Ring of Fire

My autumn tree quest is never complete without a visit to Cambridge Botanical Gardens, primarily to check out the Liquidambar at the lake edge. It colours up quite early and is a fantastic sight, with its reflected glory in the water doubling the impact.


Double the show: Liquidambar reflected in the water

This is Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’, an American sweetgum, chosen for it deeply-incised, five-lobed palmate leaves and dramatic autumn colour.


It has been carefully placed at the intersection of several treelines and landscape features and its fiery canopy dominates this part of the garden for several weeks.

The burn is picked up gradually around the Liquidambar by a lovely Prunus serrulata ‘Alboplena’ on the sandstone rock garden behind it and Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’ on the rise to the lake’s central peninsula (and viewing spot). Neither of these tree are showing much colour yet though.

At the top of the rock garden, extending my ‘Ring of fire’ around the lake, is another favourite giant, Catalpa x erubescens ‘Purpurea’. In fact, the rock garden was developed around this tree when it was just a small specimen in the 1950s.

It is now a Champion tree (biggest or widest of its kind in the British Isles).


It is a lovely place to sit and have lunch under its golden boughs. The only problem is that the seat is very popular.

On the south east corner of the lake are two trees reaching for the skies

The darker, taller tree is a Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, thought to be extinct, but re-discovered in China in 1941. Cambridge Botanics obtained seed soon afterwards and the tree now has a plaque noting it to be the first example planted out on British soil. However, of the two massive trees it is the Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum) that catches my attention, not because it is currently coloured a deep russet, but because of its knees (or bent roots)!


Cute knees!

These tree roots buckling up above the surface of the lake are known as pneumatophores and are characteristic of swamp cypress trees growing in waterlogged soils or open water (as here). I always imagine that they look like a meerkat family, standing in that familar inquistive stance on their hindlegs. Can you see that?

On the other side of the lake is a second swamp cypress, also standing in the lake and colouring up, which adds further amber tones to my glowing ‘Ring of fire’.

The final tree (actually a pair) that I stop to enjoy around the lake are willows. Their leaves drape down into the water and form a lovely swaying green and yellow curtain.


Behind the willows, as the garden turns into the woodland area, are the bamboo groves, ferns and giant mare’s tail colony. The whole area feels like layer upon layer of gauzy, vertical greens, moving and rustling in the breeze.


Fortunately there is another bench placed here, so you can savour the privacy and quiet.

There is still plenty of autumn colour to come at the Botanics, so enjoy!

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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6 Responses to Ring of Fire

  1. Chloris says:

    A beautiful post Allison. You have convinced me, I will visit soon and try to catch the Liquidamber whilst it is still afire. I love your meerkat knobbly roots on the Swamp Cypress.

    • Well, if you manage a visit, I hope that you catch the trees round the liquidambar at their peak too. There is quite alot to see in the glasshouses according to their ‘what’s good now’ list on the website, but unfortunately I didn’t get the time to look. However, I did notice that just outside, the salvias are putting on a good show.

  2. Now THAT is what a liquidambar SHOULD look like! 🙂 I was cursed with two “duds” (colorwise) in as many gardens. Also once had a baby dawn redwood which I had absolutely no business buying for a suburban garden; Hurricane Sandy took it out when it had gotten to about 6 ft tall. Loved those feathery leaves!

  3. Just so! There are a few around here that never reach these scarlet heights. It is sometimes terribly tempting to plant something inappropriate, usually telling yourself things like ‘I’ll keep it coppiced’. Sounds like it worked out for you though!

  4. Christina says:

    Yes! Definitely meerkats! How clever of you to recognise them. The Liquidamber is gorgeous, what a pity I didn’t have time to visit on my way to the airport.

    • Yes the liquidambar is a fanatastic sight again this year. Sometimes I wish they would put a webcam on the corner there, so you could know in advance exactly when is the best time to visit. Perhaps you will manage to see it next time you are over …..

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