Jan 15, 2016
by Richard Bland
There are a number of magnificent and rare trees on the Downs. The triangle outside the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House has a very rare natural variant of the native Oak called the Cluster Oak, one of only six mature trees in existence in Britain, as well as a Red Oak and a Pin Oak. There is also a fine Hornbeam that appears as part of the Beech avenue along the Promenade and was probably planted in error. Nearby, on the side of Bridge Valley Road, is a wonderful double-trunked Sycamore, probably self-sown, with a total girth of over six metres, which probably dates back to before 1850. The Mansion House itself has a superb Wellingtonia, probably dating from the original seeds sent to James Veitch and Sons’ nurseries in 1853. Further up the Promenade is a very fine Monkey Puzzle tree, which almost certainly dates from the same period. At the junction of Ladies Mile and Circular Road is the very last of the great avenues of Huntingdon Elms dating from 1880 that were killed by the Dutch Elm Disease after 1976. There are a very large number of Hawthorns on the Downs, and 100 years ago they were famous. Some may have originated in the English Civil War. Many are now infested with Ivy and some 50 have been adopted by members of the Friends of the Downs who keep them clear of Ivy and Brambles.
The square is dominated by the magnificent Cedar of Lebanon, the second largest in girth in the city, part of the original planting in c 1860. The other trees surviving from that planting are three beech varieties on the central path, the Common Beech, Copper Beech and Fern-leaf Beech. As a replacement for the Beeches that have died along the central path there are a number of Chestnut-leaved Oaks, funded by CHIS and the only ones in the city. There is also a rare Cork Oak. A Fig has sown itself in the stump of one of the original beeches. The rarest tree is the Italian Maple next to the almost horizontal Mulberry at the NE tip of the Square. It is very similar to a native Sycamore, but flowers much earlier in late February. The Bhutan Pine in the NW corner is a particularly fine example of this beautiful species. In 2015 following some extensive clearance of scrub along the walls several new trees were planted including a rare Korean Eodea that flowers in August.
We have inherited an exceptional number of trees dating back over 150 years. There are a large number of Copper Beeches, the finest being outside the Merchant Venturers House. The oldest tree is the Sweet Chestnut at the Chesterfield Hospital with a girth of seven metres, suggesting an age of at least 300 years. Clifton College has the finest Dawn Redwood in the city, planted in 1955. The Common Lime trees on College Road were planted when the school was founded in 1862. On College Road, opposite Guthrie Road, there is a Sophora japonica or Scholar’s Tree, planted in 1980 that flowers in August. The Weeping Silver Lime in Vyvyan Terrace Gardens is the finest in Bristol.
The Zoo Gardens have an exceptional tree collection, including a very fine Dove Tree. The Magnolia Kobus is very beautiful in early spring, its pure white flowers on bare branches visible from outside; it also has the largest Turkish Hazel in the city, and an unusual Midland Thorn with a twisted trunk that is trained into an umbrella shape and supported by struts.
Much the finest Horse Chestnut in the city, with a girth of over six metres, is in the grounds of Manor Hall, visble from York Place, and belongs to the University. Its position is extraordinary, as from York Road you view it from half way up. However, it stands above a vertical wall some 20 feet high, created to allow access to new buildings in the 1950s. Its size implies that it is at least 250 years old. There is a fine one on Clifton Green, probably the oldest tree on the Green, going back to 1850.
Next to the Wills Tower is a magnificent Parrottia persica. There is a magnificent specimen of Turkey Oak where Pembroke Road joins Clifton Park that may be 200 years old. The Luccombe Oak is a fertile cross between a Turkey Oak and a Holm Oak and was a Victorian favourite. There are several in Clifton, the finest at the foot of the Mall Gardens on the West Mall side.
A recent analysis of the 200 most important trees in Bristol included over 30 in Clifton, and another 12 in the Zoo.