The Quick 10: 10 Famous Trees
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day the world lost one of its oldest living organisms. But don't pine for it - the death of Prometheus allowed scientists to branch out into new territory, to grow to new heights, and to turn over a new leaf.
OK, OK, that was weak, even by my standards. But the fact of the matter is, on August 6, 1964, a graduate student and the U.S. Forest Service cut down a tree thought to have been at least 5,000 years old. It's now kind of a celebrity conifer, if you can imagine such a thing - it has the star status Brangelina of trees with the age of Abe Vigoda. But believe it or not, there is enough illustrious timber out there to create a whole forest - here are 10 rather wondrous pieces of wood.
1. Prometheus is the poor tree who was cut down before his time 45 years ago (that's his stump to the left). Donald R. Currey, a grad student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was studying the climate during the Little Ice Age by tree-ring dating (AKA dendrochronology). He had been studying trees on Wheeler Peak in Nevada when he came across Prometheus. Although he was able to used a corer to take samples from some of the older trees in the area, Prometheus resisted - Currey broke at least two corers trying to obtain a sample. So he asked the U.S. Forest Service's permission to cut it down for scientific purposes, and they agreed. It was only after the tree was cut that its age was discovered - at least 4,862 years old with a great possibility of it being more than 5,000 years old. A couple of years later, when word got out that Prometheus had been cut down, a lot of people were outraged that the Forest Service treated such an old tree so cavalierly. Others argued that cutting it down gave scientists wonderful research that resulted in the protection of other similar trees in the area. Either way, the ruckus caused by Prometheus' felling resulted in a witness protection program of sorts for other old trees...
2. ...such as Methuselah. Methuselah is now thought to be the world's oldest, non-clonal organism and, at the current age of 4,841 years old, is just a hair younger than ol' Prometheus. It resides somewhere in the White Mountains of California in the Inyo National Forest, but thanks to the Prometheus controversy, its exact location isn't known to many people. I mean, you can probably find it if you really wanted to, but the U.S. Forest Service is certainly making it a point to keep Methuselah's exact coordinates as quiet as possible.
3. Like Prometheus, Tree of TÃ©nÃ©rÃ© met its end a few decades ago. But before then, it was known as the most isolated tree on Earth. The lone acacia tree was a landmark in the TÃ©nÃ©rÃ© region of the Sahara desert; no other tree existed for more than 120 miles. A whole group of trees used to grow in the same location but by the 1930s, the Tree of TÃ©nÃ©rÃ© was the lone survivor. It was knocked down in 1973, supposedly by a drunk truck driver. It was immediately taken to a museum and a metal sculpture was erected in its place. You can see a nice photographic timeline of the Tree of TÃ©nÃ©rÃ© here.
4. Similarly, the 400-plus-year-old Tree of Life in Bahrain sits in the middle of the desert, with no known water supply whatsoever. It's about 1.2 miles away from the Mountain of Smoke, the highest point in Bahrain. This is not to be confused with the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, which is 145 feet tall and not actually a tree (it's fake, all fake).
5. It's also not to be confused with El Ãrbol del Tule, Mexico's Tree of Life. This cypress is huge, with a trunk of more than 118 feet in circumference. It's so mammoth that people originally thought it was several trees that had somehow grown into one giant growth over the years, but tests have proven that the tree is, in fact, a single being. Estimates think the tree has had about 3,000 birthdays or so, but one claim places the tree at an age older than Methuselah - 6,000 years old. The Zapotecs tell the story that Pechocha, a priest of the Aztec storm god, planted the tree 1,400 years ago.
6. and 7. Tree That Owns Itself and Son of Tree That Owns Itself. As a purveyor of weirdo roadside attractions (RoadsideAmerica.com is fabulous), I had an eye on this particular tree when I roadtripped to Florida in April. It didn't end up making the list of places I was allowed to stop at (my traveling companions limited me, otherwise it would have taken us a week to drive down there), so I'm glad I get to learn the story now. It goes like this: sometime between 1820 and 1832, a man who cherished the memories this tree gave him throughout his lifetime decided that he wanted to protect it from anything that might harm it in the future. So, naturally, he gave it ownership of itself - AND of an eight-foot circumference all around it. A local newspaper ran the deed in 1890:
I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak tree . . . of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides.
Sadly, the Tree That Owns Itself collapsed, a victim of root rot, in 1942. A bunch of acorns were taken from the tree and planted as seedlings, and a few years later, the best one was chosen to replace the Tree That Owns Itself. Today, you can see Son of Tree That Owns Itself planted proudly in the same spot his father stood more than 60 years ago.
8. Caesarsboom, a European Yew, is so-named because it's so old that legend has it that Caesar once hitched his horse up to it and then took a nap in its shade. It grows in Lo, a town in Belgium, and although it's a pretty cool story, it probably doesn't have much truth to it - there's no real evidence that Caesar ever passed through the area.
9. The Glastonbury Thorn was a very important Hawthorn on the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey that was purported to be planted by Joseph of Arimathea himself. It flowered twice a year, which was considered to be quite miraculous at the time. The original Thorn was cut down during the English Civil War, but many cuttings had been taken of it as part of a money-making scheme - pieces were sold to people who jumped at the chance to have their own "sacred tree." One of these cuttings was replanted and stood until 1992, when the tree, pronounced dead in 1991, was finally removed. Up until that point, it had been tradition to send the Sovereign a spray ("Holy Thorn," it was called) from the Glastonbury Thorn every Christmas, starting back during the reign of James I. That tradition still continues, but the spray is now sent from trees that grew from some of the oldest cuttings.
Even though it's gone, the legend of the original Thorn is still around - in 1965, Queen Elizabeth II donated a wooden cross with the inscription, ""The cross, the symbol of our faith, the gift of Queen Elizabeth II, marks a Christian sanctuary so ancient that only legend can record its origin."
10. The Sri Maha Bodhi tree, a Sacred Fig, is supposed to be the very spot where Gautama Buddha, the Supreme Buddha, found enlightenment. After he found enlightenment, Gautama Buddha stood for a week in front of the tree, staring at it with gratitude. Like the Glastonbury Thorn, lots of trees have been propagated from the original Bodhi tree, and several of them are now the center of worship themselves. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, was planted from the Sri Maha Bodhi in 288 B.C., and is the oldest-living human-planted tree in existence.
Do you have a famous tree in your area? We had one in Iowa "“ it's what gave the town of Lone Tree its name. It was the only tree located between the Iowa and Cedar rivers and pioneers used it as a landmark. It died in the 1960s, sadly, but the town name is still around to remind us of what once was.
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