Readers’ wildlife photos

May 29, 2018 • 7:30 am

Today reader Robert Seidel takes us on a tour of Kew Botanic Gardens. (I must confess that although I’ve been to London many times, I’ve never visited Kew). Robert’s notes are indented:

I’d like to offer you another travelogue to one of Britain’s biological pilgrimage sites: The Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, London. A UNESCO World Heritage site, these splendid parks have been nationalized since 1840, but the project of a botanical garden goes back a further hundred years to a former princess of Wales, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha (1719-1772). On to the photos:
Palm house, built 1844-1848. Surely one of the most elegant buildings I have ever seen. Like the temperate house in the next pictures, it was a collaboration between architect Decimus Burton and industrialist Richard Turner, and according to Wikipedia, “the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron”.
Temperate house, built 1859-1863. By chance I not only chose a beautiful spring day for my visit, but also the day when this house was re-opened after five years of renovation. So it was quite busy, as seen on the next picture.
Temperate house, view from the balcony.
Kew Gardens is a major player in plant conservation, and one of the remarkable things about the temperate house is that you get to literally brush elbows with some critically endangered plants, which you’d think any sane person would keep under glass or in a secured building closed to public (I strongly suspect though there are backups in such places). This picture is of the St Helena Redwood (Trochetiopsis erythroxylon; by the way, whoever came up with that name must have had a sadistic streak!) As the nearby sign informs, this species is extinct in the wild, with all cultivars descended from a single tree which survived logging because it was too crooked to be used for timber. Apparently dwarfism now persists in the descendants, while originally the species grew to 8 meters tall, with straight trunks.
Not all conservation efforts are successful. This pot is a tombstone for another St Helena Plant, the St Helena Olive (Nesiota elliptica – not related to true olives). The last tree in the wild died in 1994, and self-incompatibility and low success rate of cuttings largely thwarted cultivation attempts, the last specimen succumbing to fungal infection in 2003.
 Tucked away in a corner behind the Princess of Wales conservatory (named after Augusta, not Diana, though it was opened by the latter) is the bonsai house, with some very old and magnificent (and valuable) exemplars. Unlike for all the critically endangered stuff, there is an alarm for these.
Eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Cute though they be, let’s not forget that in Europe this is an invasive species, which has already displaced the native (and in my opinion even cuter) red squirrel in mainland Britain and may do the same in Ireland and possibly mainland Europe.
While I’m no biologist and have the highest respect for the scientists at Kew, this information struck me as odd – is there truly a relation between length of genome and reproduction rate? [JAC: readers?]

29 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Kew’s a lovely place, very peaceful, except when planes are on approach to nearby Heathrow.

  2. Nice post!

    This is way better than going “oh, gee, how about this morning I, oh, I don’t know, read the Wikipedia page on Kew Gardens?”

    My Kew Gardens factoid:

    Sir Joseph Hooker planted an asparagus bed that was still producing asparagus after 118 years.

    Source :

    The Victory Garden
    James Crockett
    1977 <- important for the “118 years” given in the factoid
    (Out of print)

  3. In my opinion there is no lovelier place in London than Kew Gardens, it is big and beautiful with many points of interest even for the non botanist. There is the river and the vast wild of Richmond Park nearby too.

  4. “Go down to Kew in lilac time
    It isn’t far from London.”

    One of my favorite poems as a child, and still.

    Is it about lilac time now?

    1. Well, my lilacs are in flower now, and providing nourishment to several species of bees. (Scotland’s weather reputation is currently suffering from a dry and sunny spell.)

  5. For me, the Princess of Wales Conservatory is the real attraction with its lovely displays of succulent plants. Not to be missed.

  6. In the US building something like this is bait for every vandal within 500 miles. We don’t deserve nice things.

    1. Though I’ve yet to visit either, both Chicago and New York have botanical gardens, though I dont know if they are imbued with as much architectural beauty or significance as Kew. Nevertheless, if the NY botanical garden was good enough for Oliver Sacks, it’ll be good enough for me!

  7. Robert’s comment about keeping backups for endangered plants reminds me that Kew Gardens is also the custodian of Wakehurst Place in Sussex, also well worth a visit, which houses the Millennium Seed Bank. This will hold seeds from all the UK’s flora, and 25% of the world’s wild flora, by 2020.

    Kew Gardens was one of the few places in the UK where the entry fee went down after currency decimalisation in 1971. Previously it was 6d (2.5), and it then went down to 2p! Costs a bit more to get in now, though.

  8. It seems a basic question whether genome size correlates with cell cycle time. That is, having more DNA to replicate translates to it taking longer to copy DNA and so to divided cells. I guess I don’t really know if there is a direct relationship.

  9. I recognize the risk of telling you what to do but you should definitely get to Kew Gardens. I try to go on every visit to the UK. It’s so large, easily accessible assuming one is in London, and seems to have a greater focus on science than other botanical gardens I’ve been to. Not to be missed.

    1. I live in London – since 1984 – & confess I have been once, in the 80s! 🙁

      Very sad about the St. Helena tree…

  10. Please tell me I’m not the only non-English person who had no idea how to pronounce Kew because I’d only read the name but had never heard it spoken!

    I do hope to visit it in person some day…until then, I’ll just enjoy these. thanks for sharing.

      1. 😉 thanks to podcasts, including a recent one on BBC radio 4 about the major refurbishment, I’ve heard it spoken aloud. I’m sure many English and European readers have similar issues, especially with the many Native American place names found in North America.

  11. It’s possible that there is a connection between genome size and growth rate, but the direction of causation might well be the reverse of what is suggested above. Michael Lynch has pointed out that accumulation of junk DNA “just happens” in creatures with slow growth and small population sizes because the costs of replicating the extra stuff is “invisible” to natural selection in those circumstances.

      1. Brilliant! You have an architect’s eye – an appreciation of formalism, structure & spatial elements. I like your non-flower stuff best such as the Kew Hive & the wonderful Henry Moore – I had no idea that was at Kew.

Leave a Reply