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Martin Bodman, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Martin Bodman, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

15 of the World’s Most Famous Trees

Martin Bodman, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Martin Bodman, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

With their imposing size and universal symbolism, trees are the celebrities of the plant world. But some trees can boast special A-list status, whether for their massive measurements, the number of years they’ve got under their belt (and inside their trunks), or their place in history. Below, some trees worth rolling out the red carpet for.

1. THE ASHBRITTLE YEW

A sprawling, seven-trunked yew in the remote village of Ashbrittle is thought to be Britain's oldest living thing. Experts say the tree, which grows in the St. John the Baptist churchyard, is 3500 to 4000 years old—meaning it was already mature when Stonehenge was built. The yew has long been beloved by locals [PDF], and some believe a pre-Christian chief may be buried beneath the mound on which it stands. Recent news reports have raised concerns the tree might be sick or dying, but according to one expert, the yew is just going through a rough patch, and will likely outlive us all.

2. GENERAL SHERMAN

The General Sherman Tree in California's Sequoia National Park is the largest tree, by volume, anywhere in the world. Measurements taken in 1975 marked its volume at slightly over 52,500 cubic feet, or more than half the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. At about 275 feet high and 100 feet wide, Sherman's no slouch in the height or width department either, but at an estimated 2000 years old, it's not particularly ancient for a sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum can live to 3000 years and beyond). Named for Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, it's one of several trees in the park with monikers in honor of American military and political luminaries—neighbors include trees named General Grant, Washington, Lincoln, and Robert E. Lee.

3. TREE OF TÉNÉRÉ

Located 250 miles from any other tree, the Tree of Ténéré (named for the area of Niger where it grew) is thought to have been the world’s most isolated tree for much of the 20th century. A landmark on caravan routes through the region, it was sacred for locals, who admired the graceful acacia’s ability to survive in the middle of the desert. That is, until an allegedly drunk Libyan truck driver slammed into it in 1973. Its remains are now interred in a mausoleum at the Niger National Museum in Niamey, and a lonely metal sculpture stands in its place.

4. JAYA SRI MAHA BODHI

Said to be a branch of the sacred fig tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment, the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BCE by the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. The sacred city of Anuradhapura, with its beautiful complex of palaces and monasteries, then sprung up around the tree. The Ficus religiosa is said to be the oldest tree with a known planting date, and is one of the most sacred sites for Sri Lankan Buddhists, as well as Buddhists around the world. Meanwhile, a sacred fig at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, is also said to be a direct descendant of the Buddha’s original tree.

5. MAJOR OAK

No less a figure than Robin Hood is said to have taken shelter inside the hollow trunk of the massive Major Oak, which stands in the heart of Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England. Estimated at 800 to 1000 years old, the oak (Quercus robur) is about 33 feet around, with branches that spread up to 92 feet. In 2014, it was crowned “England’s Tree of the Year” in a public vote administered by the Woodland Trust. The tree's name comes from Major Hayman Rooke, an antiquarian who included the tree in a popular book about the oaks of Sherwood Forest published in 1790. The oak became known as “The Major's Oak,” and then simply “The Major Oak.” It has also been referred to as The Cockpen Tree, a name that dates to its days in the mid-18th century when its hollow trunk was used to pen cockerels for cock fighting.

6. ANNE FRANK'S TREE

In the two years Anne Frank spent hiding during World War II, the white horse chestnut outside her window—one of the oldest in Amsterdam—became a focus of her longing for freedom. Over the years the tree developed health problems, and was scheduled to be cut down in 2007, but neighbors and supporters rallied around it and created a foundation to provide for its care (including the creation of iron support structures meant to keep it from falling down). However, in August 2010, the tree blew down in a storm, breaking off and knocking over its iron supports. For now, only a broken stump remains on the site, although saplings germinated from the tree's chestnuts have been planted at sites around the world.

7. THE SUNLAND BAOBAB

The Sunland Baobab in Modjadjiskloof, South Africa, is ancient, huge, and the only tree on this list in which you can have a drink. At about 72 feet high and 155 wide, it’s reportedly the widest in South Africa, and perhaps the widest of its species in the world. Its age is disputed: Romanian researchers estimated the baobab is about 6000 years old, while another study found that the oldest part of the tree is “only” about 1060 years old. The species naturally hollows out after about a millennium, and its current owners have created a small bar inside; you can also stay in chalets onsite. 

8. HYPERION

Hyperion is the world’s tallest known living tree, towering almost 380 feet above Redwood National and State Parks in California. The coast redwood was discovered in 2006 by a pair of amateur naturalists, who gave it its name. Its precise location is kept a secret to protect the tree. The area used to be home to thousands of redwoods of Hyperion’s size, before logging felled most of them; it’s said the tree could be even taller, were it not for woodpecker damage at the top. 

9. 9/11 SURVIVOR TREE

When this callery pear tree was pulled from the rubble after 9/11, it looked dead, its trunk charred and its upper branches shattered. Only one of its branches was alive. But the NYC Parks Department took a chance on the tree, and after lots of dedicated care at a Bronx nursery, it recovered. In 2010, the so-called “Survivor Tree” was planted at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. An elm tree that survived the 1995 Oklahoma City's bombing is also known as the “Survivor Tree”; other notable trees that have survived disasters include a bonsai that survived Hiroshima and was later given to the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. and a pine tree that survived the 2011 tsunami in Japan with the help of a metal skeleton.

10. HANGMAN’S ELM

An elm tree in Washington Square Park is thought to be the oldest living tree in Manhattan, but it suffers from a dark reputation: It’s known as the “Hangman’s Elm” because of its supposed association with public hangings during and after the Revolutionary War. Traitors were supposedly hung from its branches at the corner of Waverly Place and MacDougal Street, and a visiting Marquis de Lafayette is said to have witnessed the hanging of 20 highwaymen there in 1824. But there is only one verified hanging nearby: a woman named Rose Butler, convicted of arson and hanged in 1820. Historians, however, have disputed the tree’s association with hanging.

11. METHUSELAH

The almost 5000-year-old Methuselah, a bristlecone pine growing in California’s White Mountains, was long thought to be the oldest non-clonal tree in the world. In 2012, it was superseded by another bristlecone pine in the same area, although the latter tree lacks a colorful nickname. As with other very old trees, its location is kept a secret to protect it. 

12. OLD TJIKKO 

The world’s oldest tree of any kind, and also the planet’s oldest plant, is a Norway spruce found, perhaps confusingly, in Sweden in 2004. Its root system has been growing for 9550 years, although the visible part of the tree is far younger. Unlike Methuselah and other bristlecone pines, the Norway spruce has the ability to clone itself—meaning that after one stem dies, another one springs from the same root system. The researcher who found it, Leif Kullman, named it for his dog.

13. EL ARBOL DEL TULE 

Nsaum75 via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Thought to be the stoutest tree in the world, this Montezuma bald cypress in El Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico, is about 120 feet around. According to researchers Zsolt Debreczy and Istvan Racz [PDF], its branches extend the length of two tennis courts, and it reportedly takes 17 people holding hands with arms outstretched to encompass its girth. There has been some controversy over whether the tree is truly one organism or several, although DNA analysis has proved the former.

14. THIMMAMMA MARRIMANU

This 200-year-old Banyan tree in Andhra Pradesh, India, has branches that extend over five acres, and has been mentioned in some sources as the world’s biggest tree. According to a local legend, childless couples who worship at its base will conceive the following year.

15. THE HARDY TREE

David Edgar via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

While it might not pack the same historical punch as some of the other trees on this list, the Hardy Tree in London’s St. Pancras churchyard makes for a pretty amazing picture. The tree is named for Victorian novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, who worked as an apprentice architect before becoming a full-time writer. In the 1860s, one of Hardy’s duties included rearranging the St. Pancras churchyard burials ahead of a railway expansion that was set to cut right through the graves. Hardy moved the tombstones to the base of a nearby ash tree, whose roots have now grown in among them. He didn’t exactly relish the task, and it’s thought that an early poem of his, “The Levelled Churchyard,” was inspired by the event. Key lines include:

O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!
We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
'I know not which I am!’


A shorter version of this story ran in 2015.

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Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
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Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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25 Species That Have Made Amazing Comebacks
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iStock

Conservationists can’t afford to become complacent. When it comes to rescuing endangered species, progress is an ongoing effort. Still, we can take comfort in the knowledge that many life forms which were once on the brink of extinction or endangerment have made tremendous comebacks with our help. Just look at what happened to these 25 plants and animals.

1. THE BALD EAGLE

A profile of a bald eagle on a black background
iStock

For much of the twentieth century, this American icon was in jeopardy. Habitat loss, overhunting, and the widespread use of DDT—an insecticide which weakens avian eggshells—once took a major toll on bald eagles. By 1963, the species population in the lower 48 states had fallen from an estimated 100,000 individuals to just 417 wild pairs. To turn things around, the U.S. government passed a series of laws, including a 1973 ban on DDT that was implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These efforts paid off; today, approximately 10,000 wild breeding pairs are soaring around in the lower 48.

2. THE ARABIAN ORYX

arabian oryx
iStock

The Arabian oryx is a kind of desert antelope indigenous to the Middle East. Reckless hunting devastated the species, which became essentially extinct in the wild during the early 1970s. However, a few individual animals were still alive and well in captivity. So, in the 1980s, American zoos joined forces with conservationists in Jordan to launch a massive breeding program. Thanks to their efforts, the oryx was successfully reintroduced to the Arabian Peninsula, where over 1000 wild specimens now roam (with a captive population of about 7000).

3. THE GRAY WOLF

gray wolves
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Even well-known conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt used to vilify America’s wolves. Decades of bounty programs intended to cut their numbers down to size worked all too well; by 1965, only 300 gray wolves remained in the lower 48 states, and those survivors were all confined to remote portions of Michigan and Minnesota. Later, the Endangered Species Act enabled the canids to bounce back in a big way. Nowadays, 5500 of them roam the contiguous states.

4. THE BROWN PELICAN

Brown pelican perched on a dock piling
iStock

Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, is another avian species that was brought to its knees by DDT. In 1938, a census reported that there were 500 pairs of them living within the Pelican State’s borders. But after farmers embraced DDT in the 1950s and 1960s, these once-common birds grew scarce. Things got so bad that, when a 1963 census was conducted, not a single brown pelican had been sighted anywhere in Louisiana. Fortunately, now that the era of DDT is over, the pelican’s back with a vengeance on the Gulf Coast and no longer considered endangered.

5. ROBBINS’ CINQUEFOIL

Robbins' Cinquefoil

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Noted for its yellow flowers, Robbins’ cinquefoil—or Potentilla robbinsiana—is an attractive, perennial plant that’s only found in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Franconia Ridge. Collectors once harvested the cinquefoil in excessive numbers and careless backpackers trampled many more to death. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service re-routed hiking trails away from the flower’s wild habitats. This, along with a breeding program, rescued the Robbins' cinquefoil from the brink of extinction.

6. THE AMERICAN ALLIGATOR

Alligator emerging from swamp
iStock

With its population sitting at an all-time low, the American alligator was recognized as an endangered species in 1967. Working together, the Fish and Wildlife Service and governments of the southern states the reptiles inhabit took a hard line against gator hunting while also keeping tabs on free-ranging communities. In 1987, it was announced that the species had made a full recovery.

7. THE NORTHERN ELEPHANT SEAL

Elephant seal winking
iStock

Due to its oil-rich blubber, the northern elephant seal became a prime target for commercial hunters. By 1892, some people were beginning to assume that it had gone extinct. However, in 1910, it was discovered that a small group—consisting of less than 100 specimens—remained at large on Guadalupe Island. In 1922, Mexico turned the landmass into a government-protected biological preserve. From a place of security, that handful of pinnipeds bred like mad. Today, every single one of the 160,000 living northern elephant seals on planet Earth are that once-small group’s descendants.

8. THE HUMPBACK WHALE

humpback whale
iStock

Did you know that the world’s humpback whale population is divided into 14 geographically-defined segments? Well, it is—and in 2016, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informed the press that nine of those clusters are doing so well that they no longer require protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The cetaceans’ comeback is a huge win for the International Whaling Commission, which responded to dwindling humpback numbers by putting a ban on the hunting of this species in 1982. (That measure remains in effect.)

9. THE RED WOLF

red wolf
iStock

After the red wolf was declared “endangered” in 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rounded up every wild member of the species they could find and put them all into captivity. By then, the canid’s formerly wide geographical range had been reduced to a small portion of coastal Texas and Louisiana. FWS officials only managed to locate 17 wolves—14 of whom helped kick off a successful breeding program. Meanwhile, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. But thanks to those original 14 animals, we now have a captive red wolf population of 200. The FWS has also used their stock to release additional wolves into national wildlife refuges.

10. THE WHITE RHINO

rhino with birds
iStock

Make no mistake: The long-term survival of Earth’s largest living rhino is still very uncertain because poachers continue to slaughter them en masse. Nevertheless, there is some good news. Like black-footed ferrets and northern elephant seals, white rhinos were once presumed to be extinct. But in 1895, just under 100 of them were unexpectedly found in South Africa. Thanks to environmental regulations and breeding efforts, more than 20,000 are now at large.

11. THE WILD TURKEY

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It’s hard to imagine that these poultry birds were ever in any real trouble, and yet they looked destined for extinction in the early 20th century. With no hunting regulations to protect them, and frontiersmen decimating their natural habitat, wild turkeys disappeared from several states. By the 1930s, there were reportedly less than 30,000 left in the American wilderness. Now, over 6 million are strutting around. So what changed? A combination of bag limits set by various agencies and an increase in available shrublands.

12. THE BLACK-FOOTED FERRET

black-footed ferret

USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

North America’s only indigenous ferret is a prairie dog-eater that was written off as “extinct” in 1979. But the story of this animal took a surprising twist two years later, when a Wyoming pooch gave a freshly-dead one to its owner. Amazed by the canine’s find, naturalists soon located a wild colony. Some of these ferrets were then inducted into a breeding program, which helped bring the species’ total population up to over 1000.

13. THE CALIFORNIA CONDOR

California condor
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Since 1987, the total number of California condors has gone up from 27 birds to about 450, with roughly 270 of those being wild animals. With its 10-foot wingspan, this is the largest flying land bird in North America.

14. THE GOLDEN LION TAMARIN

two tamarins
iStock

A flashy, orange primate from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, the golden lion tamarin has been struggling to cope with habitat destruction. The species hit rock-bottom in the early 1970s, when fewer than 200 remained in the wild. A helping hand came from the combined efforts of Brazil’s government, the World Wildlife Federation, public charities, and 150 zoos around the world. There’s now a healthy population of captive tamarins tended to by zookeepers all over the globe. Meanwhile, breeding, relocation, and reintroduction campaigns have increased the number of wild specimens to around 1700—although urban sprawl could threaten the species with another setback. But at least the animal doesn’t have a PR problem: Golden lion tamarins are so well-liked that the image of one appears on a Brazilian banknote.

15. THE ISLAND NIGHT LIZARD

island night lizard

Native to three of California’s Channel Islands, this omnivorous, four-inch reptile was granted federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1977. The designation couldn’t have come at a better time, as introduced goats and pigs were decimating the night lizard’s wild habitat in those days. But now that wild plants have been reestablished under FWS guidance, more than 21 million of the reptiles are believed to be living on the islands.

16. THE OKARITO KIWI

Photo of an Okarito kiwi at a rearing facility at West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, New Zealand.

Small, flightless, island birds usually don’t fare well when invasive predators arrive from overseas. (Just ask the dodo.) New Zealanders take great pride in the five kiwi species found exclusively in their country, including the Okarito kiwi, which is also known as the Okarito brown or rowi kiwi. These animals have historically suffered at the hands of introduced dogs and stoats. But recently, there’s been some cause for celebration. Although there were only about 150 Okarito kiwis left in the mid-1990s, conservation initiatives have triggered a minor population boom, with about 400 to 500 adult birds now wandering about—and that population is growing by two percent a year. Taking note of this trend, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has just declared that the Okarito kiwi is no longer endangered.

17. THE BROWN BEAR

brown bear
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Let’s clear something up: The famous grizzly bear technically isn’t its own species. Instead, it is a North American subspecies of the brown bear (Ursus arctos), which also lives in Eurasia. Still, grizzlies are worth mentioning here because of just how far they’ve come within the confines of Yellowstone National Park. In 1975, there were only 136 of them living inside the park. Today, approximately 700 of them call the place “home,” a turn of events that led to the delisting of Yellowstone’s grizzlies as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act earlier this year.

18. THE THERMAL WATER LILY

thermal water lily

With pads that can be as tiny as one centimeter across, the thermal water lily is the world’s smallest water lily. Originally discovered in 1985, it was only known to grow in Mashyuza, Rwanda, where it grew in the damp mud surrounding the area’s hot spring. Or at least it did. The thermal water lily seems to have disappeared from its native range. Fortunately, before the species went extinct in the wild, some seeds and seedlings were sent to London’s Royal Botanic Gardens. There, horticulturalists figured out a way to make the lilies flower in captivity, and managed to saved the species.

19. THE PEREGRINE FALCON

Peregrine falcon flying
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When a peregrine falcon dives toward its airborne prey, the bird-eating raptor has been known to hit speeds of up to 242 miles per hour. The species endured a plummet of a different sort when DDT dropped America’s population. In the first few decades of the 20th century, there were around 3900 breeding pairs in the United States. By 1975, the number of known pairs had been whittled down to 324. Things got better after the insecticide was banned, and according to the FWS, somewhere between 2000 and 3000 peregrine falcon couples currently patrol the skies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

20. PRZEWALSKI’S HORSE

Photo of a a wild Przewalski's horse on a snow covered field in the Chernobyl exclusions zone
GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images

There are a few different subspecies of wild horse, all of which are endangered. One variant is the Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus perzewalskii) from Mongolia. It completely vanished from that nation during the 1950s, but by then assorted zoos around the world had started breeding them. From 1992 to 2004, some 90 captive-born horses were released into Mongolia. They thrived and around 300 are living out there today.

21. THE NORTH AMERICAN BEAVER

North American beaver
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No one knows how many of these buck-toothed rodents were living on the continent before European fur traders showed up. But after two centuries of over-trapping, incentivized by the lucrative pelt trade, the number of North American beavers had shrunk to an abysmal 100,000 in 1900. Their fortunes reversed when restocking programs were implemented in the U.S. and Canada. Nowadays, somewhere between 10 and 15 million beavers live in those countries. Given their landscaping talents, many property owners have come to see the furballs as pests.

22. THE CAFÉ MARRON

Cafe Marron tree

Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean once gave biologists a chance to raise the (near) dead. This landmass is the home of a small tree with star-shaped flowers called the café marron. It was thought that the plant had long since died out when a single specimen was found by a schoolboy named Hedley Manan in 1980. As the only surviving member of its species known to mankind, that lone plant assumed paramount importance. Cuttings from the isolated café marron were used to grow new trees at England’s Royal Botanical Gardens. Right now, there are more than 50 of these plants—and all of them can have their ancestry traced straight back to that one holdout tree.

23. THE WEST INDIAN MANATEE

Manatee with fish

A docile, slow-moving marine mammal with a taste for sea grasses, the Floridian subspecies of the West Indian manatee is a creature that does not react well to razor-sharp propellers. Collisions with boats are a significant threat, and the danger won’t go away altogether. Still, the passage of tighter boating regulations has helped the Sunshine State rejuvenate its manatee population, which has more than tripled since 1991.

24. THE BURMESE STAR TORTOISE

Burmese star tortoise
iStock

The pet trade did a number on these guys. Beginning in the 1990s, wildlife traffickers harvested Burmese star tortoises until they effectively became “ecologically extinct” in their native Myanmar. Luckily, conservationists had the foresight to set up breeding colonies with specimens who’d been confiscated from smugglers. The program started out with fewer than 200 tortoises in 2004; today, it has more than 14,000 of them. “Our ultimate objective is to have about 100,000 star tortoises in the wild,” Steve Platt, a herpetologist who’s been taking part in the initiative, said in a Wildlife Conservation Society video.

25. THE GIANT PANDA

panda in tree
iStock

Here we have it: the poster child for endangered animals everywhere … except that the giant panda is no longer endangered. Last year, the IUCN changed its status from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” There’s still a chance that we could lose the majestic bamboo-eater once and for all someday, but the last few years have offered a bit of hope. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of wild pandas saw a 17 percent increase. The welcome development was made possible by enacting a poaching ban and seeing an explosion of new panda reserves. It’s nice to know that, with the right environmental policies, we can make the future brighter for some of our fellow creatures.

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