Tree Trivia

Interesting things about trees

A tree trunk will expand its girth by approximately one inch for every year of its life providing a quick way of estimating a tree’s age. If you know where the tree with the largest trunk is in Plymouth, please email us the details.

Apple pips do not necessarily produce the same apples as the original tree. The Bramley apple is the most famous example of a new variety coming from planting pips. Why not try this with your family

The Common Lime provides honey bees with nectar from its flowers in July. Sometimes a whole tree can be heard “buzzing” as bees do their work.

The fruit of a Hawthorn is called a haw. Haws provide winter food for many birds.

Trees produce more oxygen than any other single living organism

Local history

A milestone on Greenbank Road has carved into it: “The way to the old tree”. It is an ancient direction stone pointing the way to the Old Tree Slip which was on the north shore of Sutton Harbour.

Plymouth’s oldest public park planted with trees is Devonport Park which opened in 1858.
Southway Wood is less than seventy years old and was open farmland until about 1950.

The tall trees near the Civic Centre pool in Plymouth were preserved when the new city centre was being rebuilt after the Second World War. They had been planted in Westwell Gardens several years before the war.

The two lime trees in Mutley Plain are the only ones remaining out of the fifty which lined the street at the start of the twentieth century.

When the new A38 was built, the cutting between Saltram House and Hardwick Wood lowered the water table so that several trees died from drought.

Names and places

John Garland Treseder who introduced the tree fern to Britain from Australia wrote: “If they can be landed in Plymouth, so much the better.”

John Smeaton, who designed the third Eddystone lighthouse off Plymouth took ‘as his model the trunk of an oak, which so seldom succumbs to the tempest.’

The Douglas fir grows well in the South West and makes a good timber tree. It was introduced from California by David Douglas. He arrived back in Plymouth in 1827 after a stormy voyage from Hudson’s Bay.

The Fitzroya tree is named after Captain Fitzroy who was the captain of HMS Beagle during Darwin’s famous voyage of discovery. The Beagle sailed from Plymouth in 1831.

The tree species ”Winter’s Bark” is named after one of Sir Francis Drake’s captains on his circumnavigation. After terrible storms, Captain Winter had to turn back to England. In South America he discovered this tree whose beautiful flowers and bark have anti-scurvy properties.


There are about 250 trees in Beaumont Park in an area of about 2 hectares.

There are just 33 tree species that can be considered native to Britain but an estimated 1500 species grow here today as the result of many introductions since Roman times. Most of them could be grown in the favourable conditions around Plymouth.

There are over 200 varieties of apple tree local to Devon, including the Plympton Pippin and Plymouth Cross.

Record breakers

The biggest tree in Britain is a sweet chestnut in Penshurst, Kent, with a girth of 52 feet or 16 metres. The Widey oak has a girth of 23 feet (7.2 metres) but are there other big trees in Plymouth you can tell us about?

The tallest tree in Britain is a Douglas fir at Powis Castle, Wales which stands at 201 feet or just over 63 metres tall. Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square is 170 feet tall and the Devonport column is 124 feet tall. We are looking for trees in Plymouth that are taller than these.

The title of the oldest tree in Britain goes to a yew tree at Fortingall in Scotland, which is estimated to be 5000 years old. Plymouth has some yew and oak trees that are over 500 years old but we are still looking for a truly old veteran.

The world’s oldest living tree is over 9,500 years old! The visible portion of the Norway spruce (the popular Christmas tree used to decorate homes every year) discovered in Sweden in 2004 is 4 metres tall and is relatively recent but the root system has been growing continuously since the end of the last ice age. Do you know where Plymouth’s oldest living tree is? If so email us and let us know.

Tree biology

If you look closely at a pine cone, you will see that its seeds are not enclosed in a seed case or ovary. This is a major difference with broadleaved trees. Trees without seed cases are known as gymnosperms and those with are known as angiosperms.

Leaves are arranged on twigs as opposite pairs (e.g. maples), in spirals (e.g. beech) or ‘whorled’ (e.g. spruce). This is a good aid to tree recognition.

No one really knows how water is able to travel to the top of a tall tree from its roots. It is thought to be a combination of osmosis, capillary action and the siphon effect.

The cell structure of wood in conifers is different from broadleaved trees. Conifers are sometimes called softwood trees and broadleaves called hardwood trees.

The sugars made in the leaves during photosynthesis are transported around a tree in conducting tissues that lie directly under the bark.

Tree management

In 1947, Britain became the first country in the developed world to introduce statutory protection for trees. Plymouth currently has over 450 Tree Preservation Orders in force.

You should never use a strimmer around the base of a tree. It can damage the bark and kill the tree!