From the longest and biggest to the smelliest and smallest, Kew Garden’s record-breaking plant collections have long been renowned for being amongst the most valuable and varied in the plant kingdom. It can now also claim it’s the biggest…
Photo: Væksthusene Kew Gardens Richmond
Guinness World Records has declared Kew Gardens as the official home to the largest living plant collection on earth.
Adding to its ever-growing mantle of accolades, the botanical gardens has set a brand-new record for the largest collection of living plants at a single-site botanic garden.
Home to an impressive 16,900 species of plants from all over the world at its 320-acre site in London, Kew’s rich treasure trove of biodiversity is officially celebrated by the world-famous Guinness World Records 2022 book as one of the world’s greatest.
This extraordinary record is just one of many Guinness World Records titles held by the UNESCO World Heritage site, and the most significant.
As well as being a stunning botanic garden, Kew is also a hub of ground-breaking science and research, using plants and fungi to present innovative answers to some of today’s biggest global challenges, including food security, clean air and biodiversity loss.
Here are some of the garden’s other claims to fame.
The biggest plant
The waterlilies in the Princess of Wales Conservatory are otherworldly. Grown from minute seeds each year, they can grow to a breath-taking size – once upon a time, their buoyant leaves could bear the weight of a child!
The giant waterlily Victoria amazonica can grow leaves that reach a record-breaking 3m in diameter, making it the world’s largest waterlily species.
The tallest and the smelliest plant
When the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) flowers it gives off an almost impossible to stomach stench of rotting flesh that fills the glasshouse.
Around since the time of the dinosaurs, this prehistoric plant can be gargantuan – so huge that in 2018 the species’ record as the world’s tallest bloom was reconfirmed by GWR at Kew.
The 2018 specimen reached a whopping three metres in height and took an army of horticulturalists to lift it.
The plant’s pungent smell is a clever trick to attract pollinators to breed on its flesh, earning it the gruesome nickname ‘the corpse flower’ and its record as the smelliest plant; in the wild, its whiff can be detected up to 0.8km away.
The longest plant
Behind the scenes in Kew’s Tropical Nursery are an expert team of horticulturalists who work tirelessly on the conservation and study of some of the world’s rarest and most interesting plants.
Nepenthes truncata is endemic to the Philippines but is cultivated at Kew. In 2020, a specimen in the nursery earned the award for the Longest Nepenthes plant trap measuring a staggering 43cm from the base to the lid.
Pitcher plants like the Nepenthes get their nutrients from poo – shaped like a toilet bowl, they each produce a nectar to attract a pollinator, which sneakily also acts as a laxative
Whilst feeding, a pollinator poops into the pitcher giving the plant the nutrients it needs to survive, even in some of the most challenging habitats on earth
The oldest plant
Kew’s iconic Palm House is home to a prickly cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii) brought from South Africa to the UK in 1775.
Often dubbed ‘living fossils’ these tree-fern-like species are among the oldest surviving plants in the world.
In 2009, Kew staff painstakingly re-potted the Palm House’s oldest resident for a more comfortable fit.
The smallest plant
At one point thought to be extinct, the Nymphaea thermarum, also known as the thermal lily, can now be found in the Waterlily House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens.
Successfully propagated by Kew horticulturists, this tiny flower is smaller than a 50p coin and only opens in the morning. It is officially the world’s smallest waterlily species.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; currently open daily, 10am-7pm but this changes with the seasons; tickets from £10/£3 adult/child; Richmond; kew.org