After 91 years in a shady grove at the National Trust’s Northern Ireland headquarters at Rowallane, Saintfield, a rare tree is flowering for the first time in its life.
The unusual plant — known as the Goat Horn Tree in its native China — has finally started to put out buds for the first time in nearly a century.
Staff at Rowallane have been waiting with bated breath for the unprecedented event and were finally rewarded when the earliest bud unfurled its petals to release a delicious scent.
Head gardener Averil Milligan said: “We had noticed in June that this tree was making flower bud growth which has slowly developed over the past week or so.
“We were intrigued to see what they were going to look like when they eventually opened and have been keeping a careful eye on it.
“Last weekend saw the first buds opening into a pale white flower which also has a scent, so we think it’s time to celebrate with our garden visitors and supporters.
“It has a lovely light scent and the tree has hundreds still waiting. After flowering it produces long, curved spindle-shaped fruits which resemble a goat’s horn, after which the tree is named,” she added.
The tree, which botanically is known as Carrierea calycina, was brought to the UK from Sichuan in Western China by plant collector Ernest H Wilson in 1908.
Garden diary records show the plant was purchased in March 1919 for three shillings and six pence (17p today) from the Donard Nursery in Newcastle, Co Down, after being propagated from original seed via the Veitch Nursery of Chelsea.
The tree has grown happily in a sheltered glade for many years, but had never produced buds.
Only two specimens from the original Wilson seed introduction still survive, the second at Birr Castle in Co Offaly, which has produced flowers as it was growing in a more open aspect than the Rowallane plant.
All others appear to have died out in the middle of the 20th century.
For details of forthcoming events at Rowallane, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rowallane.