The Original Garden Visitor's Guide

Emmenopterys henryi in flower at Batsford & Borde Hill

Described by the great Edwardian plant hunter EH Wilson as "one of the most strikingly beautiful trees of Chinese forests", the Emmenopterys, was introduced to the UK in 1907.  It is notoriously shy to flower in the West.

The tree is currently in flower at Batsford Arboretum & Borde Hill.

Emmenoptrys henryi at Batsford
Emmenoptrys henryi at Batsford

"After weeks of anticipation, a 25-year-old specimen of Emmenopterys henryi, a highly rare tree originating from China, has come into flower for the first time at Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire.

It is only the 6th time the species has flowered in the UK since its first recorded flowering at Wakehurst gardens in West Sussex in 1987. It is thought that the recent heat wave may be responsible for Batsford’s tree coming into flower.

The Emmenopterys was introduced into cultivation in the UK from China by Ernest Wilson in 1907. Batsford’s tree was one of a few micro-propagated from Ernest Wilson’s original tree at Kew, several years before it died, to keep his legacy alive.

As expected, Batsford’s Emmenopterys has produced clusters of beautiful white delicate flowers, surrounded by soft white bracts, around the top of the tree.

The flowers are thought to last for up to two weeks, however regular updates will be available on Batsford’s website – www.batsarb.co.uk – and on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages."

Borde Hill’s largest specimen celebrates it’s 90th birthday this year and was grown from seed collected by eminent plant hunter George Forrest on an expedition in Southern China. The seed was sent home to his sponsor Col Stephenson R Clarke of Borde Hill who duly planted it in his Azalea Ring.

The Colonel’s beloved tree is currently a mass of buds and has burst into bloom for the fourth time in it’s lifetime. Close by the 90 year old tree is a smaller Emmenopterys that was micropropagated by Kew Gardens, from one collected by EH Wilson at turn of the 20th century. This tree, now 40 years old, has flowered twice before and is currently in flower as well.

Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke, great grandson to the Colonel, says: “We are incredibly lucky to have both the Wilson and Forrest Emmenopterys about to bloom. My grandfather planted the 90 year old specimen but never saw it flower in his lifetime, neither did his son or grandson, we had to wait four generations before it first flowered in 2011. The Colonel would have been fascinated by the weather conditions we have experienced in Southern England this year and its effect on our plant collection. He kept detailed notes of every seed and tree planted on the estate, and his correspondence with both Wilson and Forrest makes for fascinating reading. If he were here today he would be thrilled to see Forrest’s Emmenopterys henryi in flower alongside the younger specimen in the 125th anniversary year of his garden.”

George Forrest was a plant hunter and explorer who undertook seven major expeditions. Forrest’s travels were adventurous in the extreme - he suffered through the jungles and was subjected to swarms of insects, survived exposure to poisonous plants, avoided sheer cliffs and deep gorges, escaped warring tribes and malaria which killed one of his travelling companions. He was responsible for introducing hundreds of species in to Western cultivation including the Emmenopterys henryi.

Forrest's prize Emmenopterys tree is strikingly beautiful with reddish-purple young shoots and red leaves in spring, which mature to a glossy green, producing a shock of small white flowers.

Andy Stevens, head gardener at Borde Hill says: “the cold winter, followed by our extended hot summer may have helped to produce this bumper collection of flowers this year. We had a small showing of flowers in 2011, 2012 and 2016 but nothing like the number of flowers we have this year. We hope that they will bring in tree fans from far and wide!”

Emmenopterys henryi
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