Exotic Trees in Britain – trees that are rare but may be seen in botanical gardens, large parks or even domestic gardens.
During the Middle Ages plants were introduced from Europe, the Middle East, Russia and North Africa. Then explorers and plant collectors found new species from across the world. Commercial plant breeders often funded expeditions and then began to develop new cultivars from the acquisitions. From the mid 17th century, species were brought in from North America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and eventually India, China and Japan.
Click on a name in red to see a full description of the tree.
Exotic Species in Britain
Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
The Tulip Tree, native to eastern North America, was introduced to Britain in the 17th century. It is named after its flower which resembles a tulip. It is a member of the Magnolia family. It is a large ornamental tree, quite common in large gardens and parks. It has an unusual 4-lobed leaf and a large beautiful flower in June. The dark brown fruit stays on the tree all winter.
Foxglove Tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
The Foxglove Tree, also known as the Royal Paulownia or the Empress Tree or the Princess Tree, is native to China and was first introduced to Britain in 1838. It is one of a genus of 6 or more species long cultivated in the East and named by a Dutch botanist after Princess Anna Pavlovnia, daughter of the Czar of Russia. Paulownia is the Dutch version of her name. The tree has spectacular foxglove-like flowers, after frost-free winters, and huge leaves. It is grown as an ornamental tree in large gardens. Its scientific species name ‘tomentosa’ means covered in hairs. This applies to the shoots and buds.
Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides)
The Indian Bean Tree, also known as the Southern Catalpa, is native to the south-eastern United States in the area that includes Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. It is a Catalpa, a Native American name for a genus of ten species found in North America, the West Indies and Asia. The word ‘Indian’ in the common name refers to Native Americans. All Catalpas have large leaves and long pod-like fruit. The Indian Bean tree was introduced to Britain in 1726 and has been planted widely in parks, gardens and streets in warmer areas as an ornamental tree. It has large showy flowers from mid-summer onwards.
Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
The Golden Rain Tree, also known as the Pride of India is native to China, Korea and Japan and was introduced to Britain in 1763. This tree is one of 3 species in the genus Koelreuteria which is named after a German botanist. It has yellow flowers in summer and lantern-like pink fruit pods in autumn. It is not common but is found in some collections and can easily be recognised by its distinctive fruit.
Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata)
The Handkerchief Tree, also known as the Ghost Tree or the Dove Tree, was first recorded in 1869 in Western China by a French missionary botanist Father David after whom it got its scientific name. It was introduced to Britain in 1901 and has since become a popular ornamental tree in large gardens and parks in warmer areas. It gets its names from the fact that large white ‘bracts’ hang down around the flowers and look like handkerchiefs, doves or ghosts.
Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava)
The Yellow Buckeye, also known as the Sweet Buckeye, is a species of Horse Chestnut native to south-eastern USA. It was introduced to Britain in 1764. It gets its name from the fact that the seed is in the form of a ‘Conker’ which reminded the early settlers of the USA of a buck’s eye. It has yellow flowers.
Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica)
The Persian Ironwood is a small deciduous tree native to northern Iran. It was introduced to Britain in 1841. It is related to the Witch-Hazel. Its wood is extremely hard, hence the name ironwood. It has red flowers which appear before the leaves in late winter and the leaves turn bright red in autumn. It is frequently found in parks and collections, often as a large shrub, selected for its superb autumn colours.
Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum)
The Judas Tree is a small deciduous tree native to the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia. it was introduced to Britain before 1600 and has been planted widely in parks and gardens in warmer areas. It has beautiful pink flowers in spring and long flat pods that hang down and persist through the winter. The derivation of its name is unclear – it could be from the region of the Judean hills in which it was commonly found.
Quince (Cydonia oblonga)
The Quince is a small fruit tree native to a region of south-west Asia that includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, southwestern Russia, and Turkmenistan. It had already been introduced to Britain by 1200. Its fruit is similar to that of an Apple or Pear, but it can’t be eaten raw. It should not be confused with the Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), a small thorny shrub with red flowers, found in many gardens.