Blink and you’ve missed them - our oldest trees, by millions of years.
Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill have some venerable old trees, but even the oldest living specimens date from after 1818, when John Nash’s plan for the park was put into action. There are some trees in the park, though, that go back a lot further. Between 20 and 100 million years in fact!
Within the Inner Circle, close to the waterfall in Queen Mary’s Gardens, there’s a little group of ancient fossilised tree trunks. You need to look out carefully for them - lots of people just walk past and don’t even know they’re there.
They didn’t grow in London. We think they were brought here by the Royal Botanic Society - a learned group that leased land in Regent’s Park from the 1840s to the 1930s - although we don’t have definitive records.
There’s long been debate over the fossils, but now experts agree they are from coniferous trees, and that they were laid down in sedimentary rock in Lower Purbeck in Dorset. Some scientists have theorised that one of the trees is a close relative of the araucaria - the monkey puzzle tree from South America. The monkey puzzle is certainly a primitive tree, in fact it’s sometimes called ‘a living fossil’.