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Benmore Botanic Garden, Scotland

These photographs are taken in Benmore Botanic Garden, Argyll, Scotland.

A very remarkable feature of this lovely mountain garden, is the so called "Avenue of Giant Redwoods".
This impressive avenue of giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) was planted in 1863 by the American Piers Patrick, who was then the owner of Benmore estate (photo of the avenue in 1910). Of the 50 planted trees, the weakest one did not survive the heavy weather of 1968, so this avenue now consists of 49 year old giant redwoods that are about 50 m (165 ft) tall. The tallest one has a height of 54 m (177 ft) and many are between 50 to 53 m (165 to 174 ft) tall.
In this group the tallest giant sequoia of Europe, and very probably the tallest one outside of their native range in California, can be found.

As explained elsewhere, giant redwoods can grow up to a height of 93 m (305 ft) in their native range. So the Benmore redwoods are only very young, fast growing teenagers! The rainy climate of the west of Scotland appears to be ideal for them so within a couple of hundred years, they might outgrow their American cousins and grow larger than the old giant sequoias of California...


Shortly after its discovery in 1852, British botanists christened this newly found tree species Wellingtonia, named after the Duke of Wellington. After fierce protests of the American botanists, who did not like the idea of their biggest tree named after a British war hero, the name Sequoiadendron was eventually generally accepted, but in the U.K. this old name seems to be very persistent.
Notice the soft red bark ("redwood"), that can be punched easily without hurting your fist.
In the background you can see a tall giant redwood. The shape of the crown is still very conical, with a pointy top, which indicates that the trees are still growing vigourously. In the center there's a monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). This Chilean species also grows to monumental proportions in Scotland (compared to other European locations). This image shows one of the Benmore monkey puzzle trees.

A number of the tallest trees in the U.K. can be found in this botanic garden. However, the tallest tree, a douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) grows somewhere else, although it's in Scotland too (Dunkeld). The height of this douglas-fir was measured in 2005 by Robert van Pelt and was 64 m (209 ft). The douglas-fir is native to the northwest of North America, where very tall old-growth trees of this species grow. The tallest living douglas fir on earth, the so called Doerner Fir, grows in Oregon and is 100.3 m (329 ft) tall. Historical accounts of logged specimens in the old growth forests, that almost completely have been logged or clearcut, suggest that this tree might reach record heights of up to 120 m (400 ft).


In the botanic garden of Benmore a number of big douglas-firs can be seen too. Apart from a large specimen near the entrance, there's an entire grove of large douglas-firs further in a valley. Walking on the path that winds between these pillars going right into the sky makes you feel quite insignificant. And to think that these fast growing douglas-firs were only planted in 1958! Because of their fast growing speed and the excellent quality of its wood, the douglas-fir is extensively used in forestry in Europe.

Between the douglas-fir trees, here and there, a young giant redwood can be spotted. Compared to other Scottish specimens, they are rather small but nevertheless they are taller than most other European redwoods. It's easy to see that they are doing much better in these sheltered, wet valleys then anywhere else in Europe, or, with high probability, anywhere else outside the tree's natural range (except maybe more northern areas along the Pacific coast like the Seattle area).


The entrance of Benmore Botanic Garden, with Sequoiadendron giganteum on both sides.
Right across the road, there's a large coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), another redwood species. The tallest tree on earth is a Sequoia sempervirens, that can grow quite big too in Scotland. In continental Europe, coast redwoods don't do well at all.
Here I'm standing next to the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) to give some sense of scale.


The images above show a bit of the atmosphere of Benmore Botanic Garden. Notice the fine specimens of Araucaria and Gunnera, that create the impression of an archaeic primaeval forest.

You can get there quite easy from Glasgow by taking the train to Gourock, then the ferry to Dunoon, followed by bus from Dunoon to Benmore. The Scottish train company offers a very convenient "all-in ticket" for these transports and the entrance of Benmore.

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