Champion Trees

York Museum Gardens are home to six county Champion Trees.

These are the biggest examples in Yorkshire identified by The Tree Register, and are between 80 and 150 years old.

Cut leaved Alder – Alnus glutinosa ‘Imperialis’

This is a small, delicate-looking tree. Planted on the bottom lawn near the river it has had plenty of room to grow. Alder also do well in damp soils and are water resistant, so it can withstand flooding from the river. It has deeply-cut fine leaves which look feathery and soft from a distance. At 10m high, it has probably reached its full height. Its girth is 1.63m and it has started decaying around the bottom, showing signs of old age. In the spring, it produces reddish-purple catkins and then small cones throughout the winter.

Cut leaved Hornbeam – Carpinus betulus ‘Incisa’

This champion has a very contorted shape. Its canopy hangs very low, providing dense shade, meaning the plants below are limited. Its height is only 13m where a typical Common Hornbeam would grow up to 25m. It has a girth of 2.14m. The trunk of the tree is hollow which gives it character. Hornbeam flowers are green and not very noticeable, but look very similar to catkins. The leaves go golden brown in autumn. The name “Hornbeam” refers to its very hard wood which has hard to work but resists damage, making good butcher’s blocks, mallets and balls.

Willow leaved Ash – Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Lentiscifolia’

This very tall specimen is one of the most noticeable trees in the garden. In the summer the canopy creates a light shade under the green foliage. The leaves are longer and narrower than a common Ash (Fraxinus x europea), much like a willow leaf. In Scandinavian myths, the Ash is said to be the “Tree of Life” and believed to have healing powers. Its wood is pale in colour and is used for tool handles and walking sticks. It stands at 24m tall and has a girth of 3.58m. This particular tree is beginning to decline – you can just see the very top branches starting to decay.

Elaeagnus Leaved Pear – Pyrus elaeagrifolia

This specimen was one of three pears in the grounds; however the other two were recently blown over in extreme weather conditions. This tree has grown at a strange angle and is leaning. This may have been because of weather or planting, but we don’t really know. Like a lot of the tree varieties in the gardens, it was new to Britain when the gardens were designed in 1844. It was in that period that people became more interested in botany and plant science. The height of this champion is 13m and it has a girth of 2.14m. Cuttings have been taken of the tree to hopefully replace it when it dies or falls.

Small leaved Lime – Tilia cordata

This native tree is tall and is columnar in shape with bright green leaves. It is rarely found in the wild in northern England. The sap from limes is attractive to insects such as green and white flies. Lime trees send out shoots from the bottom of the trunk which then ensures a tree’s survival by rooting into the ground. The height of this particular tree is 25m, and it has a girth of 2.8m. An average specimen grows to around 24m, so this tree has probably reached its full height.

Pear-barked Beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Miltonensis’

This tree is made from two trees grafted together. A distinctive line can be clearly seen about 2 metres up the trunk of the tree. You can see the difference in the rough bark of the Pear, on top of the Beech bark which is smoother. Many trees in the garden have been grafted but this example is particularly interesting as it is such a rare experiment. ‘Miltonensis’ cultivar is named for its more twisted, drooping branches. The height of this champion tree is 19m and the girth is 2.89m. The wood of Beech trees is widely used in furniture making.