Tree of the month - February

One oak that holds on to some of its green leaves through the dark days of winter is the Audley End Oak, Quercus x audleyensis. As you might guess, the original example grows in the Mount Garden at Audley End in Essex, maintained by English Heritage, and is a very big tree, 23m x 480cm girth in 2023.

This may in fact one be of the few kinds of tree in Britain which is represented by just one example. The first reference to the Audley End oak comes from Head Forester George Young's records of the estate's trees which were added to Loudon's Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum in the 1830s. At this time, the tree in the Mount Garden was 12m x 195cm girth and about 52 years old, and was assumed to be a 'Leucombe Oak' (Young's orthography; this cannot be taken as good evidence that it was really supplied by Lucombe and Pince's nursery in Exeter). By 1901 it was 26m x 336cm girth and was studied by the Irish botanist Augustine Henry, who concluded that it represented a chance hybrid between the native Sessile Oak and the evergreen Holm Oak.


The Audley End Oak has turned out to be very difficult to propagate; grafts fizzle out and die after a few years. In 1981, Alan Mitchell thought that he had found another old example at Christchurch Park in Ipswich, but this tree and its various scions and seedlings are now known to be Downy Oak, Quercus pubescens. Another evergreen oak in the wooded margin of Cuckfield recreation ground in West Sussex, which I spotted in 2013, has a bushier habit and narrower leaves but oak expert Allen Coombes believes that this may be a second chance example of Quercus x audleyensis.

Owen Johnson MBE VMM
(Photo: Owen Johnson)