stimulated to germinate by the heat of a fire. While doing the inventory work at Arduaine, we have come across this plant in various areas within the garden, indicating that it is doing particularly well in this part of Scotland due to the climatic conditions that resemble those of its native range. Indeed, Lomatia ferruginea is recognised as a symbol of the region’s biodiversity and ecological value, as it plays a pivotal role in the forest ecosystem by providing habitat and food for various species, including birds, insects and mammals.

Cupressus cashmeriana (Kashmir cypress)

This evergreen conifer, commonly known as the Kashmir or Bhutan cypress, is native to the Himalayan region and belongs to the Cupressaceae family. The botanical name in this case is more straightforward and means ‘cypress tree from Kashmir’.

Cupressus cashmeriana can reach a height of up to 30 metres in its natural habitat. Its columnar shape and dense, feathery foliage, consisting of flattened scale-like leaves that are bluish-green in colour, give the tree an overall soft and elegant appearance. When crushed, the foliage has a distinct aromatic fragrance, which can aid the identification of this plant. The tree produces small, spherical cones, which are typically 1.5–2cm in diameter and contain several seeds. The graceful form and attractive foliage of this plant make it a popular choice as an ornamental tree in gardens and landscapes, as it adds an elegant touch to a variety of settings.

Unfortunately, like the Lomatia, Cupressus cashmeriana is struggling in the wild and is listed as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. At Arduaine, this tree can still be admired in the woodland area thank to the meticulous work carried out during the felling of the larches to save as many of the surrounding trees as possible.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Arduaine and to be able to inventory such a diverse and unique plant collection. The plants that I have described are only a few of the number that would deserve to be mentioned in a blog. Indeed, Arduaine is brimming not only with unique plant species that are rarely seen elsewhere in Scotland, but also with various champion trees that are considered to be among the finest specimens in cultivation in the UK. This makes Arduaine a real treasure, and highlights the importance of knowing our plant collections to ensure their preservation in the years ahead.

Plant Listing at the National Trust for Scotland (PLANTS) is the biggest horticultural audit project undertaken by the Trust and aims to celebrate, protect and better understand the flora and vegetation across our gardens and designed landscapes.

Read more about the PLANTS project

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