Thanks to its climate and links to pioneering plant hunters, Scottish has a unique collection of trees that includes not just native species but some of the finest trees to be found anywhere in the world, including a large number that are endangered in the wild.

Many of these trees and the woodlands that they inhabit have fascinating histories that are closely interwoven with Scotland, its people and its past.

Autumn is the best time to explore the beauty of the country’s wooded landscape and from now until the end of November, the Scottish Tree Festival, organised by Discover Scottish Gardens ( will be offering walks, tours and trails designed to help members of the public enjoy the beauty of Scotland’s woodland wonders.

And if you want to get out of doors as the canopy changes colour and the leaves begin to fall, then why not visit our top ten list of trees and woodlands, each with a remarkable tale to tell.

Royal Pardon

Dumfries House, Cumnock

The giant Sycamore that overlooks the Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden at Dumfries House was just a sapling when James VI was on the throne. Four hundred years later it was another monarch, King Charles III, who saved it from the chop. Following a fierce storm, several branches were lost and tree surgeons called in to assess the damage declared the sycamore to be beyond saving. However Prince Charles, as he was then, was not ready to give up on it so the canopy was reduced by half and today the tree, which is flourishing once again, is home to a family of tawny owls.

The Herald: Dumfries House - SycamoreDumfries House - Sycamore (Image: free)

Walter’s Woods

Abbotsford, Galashiels

When he wasn’t penning his Waverley novels, Sir Walter Scott was a hands-on gardener at Abbotsford, his home on the banks of the River Tweed. As well as laying out three separate gardens around his mansion, he threw himself energetically into the establishment of a large stretch of woodland on what had been low-value land, planting many of the trees himself.

Today Sir Walter’s Wood teems with orchids, butterflies, badgers and bats while a network of paths leads visitors through this romantic landscape.

Ancient Roots

Ellon Castle Gardens, Aberdeenshire

Before the arrival in the 18th century of exotic species from abroad, the Yew tree was one of just three species of conifer, along with Scots pine and juniper, that grew in Scotland. Yews were often planted in places of religious significance and their strong-but-flexible wood was used to make longbows. The yew trees that stand within the grounds of ruined Ellon Castle have witnessed 800 years of tumultuous history that began with the Wolf of Badenoch and somewhere beneath their roots is rumoured to be a secret tunnel once used for smuggling brandy to the castle from the River Ythan.

The Herald: Ellon Castle - YewEllon Castle - Yew (Image: FRE)

Douglas’ Fir

Scone Palace, Perth

In 1827 the first seeds of the tree that would bear his name were sent home from North America by plant hunter David Douglas. Some were planted on the Scone estate, where Douglas had been born and where he had started his career as a gardener.

Today Scone’s Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) are amongst just a handful of original trees still standing and it is the seed from these that transformed the Scottish forestry industry.

A beautifully-crafted pavilion, made from Douglas fir, that stands within the grounds commemorates the outstanding contribution that Douglas made not just to Scone but to the landscape of Scotland and beyond.

Chance Encounter,

Dawyck Botanic Gardens, Peebles

Majestic beech trees, with their broad canopies, are a familiar site across the country but not all beech trees are the same. In 1860 Sir John Naesmyth, who at that time owned the Dawyck estate near Peebles, came across an odd-looking seedling. He had it moved to near the house and over time it grew into a tall and narrow column, quite unlike its spreading counterparts. Today the original Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’ still stands where Naysmith planted it and trees grown from its seed can be seen in the grounds of Dawyck Botanic Garden, as well as in countless other places around the world.

The Herald: Dawyck BeechDawyck Beech (Image: free)

Calm Waters

Attadale, Wester Ross

On the night of 15 October, 1987 an extratropical cyclone hit the country. The Great Storm, as it became known, uprooted hundreds of thousands of trees and changed the face of some of the country’s best-known gardens. At Attadale in Wester Ross, hundreds of trees that had stood for more than a century were toppled. More than 1000 new trees would eventually be planted at Attadale to take their place, but while the clear-up got underway, owner and artist Nikki MacPherson looked at the rainwater filled channels created by the fallen trunks and decided to make a feature of them and so she created what has become one of Scotland’s finest water gardens.

Loch Fyne Giants

Ardkinglas Woodland Garden, Argyll

The wet climate at Ardkinglas in Argyll has provided fertile conditions for the many trees planted here during the 19th century. Amongst the estate’s towering rhododendrons and gigantic pines are a 64-metre tall Abies grandis, which was for many years the tallest trees in the UK, and a European Silver Fir (Abies alba) named the Mightiest Conifer in Europe for its 10 metre girth.

The garden is also home to a 150-year-old Patagonian cypress (Fitzroya Cupressoides) which is 20 metres tall, but could eventually reach 70m and live for 5000 years.

The Herald: Ardkinglas - European Silver FirArdkinglas - European Silver Fir (Image: free)

Down But Not Out

Mount Stuart, Bute

When a giant chestnut tree fell to the ground 60 years ago in the grounds of Mount Stuart it was not the end of the story. Branches trapped beneath this ‘Phoenix tree’ turned into roots while those on the other side became vigorous new trunks that eventually reached 10 metres in height. The only problem with this magnificent tree was that it was blocking a path, so when the 130-year-old Calvary Garden on the estate was restored last year a decision was made to save the tree and instead steps were created to take visitors over and around it.

Back From The Dead

Cluny House, Aberfeldy

The list of astonishing trees that grow within the beautiful grounds of Cluny House in Perthshire include one that only recently emerged from the mists of prehistory. Until a few were found growing in a few remote glades in Sichuan, China in 1948, the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) was known only from the fossil record and was believed to have died out three million years earlier. The Dawn redwood that grows at Cluny was grown from some of the first seeds to be collected in Sichuan following the tree’s rediscovery.

The Herald: Cluny - MetasequoiaCluny - Metasequoia (Image: FREE)

Ancient Caledonia

Cawdor Castle

In the grounds of one of Scotland’s most iconic castles lies a rare remnant of the ancient oakwoods that once covered large parts of the country. The Big Wood of Cawdor is a tantalising glimpse into our sylvian past, with trees dripping with moss and lichens and a rich understory of ferns and wildflowers. Today the Big Wood is a haven for wildlife including red squirrels and the elusive capercaillie.