Plant 88

Pinus nigra J.F.Arnold ssp. nigra (Pinaceae)


Black pine

Sometimes specific trees take on particular significance. The black pine tree in Oxford Botanic Garden was such a tree. The inspirational and aesthetic value of the black pine for thousands of visitors, artists and writers was inestimable. Famously, the tree was a favourite of JRR Tolkien, and made a fleeting appearance in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. On 26th July 2014, two of the tree's lower limbs split from the main trunk, meaning the tree had to be felled.

Pinus nigra is a widespread, variable European and western Asian conifer, with five subspecies. Subspecies nigra has the widest natural distribution, extending through the Balkans and mainland Greece as far north as Austria and northern Italy. Another subspecies, Corsican pine, is an important forestry tree.

Tradition has it that the Oxford black pine was planted in 1800, from seed collected in 1790 by the Sherardian Professor of Botany, Professor John Sibthorp. Sibthorp travelled through the pine's native range in 1784-85 and 1794-95 but there is no mention of black pine in his field notes or undergraduate lecture notes. In 1838, John Loudon published his catalogue of the trees of Britain without mentioning Oxford's black pine. Furthermore, mid-nineteenth-century Garden commentators make no mention of the black pine. In the absence of detailed records, the circumstantial evidence casts doubt upon the accepted story, especially when recent tree-ring dating shows the pine was planted in the mid-1830s.

The 1830s was a period of great transformation as Charles Daubeny, recently appointed Sherardian Professor, took over running the Garden and rapidly changed its fabric and approach to science and botanical education. Amongst Daubeny's many interests was the promotion of gymnosperm cultivation for economic and aesthetic reasons. The Garden could not compete with the great gymnosperm collections emerging in early nineteenth-century Britain; it did not have the space, soil or money. Instead, 'as the plot of ground will not accommodate more than thirty species, it had been the design to select at once the hardiest and the most ornamental'. The black pine appears to have been one of Daubeny's horticultural experiments.

The source of the seeds is a matter of conjecture. By the late-1830s, Scottish businessman Charles Lawson had established his seed and nursery company, together with the finest collection of gymnosperms in Britain. Except for seed that might have been introduced by private collectors, the only source of black pine seedlings was Lawson's Edinburgh nursery.

Further reading

Allen L and Walker T 1995. The University of Oxford Botanic Garden. The University of Oxford Botanic Garden.

G√ľnther RT 1912. Oxford Gardens based upon Daubeny's popular guide of the Physick Garden of Oxford: with notes on the gardens of the colleges and on the University Park. Parker & Son.

Price T 2014. The iconic black pine. Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum News 88: 8-9.

Stephen Harris

The 25th July 2021 marks 400 years of botanical research and teaching by the University of Oxford.

As a celebration and count-down to this anniversary, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, together with the Oxford University Herbaria and the Department of Plant Sciences, will highlight 400 plants of scientific and cultural significance. One plant will be profiled weekly, and illustrated with images from Oxford University's living and preserved collections.

  • Plant 87: Catharanthus roseus
  • Plant 86: Lantana camara
  • Plant 85: Stipa gigantea
  • Plant 84: Gunnera manicata
  • Plant 83: Rosa chinensis
  • Plant 82: Aconitum napellus
  • Plant 81: Pteridium aquilinum
  • Plant 80: Wisteria sinensis
  • Plant 79: Passiflora alata
  • Plant 78: Matteuccia struthiopteris
  • Plant 77: Acer carpinifolium
  • Plant 76: Vicia faba
  • Plant 75: Calycanthus floridus
  • Plant 74: Primula auricula
  • Plant 73: Strongylodon macrobotrys
  • Plant 72: Capsella bursa-pastoris
  • Plant 71: Barnadesia caryophylla
  • Plant 70: Erythronium dens-canis
  • Plant 69: Trifolium dubium
  • Plant 68: Forsythia spp.
  • Plant 67: Ananas comosus
  • Plant 66: Theobroma cacao
  • Plant 65: Nostoc sp.
  • Plant 64: Sciadopitys verticillata
  • Plant 63: Garrya elliptica
  • Plant 62: Psilotum nudum
  • Plant 61: Cyclamen species
  • Plant 60: Hevea brasiliensis
  • Plant 59: Semele androgyna
  • Plant 58: Monstera deliciosa
  • Plant 57: Musa textilis
  • Plant 56: Piper nigrum
  • Plant 55: Viscum album
  • Plant 54: Dieffenbachia seguine
  • Plant 53: Salvinia molesta
  • Plant 52: Saccharum officinarum
  • Plant 51: Metasequoia glyptostroboides
  • Plant 50: Equisetum sp.
  • Plant 49: Fraxinus excelsior
  • Plant 48: Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Plant 47: Ptelea trifoliata
  • Plant 46: Acer saccharum
  • Plant 45: Brassica oleracea
  • Plant 44: Helianthus annuus
  • Plant 43: Ricinus communis
  • Plant 42: Simmondsia chinensis
  • Plant 41: Chara sp.
  • Plant 40: Zingiber officinale
  • Plant 39: Aristolochia clematitis
  • Plant 38: Allium cepa
  • Plant 37: Galium tricornutum
  • Plant 36: Artemisia annua
  • Plant 35: Rosa canina
  • Plant 34: Nepenthes rajah
  • Plant 33: D. caryophyllus x barbatus
  • Plant 32: Taraxacum sp.
  • Plant 31: Victoria cruziana
  • Plant 30: Lathyrus odoratus
  • Plant 29: Heliconia rostrata
  • Plant 28: Senecio squalidus
  • Plant 27: Paulownia tomentosa
  • Plant 26: Urtica dioica
  • Plant 25: Euphorbia characias
  • Plant 24: Heliamphora nutans
  • Plant 23: Laurus nobilis
  • Plant 22: Tulipa sylvestris
  • Plant 21: Pleurococcus sp.
  • Plant 20: Gleditsia triacanthos
  • Plant 19: Tillandsia usneoides
  • Plant 18: Marchantia polymorpha
  • Plant 17: Daphne mezereum
  • Plant 16: Citrus medica
  • Plant 15: Coffea arabica
  • Plant 14: Gossypium species
  • Plant 13: Stachyurus praecox
  • Plant 12: Encephalartos ferox
  • Plant 11: Aloe vera
  • Plant 10: Araucaria angustifolia
  • Plant 9: Isoetes echinospora
  • Plant 8: Hamamelis virginiana
  • Plant 7: Lithops species
  • Plant 6: Sequoiadendron giganteum
  • Plant 5: Commiphora saxicola
  • Plant 4: Buxus sempervirens
  • Plant 3: Picea abies
  • Plant 2: Cinnamomum verum
  • Plant 1: Taxus baccata

  • Follow us on Twitter @Plants400

    The data and images available on this site may only be used for scientific purposes. They may not be sold or used for commercial purposes. All images are copyright of the University of Oxford, unless otherwise indicated.

    The specimens at the Oxford herbaria and the living collections of the Oxford Botanic Garden and Oxford University Herbaria are being digitized using BRAHMS.


    Dr Stephen Harris (