From ancient beauties and ghostly boughs to a tree that harbors a secret dance floor, meet some of the superstars of tree family! There is a new book out by landscape photographers Diana Cook and Len Jenshel, and it is nothing short of magnificent. The duo spent two years traveling to 59 spots across five continents to take portraits of some of the world's most historic and inspiring trees, "ones that had witnessed history, survived calamities, or were the focus of veneration," they write. The fruit of their labor is "Wise Trees" (Abrams, 2017) and within its dreamy pages we are introduced to one inspiring tree after the next. Trees are at once pedestrian and profound; they surround us and may go unnoticed, but when their stories are told, the extent of their humble majesty is hard to deny. Not to mention how diligently they serve us – trees can live without us, but we cannot live without them. "They are essential to the survival of our species," Cook and Jenshel write, "and have been for millennia." "It is our hope that by paying tribute to their beauty, significant stories, and all the wisdom they have to impart," they add, "we can appreciate not only their role in our past, but also how crucial they are to our future." The book features 59 remarkable trees, 10 of which we're sharing here. First up, an amazing Montezuma cypress.
1. El Arbol del Tule: Oaxaca, Mexico
This jaw-dropping Montezuma cypress, pictured above, can be found in the small Mexican town of Santa Maria del Tule, where it has lived somewhere between 1,200 and 3,000 years. In the indigenous language of the area, Nahuatl, the species is known as "ahuehuete," meaning old man of the water. El Arbol del Tule is the largest, widest, and oldest Montezuma cypress in the world; her circumference rings in at an astonishing 137.8 feet.
2. Bunut Bolong: West Bali, Indonesia
You may have seen drive-through trees in California, giant redwoods with tunnels carved through their trunks in an effort to lure 19th-century tourists to the woods. Bunut Bolong, a sacred banyan (Ficus benghalensis) in Asahduren Village, West Bali, Indonesia suffered a similar fate, but this story has a different twist. Engineers determined that the tree was in the unavoidable path of a planned road, but Balinese Hinduism forbids cutting down a sacred tree – so they ran the road right through the tree. Before the hole was cut, worshippers prayed to the spirits in the tree for forgiveness. Even with the tunnel, the tree has survived, and is even growing in girth thanks to aerial roots dropping from its branches. The checkered fabric lining the tunnel signifies that spirits live within. And even though there is now a roadway right smack in the middle of the tree, villagers still come daily for worship.
3. The Derby Boab Tree: Kimberley Region, Australia
While the boab (Adansonia gregorii), a relative of the baobab tree, lives predominantly in Madagascar and continental Africa, somehow it ended up in the Kimberley Region of Australia as well. The one pictured here is outside of Derby and is thought to be an impressive 1,500 years old. The boab is an important tree for the Aboriginal people of the region; the tree is not only spiritual, but also provides crucial water and its seedpod is a generous source of vitamin C. Local lore also claims that the tree was once used to lock up prisoners, and while there is no evidence confirming the legend, the tree's nickname "The Boab Prison Tree" persists.
4. Peesten Tanzlinde: Bavaria, Germany
The linden tree has been a part of European village life since the Middle Ages, and it remains so today. For centuries, it has been at the heart of outdoor festivals, concerts and other public events – a linden where such festivities occur is called a tanzlinde, or "dance linden." The first record of the beautiful tanzlinde of Peesten, Germany – shown above – comes from the 16th century. The limbs of the linden are strong enough to support heavy weights; the Peesten tanzlinde not only has a spiral staircase, but a dance platform in its boughs ... not to mention some festive pruning. Who needs a treehouse when you have a treeballroom?
5. Gion Weeping Cherry: Kyoto, Japan
In Japan, they take their flowering trees seriously – they even have a centuries-old ritual known as hanami, or, flower viewing. Why isn't hanami a tradition practiced everywhere?! Over the years, hanami has become specific to sakura, the cherry trees. People go to parks and have picnics and cherish the trees, a celebration of spring and the ephemeral beauty of life. At Kyoto's Maruyama Park, there are more than 600 cherry trees from which to hanami; amongst them, an explosively beautiful 80-year-old weeping cherry called "hitoe shiro Higan shidore sakura" – meaning "single-petal,white, Higan-variety weeping cherry." This tree is so beloved that it even has its very own sakura-mori, or, "cherry-tree doctor." Toemon Sano took over the job from his father, who took over the job from his father – imagine, three generations devoted to caring for a single, beautiful tree. The net you can see in this photo is a protective measure taken by Toemon to prevent damage from birds, all the better for long-lasting hanami.
6. Ghost Tree: Bagahi Kumhapur, India
There is a Hindu belief that godly beings inhabit the sacred fig or pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), and why not? Trees seem an undeniably appropriate place for spiritual beings to reside; add in the pipal tree's heart-shaped leaves that persistently quiver in the breeze and it makes perfect sense. The pipal tree near Bagahi Kumhapur in the state of Uttar Pradash is believed to be inhabited by good spirits; it is known as the ghost tree. But how the devotees determined the tree's taste in offerings is not clear. What is clear, is that the good spirits here have some quirky preferences: men's red underwear is hung on the branches and marijuana is left as well. It would appear that the ghosts of this tree like to whoop it up once the mortals have gone on their way ... its heart-shaped leaves must whip into a frenzy.
7. The Ancients: Inyo National Forest, California
I defy anyone not to be awed by California's bristlecone pines. These gnarled beauties may not soar to the sky with graceful canopies, but they do manage to thrive at high elevations in extremely poor soil and limited rainfall with a ridiculously short growing period. And yet they persist. In fact, they are the oldest living non-clonal trees on the planet – some, inconceivably, 5,000 years old. We humans think we have it all figured out, meanwhile, the 5,000-year-old bristlecones will be having the last laugh.
8. The Dueling Oak: New Orleans, Louisiana
While a tree famed for the duels that took place beneath it might not be considered inspiring, per se, it can surely be considered historic. This grandest of southern live oaks (Quercus virginiana), known as the dueling oak, lives in New Orleans' City Park; its lateral roots and low center of gravity – the norm for the species – give it good standing in the face of hurricanes. And, apparently, duels. As for the bloody history that fed those roots, newspaper reports note that there was a duel fought there nearly every day from 1834 to 1844. Thankfully, dueling was outlawed in the state by 1890; and the silent oak remains as a poignant reminder of days not long past when gentlemen solved disputes with pistols and swords.
9. The Child-Giving Gingko: Tokyo, Japan
The Buddhist temple, Zoshigaya Kishimojin-do, in Tokyo, Japan was founded in 1578; it is dedicated to Kishimojin, the goddess of safe birth and child rearing. On the grounds can be found one of the largest gingko trees (Ginkgo biloba) in Tokyo, the so-called child-giving gingko. More than 700 years old, the tree is believed to offer fertility and easy-childbearing to women who worship Kishimojin. And really, what could be a more potent symbol of fertility than a beautiful giving tree?
10. Oklahoma City Survivor Tree: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Previously we wrote about the 9/11 Survivor Tree, a beautiful callery pear found charred and near death after a month of being buried in rubble after 9/11, only to be rescued and nursed back to health – she now grows proudly at the memorial. But before that tree, there was the tree that managed to survive the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. This American elm (Ulmus americana) was badly burned and then nearly chopped down, but was spared. When the memorial was being planned, everyone involved knew that the stalwart tree had to be included; it now holds a prominent place on a promontory overlooking a reflecting pool. Each year, hundreds of its seeds are collected and planted, the saplings then distributed throughout the country. To think that the babes of this strong tree are growing across the states is one of the best statements of hope and resilience I can think of – and like so many gifts, we have a tree to thank for it.