Updated: Apr 18, 2021
As you drive through the countryside in Scotland, especially in Perth and Kinross, you’ll occasionally look into the distance and notice a tree sticking out above the other trees. Odds are this is one of the exotic conifers introduced to Scotland by the Plant Hunters, those intrepid botanists who traveled the world in the 18th and 19th centuries seeking out unique plants and sending the seeds back to Britain to grace botanical gardens and the estates of the gentry. Some of the trees you notice may include the coast redwood, Sierra redwood, Douglas fir, Western red cedar, monkey puzzle tree, and Deodar cedar among many other species from North and South America, Australia and the Far East.
The tallest of these superlative trees is Douglas fir found in Reelig Glen near Inverness which has been measured at 66.4m in height, the tallest known tree in Britain. The tallest Sierra redwood tops out at 56.60m and can be found at Benmore Gardens in Argyll and Bute (see photo above); and the tallest coast redwood can be found in the same garden at 50m.
The largest tree (in mass) in Scotland is a Sierra redwood growing at an undisclosed location in Perth and Kinross. It maxes out at 12.30m dbh (diameter breast height which is measured at 4.5 ft or 1.37 m above the ground). The second largest tree is also a Sierra redwood found in Cluny House Garden near Aberfeldy at 12.10m dbh.
The oldest tree in Britain is the Fortingall Yew, an ancient European yew (Taxus baccata) located in the churchyard of the village of Fortingall in Perthshire. See photo below. Experts estimate that the tree is between 2,000 and 3,000 years old, although it may be a 1500 remnant of a post-Roman Christian site. The center of the tree has decayed so it’s impossible to get an accurate ring count.
The oldest Sierra redwoods in Britain are those planted from seeds sent to Patrick Matthew by his son from California in 1853 - most are found in Perth and Kinross. The oldest coast redwood planted between 1845 and 1850 is located at Rossie Priory near Inchture.
The furthest north Sierra redwood is located at Dunrobin Castle at coordinates: 57.980544, -3.943499; and the furthest north coast redwood is located at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle overlooking West Loch Tarbert at 57.961237, -6.990424. The furthest north dawn redwood is located at Armadale Castle on Skye at 57.069677, -5.897129.
The highest altitude Sierra redwood in Scotland is a group of 5 at Allt-na-giubhsaich Lodge, Ballater at 410m above sea level.
All of these trees become more noticeable as the years pass. Indeed the coast redwoods in Scotland have the potential to reach the height of the world's tallest tree, a coast redwood named Hyperion discovered in 2006 in northern California which is 379.7 feet or 115.7m high. The Sierra redwoods, although not as tall as the coast redwoods, have the potential to match the most massive tree on earth, a Sierra redwood named General Sherman found in the southern Sierra and estimated have a bole volume of 52,508 cu ft or 1,487 cu meters.
Written by Peggy Edwards, May 2020
Peggy Edwards is a botanical illustrator and redwood aficionado. She has a BSc from the University of California and a Graduate Certificate Natural Science Illustration from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has been a field Botanist, Naturalist and K-12 Teacher. She is one of the co-founders of the Scottish Redwood Trust.