Excitement is building at Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire as a 25-year-old specimen of Emmenopterys henryi, a highly rare tree originating from China, is coming into flower for the first time at the Arboretum, and only the 6th time ever in the UK for the species.
The first Emmenopterys to flower in the West was at Villa Taranto by Lake Maggiore, Italy, in 1971, while the first recorded UK flowering was at Wakehurst gardens in West Sussex – Kew Gardens’ sister site – in 1987, flowering for a 2nd time there in 2010. It has also flowered twice at Borde Hill gardens in West Sussex, and once at Cambridge Botanical Gardens.
This unusual tree was discovered by Irish plant hunter, Augustine Henry, in central China in 1887, it was then introduced into cultivation in the UK by Ernest Wilson in 1907. The Emmenopterys is noticeable for its orange-tinged leaves as they emerge in spring, turning into glossy-green leaves in summer. When in flower, the Emmenopterys produces clusters of beautiful white delicate flowers surrounded by unusual large, soft white bracts. Wilson described it as “one of the most strikingly beautiful trees of the Chinese forests”. Batsford’s tree was one of a few micro-propagated from Ernest Wilson’s original Emmenopterys at Kew, several years before it died, to keep his legacy alive.
It is thought that weather extremes trigger flowering; therefore the long, cold spring followed by the recent heat wave may be responsible for Batsford’s tree coming into flower.
Batsford Head Gardener, Matthew Hall said: “We always knew the historical and botanical importance of this tree, so I’ve been keeping a close eye on it, knowing that one year the beautiful flowers will eventually make appearance. For me, it’s even more fitting that one of Wilson’s greatest introductions is flowering not far from where he was born, in nearby Chipping Campden. We may not witness flowers again for another 20 years or so, so we’re going to enjoy this unique opportunity!”
The flower buds on Batsford’s Emmenopterys henryi are in the early stages of development but are expected to be in full flower from early August and could last for up to two weeks. Regular updates will be available on Batsford’s website – www.batsarb.co.uk – and on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
Picture Credit: Maarten Sepp at Cambridge University Botanic Garden