No longer pining for Mediterranean
One of the most evocative trees in Kew Gardens, to my eyes, is the Stone Pine. It cuts a striking profile against stormy and blue skys, it reeks of the Mediterranean and you can eat it (at least bits of it). Oh, and I like the course textured, reddish bark.
For me personally it also evokes the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne with its wonderful collection of conifers thanks to its early Director, Ferdinand Mueller. I remember wandering around with Roger Spencer or John Beetham in my early 20s, and at the time being mildly bored by the various pine species planted in the late nineteenth century.
Now, older and wiser, I like pines. In fact I became converted during preparation of the Flora of Victoria - in my later 20s - when I excitedly counted and measured pine needles. Truly.
The oldest Stone Pine, Pinus pinea, at Kew grows near to my present office and it's about as old as the Mueller plantings. Planted by Sir William Hooker, father of Joseph and the first person to carry the Director title, it is now propped up and doesn't have the usual umbrella shape of the species.
The tree began to stoop after a branch fell in 1926. It joins a growing band of trees at Kew with various supports and wires to keep them intact and safe.
There are some more robust trees dotted around the gardens including a couple in the Alpine Rockery, scattered among a few other pine species. The ones I've photographed at the top of the posting are in a new Mediterranean Garden built around King William's Temple in 2007. The garden was conceived as a way to enourage the growing of drought-tolerant plants in English gardens, particularly given the warmer, drier colimage expected to result from climate change and certainly a reality this year.
As for eating it, I'd only recommend the nuts ('pine nuts') but can't recommend them highly enough. My favourite use is in spinach and pumpkin salad, or pesto.
Accordingly to Kew's website (I find that everything I now blog on has been covered to some extent in this trove of botanical information), a stone pine cone takes seven years to mature and can then release up to 100 seeds - on a hot summer day (of which there may be more in England as the climate changes) or after fire (which there may also be more of).
With the shifts in climate predicted, Stone Pines may find their comfort zone moving northward towards Hooker's tree and its many compatriots.