They are ancient, beautiful, and supply us with the essentials for life itself. For whatever reason, humans seldom see them as little more than wasted space and building supplies. Trees are among the most under rated things on Planet Earth (right up there with air conditioners). Some trees are so impressive, however, that even humans realize their need for conservation. Here is a list of 10 arboreal ambassadors who best represent the cause of their wooden brethren.
10. The Alley of the Baobabs
The unique baobab tree has become the symbol of Madagascar. If you want to see a baobab, there is no place better than the Alley or (Avenue) of the Baobabs. Madagascar has six native species of baobab trees, and despite common perception, they are in fact native to forested areas. The reverence of the locals coupled with its natural fire resistant bark means that baobabs are left standing long after the foliage around them has been cleared either by natural bushfires or agricultural expansion. Unlike many trees, the baobab does not have annual rings signifying their growth. However, carbon dating technology has indicated that these trees can be thousands of years old. Baobab also bears fruit that can be used to make juice or natural health remedies. The hollowness inside its trunk makes this tree an ideal place for locals to use as storage (specifically for water). In 1993, the hollows of one of the more famous baobabs have been used to make a pub.
9. The General Sherman
If you like things big, real big, then the General Sherman is the tree for you. This puppy is the largest of all the giant sequoias and in fact has the most mass out of any single stemmed tree in the world. You can find the General and others like him at Sequoia National Park, California. The tree is almost 84 meters tall (275 ft). One of the most impressive features is that the oldest age placed on Sherman is 2700 years. Ol’ Shermy has found himself topping a multitude of categories, including being among the oldest trees with a confirmed age.
8. Old Tjikko
At first glance, Old Tjikko is as unimpressive as they come. Lacking foliage on half of its stem, this Norway Spruce tops out at a measly 16 meters. What is impressive about Old Tjikko, however, is that it is the oldest individual clonal tree. Granted, this title comes with its stipulations, so here is the fine print: a clonal tree can have a trunk that cyclically grows and dies. So while the tree itself is not the oldest standing piece of natural timber in the world, its apparatus (primarily its root system) has been in place for over 9500 years. You can snap a picture of this old fogey on Fulufjället Mountain within the aptly named Fulufjället National Park, Sweden.
7. Tane Mahuta
New Zealand’s most famous type of tree is the kauri, megaliths that are charismatic in appearance and large by design. The cream of the crop is often considered Tane Mahuta, a kauri (possibly up to 2500 years old, but unconfirmed) that is the largest and most revered tree among Pakeha (New Zealanders descended from European settlers) and Maori (indigenous people of NZ) alike. The tree’s Maori name translates roughly into “Lord of the Forest.” This tree has its own mythology that more than matches its visual splendor. Although kauri trees are impressively large, you won’t find the staggering girth of the giant sequoias. While kauris are also ancient in their own rites, you won’t find record breaking ages. What you will find, though, is a testament to the never ending relation between nature and spirituality.
6. Sri Maha Bodhi
Sri Maha Bodhi is found in Bodh Gaya, a place of religious pilgrimage for Buddhists. More specifically, the tree is found next to the Mahabodhi Temple, a temple marking the place where Buddha attained his enlightenment. In fact, legend has it that Buddha sat under the very tree that is there today. A shrine marks the place where Buddha is thought to have gazed at the tree with unblinking eyes for seven days. This ultimate show of respect and adoration was in response to the tree’s help in his illumination. The story is so widely regarded that this particular type of fig tree, wherever it is found, is now named the Bodhi Tree (or simply Bo) or the Sacred Fig.
5. The Cotton Tree
Trees are symbolic to many people. To the people of Sierre Leone, the Cotton Tree stands as a monument to the freed African American slaves who settled the area circa 1792. These former slaves were granted freedom when they fought for the British cause during the American war of independence. According to lore, these freed men landed on the shore of Sierre Leone and held a service of thanksgiving around this tree for being delivered into free land (the town in which it resides in is aptly named Freetown). The tree hasn’t been age-verified, but its cultural significance alone has earned it a place among the oldest, most prestigious buildings Freetown has to offer. Services, offerings, and prayers are still offered to the tree in order to entreat the favor of Sierre Leone’s ancestors. The tree remains a symbol of hope and peace in an area of the world sometimes fraught with violence.
4. The Boab Prison Tree
Just like humans, trees can become famous for all the wrong reasons. In Derby, Australia, there is such a tree that attracts attention for all the wrong reasons. The Boab Prison Tree is known to have been used to jail Aboriginal prisoners en route to be sentenced in Derby. The word ‘boab’ is an Australian take on baobab, and you can see the resemblance between the boab and the baobab trees of Madagascar. The Australian boab is known for having a trunk that is short, swollen and often hollow. Its walls are thick and water tight, so like the baobabs of Madagascar, Aboriginal Australians used the trees to collect and store water during dry months. Boab leaves are also reputably medicinal.
3. El Árbol del Tule (The Tree of Tule)
The Tree of Tule is located on sanctified grounds in Santa María del Tule, Mexico. The Tule Tree is a Montezuma cypress, a type of tree known for its drum-like shape and overall stoutness. Seemingly as much a boulder as a tree, El Árbol del Tule sports one of the stoutest trunks in the world, beating even that of the General Sherman. The tree is considered a heritage site of Mexico and the world, but as usual humans tend to muck things up. It has been determined that the Tule Tree is slowly dying from human exposure, specifically pollution stemming from nearby traffic and choking its roots.
Sometimes fame just chances upon people, randomly elevating them beyond their station. Methuselah has long been considered the oldest, non-clonal, single tree on earth. A staple on tree articles and lists everywhere, though many people fail to recognize that there since has been an older bristlecone pine found. Alas, this 5062 year old newcomer (ironic I know) to the scene does not even have a proper name. Still, at 4800 plus years old, Methuselah has done well for itself. Things could have been much worse, should this ancient one have succumbed to the fate of its predecessor, Prometheus. Prometheus would be older than Methuselah is now had it now been cut down in 1964. Methuselah has dispelled rumors that it had anything to do with Prometheus’s demise.
1. Oak Chapel of Allouville-Bellefosse
Yes, there are winding steps going around a large oak tree. But no, this is not World of Warcraft or a fantasy novel. What you see before you is an oak tree that has long ago been converted into a place of Christian worship. The tree can be found in the small French town of Allouville-Bellefosse, where it has persevered through and serves as a reminder of the medieval ages. The tree has been dated to be around 800 years old. During the 1600s, a fire caused by a lightning bolt helped hollow out the inside, and amazingly the tree didn’t die. Wooden shingles have been placed in the areas where the oak tree is bare of bark. Supports can be seen buttressing the tree against wind and its own weight. The Oak Chapel of Allouville-Bellefosse ranks first on this list using no reason or logic outside of the fact it best represents the merging of natural appreciation with human imagination.