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« Auprès de mon arbre, je vivrais heureux » sang Brassens. In Japan, the practice of « shinrin yoku » or « forest bathing » is recognized as medical therapy and has millions of followers. In Japanese, Shinrin means forest, and yoku means bath. Shinrin yoku means bathing in the forest. Embrace a tree, close your eyes, and remain attentive to your surroundings: let yourself be comforted by singing birds and the sound of the wind rustling the leaves of the tree. Smell the leaves. Feel the bark… The practice of « tree-hugging » has followers in the United States, Finland, and even France. Venerable trees number in the thousands on our planet. Treasures of biodiversity, they shelter teeming life and have endured time, sometimes more than a millennium. Twisted branches look like human silhouettes; tentacle roots run down rocks in search of nourishing soil. These giants count among the oldest organisms on Earth. Their tops seem to caress the sky. Trees invite dreams and encourage imagination.

« Animals are nice, they are funny, they make me laugh, but you can’t count on them because they move and they won’t be there the next day. Whereas you can count on a tree ».
(La vie des arbres by Francis Hallé)

Discover in pictures the most beautiful trees in the world: centenarians, giants or the unusual. These trees tell a story and resist the forces of nature. This world tour of the most impressive trees on the planet reminds us that nature is sublime and needs to be protected. The world counts more than 60,000 different species of trees, including at least 9,600 species threatened with extinction. According to a report published in September 2021, climate change and logging could be responsible for the disappearance of one-third of the world’s tree species. So take the time to admire these living creatures, but don’t rush for they will still be there when you come to see them. For them, time does not have the same dimension as for us. From Chile to Australia, through Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Canada, the United States, Cape Verde, South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, Scotland, and Lapland, we take you on a world tour of the oddest trees on the planet. Are you ready to take a trip to contemplate these extraordinary trees ?

 

Giant century-old trees, treasure of biodiversity

What makes trees so captivating ? The fact that they have stood the test of time for thousands of years? Trees don’t age as we do, and their longevity can be counted in centuries or even thousands of years. It is sometimes difficult to give them an exact age! Experts can only guess within a few centuries. It doesn’t matter ! These ancient trees have witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations and have survived climate changes. Venerable trees to admire from the United States to Namibia…

 

Douglas Fir, the king of the forest (Cathedral Grove MacMillan Provincial Park, Canada)

The Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is one of the largest conifer species in the pine family. It is native to Canada. It is also known as Douglas spruce and Oregon pine. Douglas fir is a medium size to large evergreen measuring from 70 to 330 feet tall, with a trunk up to 8 feet in diameter. The Rocky Mountain Douglas fir has an average lifespan of 300 to 400 years. The coastal Douglas fir may live over 500 years, with the oldest specimen living for more than 1,300 years. This softwood tree grows in the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia to California. It is found mainly in the southern part of the Interior Plateau. Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park on Central Vancouver Island, is home to giant ancient Douglas fir trees. Some of these majestic towering pillars have lived over 800 years and are up to 8 feet in circumference and over 160 feet tall. The Douglas fir can withstand summer droughts and cold winters quite well. Its leaves and needles give off a lemongrass scent when crushed. This beautiful tree has become the king of the forest because of its fast growth conical shape and straight trunk – and because of its useful wood. Douglas fir timber is used for shipbuilding, interior and exterior woodwork, parquet floors, poles, panels, paper pulp, etc. A must for the wood industry due to its strength, hardness, and durability !

Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park on Central Vancouver Island, is home to giant ancient Douglas fir trees.

 

The Baobab, the lord of water (Baobab Alley, Madagascar)

Six of the eight varieties of Baobab trees grow in Madagascar. The Adansonia grandidieri is the biggest and the most famous of Madagascar’s six species of Baobabs. These trees are majestic, sometimes several hundred years old, and one of the symbols of the island of Madagascar. The famous Alley of the Baobabs is located in the Menabe region in the southwest of Madagascar. A dozen of 98-feet tall baobabs line a dirt road. Each is up to 8 feet in diameter. These « bottle trees » are precious to the island inhabitants who use them for wood; extract oil, resins and fibers, and gather their fruit and nuts for use as medicines. The baobabs are transformed into water tanks in the south of Madagascar, where there is little or no rain. The gigantic trunks with rot-proof wood are ideal for storing water.

The Baobabs of Madagascar also called « bottle trees » are precious to the island inhabitants who use them for wood or water tanks.

 

The Araucaria, the Chilean national tree that saw the dinosaurs (Patagonia, Chile)

The Araucaria araucana, or « monkey’s puzzle », is the national tree of Chile. This large conifer is called pehuèn and considered sacred by the Mapuche people. It is found in the north of Chilean Patagonia, in the Andean regions of Biobio and in Araucania. This species is many thousands of years old, dating back to the Middle-Jurassic age when the dinosaurs roamed the earth! This unique conifer has gray bark, wrinkled like elephant skin, and needle-like dark green leaves, flattened and prickly, and shaped like hard scales! Its slender pyramidal silhouette can reach 130 feet in height and its trunk 6 feet in diameter. The Araucaria symbolizes freedom and resistance to oppression, as the poet Pablo Neruda wrote in « Ode to the Araucaria ».

The Araucaria araucana, or « monkey's puzzle », is the national tree of Chile. It is found in the north of Chilean Patagonia, in the Andean regions of Biobio and in Araucania.

 

Welwitschia, one of the most unusual trees on the plane (Namib Desert, Namibia)

The Welwitschiaceae consists of a single genus and a single species, Welwitschia mirabilis. It is a true botanical curiosity, described as « bizarre », « weird », and unlike any known plant on Earth. According to some authors, the Welwitschia species has a longevity of several centuries and possibly up to 2000 years. Today, the Welwitschia mirabilis lives exclusively along a coastal strip less than 200 kilometers wide in the Namib Desert from Namibia to Angola. This dioecious perennial tree has a short and thick trunk with deep taproots. It resembles a spinning top or pinwheel whose height above the ground sometimes does not exceed ten centimeters. The unbranched trunk ends in a concave disc surrounded by two thick and leathery leaves. These leaves grow continuously throughout the plant’s life, becoming twisted and frayed with age. An individual leaf can be 10 feet long. The largest known individual, « The Big Welwitschia », is 4.6 feet tall and, including its leaves, 13 feet in diameter. Wind and abrasive sand divides the leaves longitudinally into numerous strips, giving the illusion that these two single laciniate leaves are much more numerous.

Welwitschia mirabilis, a true botanical curiosity, lives exclusively along a coastal strip less than 200 kilometers wide in the Namib Desert from Namibia to Angola.

 

General Sherman, the most majestic tree (Sequoia National Park in California, USA)

General Sherman is not the tallest tree in the world, nor the widest in diameter, but the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), also known as giant redwood and sierra redwood, is the most massive tree on Earth. They grow up to 279 feet in height with a trunk diameter ranging from 20 to 26 feet in diameter and up to 100 feet in circumference.  The General Sherman giant sequoia is located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, California. It is 274.9 feet tall with a circumference at the ground of 102.6 feet. You have to stretch your neck to take in the 106.5 foot spread of its crown. The General Sherman owes its title of « world’s largest living tree » to the volume of its trunk. The estimate volume mentioned on the plaque near the tree is 52,513 cu ft. Formerly Lindsey Creek tree was recorded as the largest tree with a volume of 90,000 cu ft., almost twice the volume of General Sherman. It fell after a storm in 1905. As for its age, it is more than respectable: the General Sherman is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old! This massive specimen is among the tallest, widest, and longest-lived of all trees on the planet.

You have to stretch your neck to take in the 106.5 foot spread of its crown. The General Sherman owes its title of « world's largest living tree » to the volume of its trunk.

 

Eucalyptus, a giant native of Australia (Karijini National Park, Australia)

The eucalyptus is an omnipresent tree in the Australian bush landscape of the Karijini National Park. It is also called the gumtree because of the red resinous gum that it produces when cut. In small quantity, this gum is effective as a decongestant and is used in cough drops and toothpaste. It also has external healing and antiseptic properties. The Eucalyptus is native to Australia, where it exists in about 700 native species and can be found throughout the country. The silver gum tree and the red snow gum tree grow in the Australian Alps and the ancient red river gum tree in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The Blue Mountains of southeastern Australia are home to the widest variety of eucalyptus trees in the world. The name Blue Mountains refers to the blue haze widespread in the region that is believed to come from the volatile terpenoids emitted by these trees. Koalas feed exclusively on certain species of Eucalyptus. Finally, you should know that the tallest trees on Earth are Eucalyptus: the record of 435 feet is held by an Australian eucalyptus, even taller than the 380 feet of the Hyperion coastal Sequoia Redwood.

The eucalyptus also called the gumtree is an omnipresent tree in the Australian bush landscape of the Karijini National Park.

 

The bald cypress, the tree with aerial roots (Louisiana Bayous, USA)

The bald cypress, also known as the Louisiana or swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum), has the gift of walking on water. It stands peacefully in the wetlands and swamps of Louisiana, and its presence is not new. The bald cypress was designated the state tree of Louisiana in 1963. It has been around for several thousand years. Mysterious chain-like Spanish moss (a sign of clean air) hangs from its branches. The tree can attain 229 feet in height. Emblematic of Louisiana, the bald cypress is a large pyramidal conifer adapted to humid environments. Its aerial roots serve as an oxygen reserve and can reach 5.6 feet in length ! Its wood is reputed to be rot-proof, thanks to the oil it contains, and is used for construction and furniture. In late fall, the needle-like leaves arranged in spirals around the branch turn yellow-red to copper-red, and the bald cypress drops its needles in winter. New needles grows again in spring, a rare occurrence in a conifer… hence its name « Bald ».

The bald cypress, also known as the Louisiana or swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) stands peacefully in the wetlands and swamps of Louisiana.

 

Araucarioxylon arizonicum, the fossil tree (Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, USA)

Take a walk back in time as you travel the rocky roads and trails of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona in search of its famous petrified tree trunks for which the park is named. You will discover thousands of fossilized trunks, most of them belonging to the Araucarioxylon arizonicum in the Araucariaceae family. They date from the Triassic period about 200 to 250 million years ago. After their death, these giant trees were buried under sedimentary deposits rich in silica, which favored the preservation of their structure. The silica slowly replaced the plant matter and fossilized the trunks. The petrified wood of this tree is often called « rainbow wood » because of the large variety of colors some specimens exhibit, including red (hematite) and yellow (limonite) iron oxides. This extinct species of conifer is also found in New Mexico, notably in the Bisti Wilderness.

Discover thousands of fossilized trunks as you travel the rocky roads and trails of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The petrified wood of this tree is often called « rainbow wood ».

 

Most famous trees in the world: these trees feed the imagination of mens

As the seasons go by, as we walk around, trees are part of us. They inspire us and comfort us. They inspire poetry, art, and are beautiful. Whether they are leafy, thorny, or flowering, gigantic or human-sized, trees take many shapes. Living works of art, trees are the true beauties of Mother Nature and can be appreciated like paintings. What is more photogenic than the solitude of a tree ? What could be more beautiful than the trunk of a tree naturally painted with rainbow patterns? Nature sometimes reserves magnificent surprises for us…

 

The Lone Cypress, a lone tree fighting against the wind and the tide (Pebble Beach, California, USA)

Firmly clinging to its rocky spur above the Pacific Ocean, the Lone Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) defies the tricks of Mother Nature–cold, storms, and erosion. This iconic tree stands sentinel on a granite hillside off the scenic 17 Mile Drive, in Monterey County, California. Approximately 250 years old, it stands next to one of the most beautiful and expensive golf courses in the world. A true local pride, one could say that this cypress is to Monterey what the pyramids are to Egypt and the Eiffel Tower is to Paris! As you gaze at it amidst the hordes of tourists, remember that as a species, the Monterey Cypress occurs naturally nowhere else on Earth but around Pebble Beach and Point Lobos…

Firmly clinging to its rocky spur above the Pacific Ocean, the Lone Cypress stands sentinel on a granite hillside off the scenic 17 Mile Drive, in Monterey County, California.

 

The Rowan Tree, the sacred tree of the druids (The Cullins in the Highlands, Scotland)

When you ask a Scotsman to name a tree associated with his country, he immediately mentions the Rowan Tree: « Oh rowan tree, oh rowan tree, / Thou’lt aye be dear to me ». The Rowan tree (Sorbus Aucuparia) belongs to the genus Sorbus of the rose family, Rosaceae. It is known for its pretty, creamy white flowers in May and its bright red berries. Birds feast on the ripe berries in the fall. The Rowan tree is a small tree only up to 65 feet in height, but can live up to 200 years. This hardy tree manages to thrive, clinging to the windy hillsides of the Highlands, in the harsh climate. There is a lot of folklore surrounding the Rowan tree. Since ancient times, people have been planted a Rowan tree outside houses and churchyards. In Celtic mythology, the Rowan tree symbolizes courage, wisdom, and protection. It is also known as the Witches’ tree and is said to ward off witches. The wood of this tree was used to make protective amulets: twigs of Rowan were placed above doors and barns to protect the inhabitants against misfortune and evil spirits. It was also one of the sacred trees of the Druids !

The Rowan tree (Sorbus Aucuparia) is a small tree only up to 65 feet in height. This hardy tree manages to thrive, clinging to the windy hillsides of the Highlands, in the harsh climate.

 

The Joshua Tree, made famous by the band U2 (Joshua Tree National Park in Californie, USA)

The tree was made famous by the Irish rock band U2 with their album Joshua Tree, released in 1987. The Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) is a species of the Agavaceae family belonging to the genus Yucca. It is native to the arid southwest of North America, specifically California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. In 1844, when the American explorer John C. Fremont first saw a Joshua tree, he wrote, « the Joshua tree “gave a strange and southern character to the country …. Associated with the idea of barren sands, their stiff and ungraceful form makes them to the traveler, the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom ». This very slow-growing tree with twisted branches, a hairy trunk, and erect leaves lives for an average of 150 years. Some specimens reach 49 feet in height. The trunk consists of fibers and lacks annual growth rings, making it difficult to determine its age. The Joshua tree withstands the extreme temperatures and drought of the Mojave Desert by capturing water with its thorns and storing it in its fibrous trunk. The tree has a deep and extensive root system with roots reaching down as much as 36 feet. According to a study conducted by scientists at the University of California Riverside (UCR), the future of Joshua trees is in jeopardy due to climate change. Barely one in five trees is expected to survive over the next 50 years.

The Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) is native to the arid southwest of North America, specifically California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.

 

The dragon Tree, a tree with the appearance of a large parasol (Santo Antao island, Cape Verde)

A thousand-year-old tree, the dragon tree (Dracaena draco) has the appearance of a large umbrella that can reach more than 49 feet in height. It has a broad base 16 feet and more in circumference supported by interlaced branches. It grows slowly, reaching a height of only 4 feet in about ten years. This tree has adapted to its arid environment by straightening its branches to capture moisture from the mist. The dragon tree secretes a reddish resin used to color the local rum, the Grogue of Cape Verde. The resin of the dragon tree has been known since antiquity as dragon’s blood. It was used as a dye and also has therapeutic properties (hemostatic and healing virtues).

A thousand-year-old tree, the dragon tree (Dracaena draco) has adapted to its arid environment by straightening its branches to capture moisture from the mist.

 

Kokerboom, an aloe with more than one string to its bow (Augrabies National Park, South Africa)

With its upright branches forming a cluster of stars, the Bushmen call it kokerboom, from the Afrikaans koker meaning quiver and boom meaning tree. Its nickname « quiver tree » comes from the fact that hunters used its light branches to make quivers for their arrows. The kokerboom (Aloidendron dichotomum) is a species of succulent plants indigenous to southern Africa, specifically in the Northern Cape region of South Africa and the Namibian desert. The Quiver tree can live up to 350 years. Thanks to their fibrous trunks, which can retain water, these trees are well adapted to the dry climate of Namibia and the northeast of South Africa. Unfortunately, the quiver tree, known for its tolerance to drought and its longevity, may have reached its limits in recent years. The tree was included on the red list of the IUCN (Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) as among the ten species most affected by climate change, along with animal species such as the beluga and emperor penguin…

With its upright branches forming a cluster of stars, the Bushmen call it kokerboom or « quiver tree ».

 

The Rainbow Eucalyptus, the most colorful tree in the world (Arenal Volcano Park, Costa Rica)

The rainbow eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) is a colorful tree native to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. It is the only Eucalyptus to live in the rainforest and can be found in the Arenal Volcano National Park in Costa Rica. A fast-growing species, it can attain a height of 246 feet with a trunk up to 94 inches in diameter. Although its size is impressive, its multicolored bark impresses the most! The Rainbow Eucalyptus has a smooth orange-tinted bark that constantly sheds in strips, gradually changing color as it ages, revealing streaks of pale green, red, orange, grey, and purple-brown. The tree’s name came from the mosaic of colors of its trunk, which gives the appearance of a rainbow. One would swear that a painter has wiped his brushes on it, but the colors are indeed natural.

The Rainbow Eucalyptus tree's name came from the mosaic of colors of its trunk. Although its size is impressive, its multicolored bark impresses the most !

 

The gumbo-limbo or the tourist tree ! (Las Terrazas, Cuba)

The gumbo-limbo, also commonly called copperwood, chaca, or west Indian birch (Bursera simaruba) is a tree species in the Burseraceae family. The copperwood is a small-sized tree growing to a height of 50 feet with a diameter of 5 feet or less. It has smooth, shiny red bark. The tree is easily recognized because of its red trunk! The gumbo-limbo grows rapidly and easily adapts itself to all kinds of habitats, twisting itself to seek the water it needs. This acrobatic tree sometimes seems to have almost human attitudes: here it straddles the path, there it seems to reach out a hand. The tree is referred to as the « tourist tree » because the reddish-brown bark of the trunk peels off in thin transparent strips like the skin of sunburnt tourists who have been too long in the sun. When cut the tree emits an aromatic white resin used by Caribbean Indians to treat grout and to heal wounds, injuries, strains, and sprains. The leaves are brewed into a medicinal teas to reduce fever.

The gumbo-limbo, also commonly called copperwood is a small-sized tree growing to a height of 50 feet with a diameter of 5 feet or less. It has smooth, shiny red bark.

 

The Ceiba or Silk Cotton tree, the sacred tree of the Mayas (Parque natural El Cubano, Cuba)

The Ceiba (Ceiba Pentandra) or Silk Cotton tree, also known as the Kapok tree, is a large tropical tree with a smooth trunk covered with large conical thorns. The ceiba is native to Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean (we have seen some species in Costa Rica and Cuba), West Indies, and West Africa. Its parasol-shaped crown of foliage can reach up 240 feet, dominating the canopy in the rainforest. Its trunk can attain 10 feet in diameter above the extensive buttress roots. In Mayan mythology, the Ceiba is a sacred symbol. It symbolizes the axis of the world, the « axis mundi », the connecting point between heaven and Earth. In English, the ceiba is called kapok tree because it produces a rot-proof vegetable fiber called kapok. The fine, silky fibers covering its seed pods are used to produce a vegetal fiber called kapok, composed of 64% cellulose, 13% lignin, and 23% pentosane. The nickname « silk-cotton tree » is derived from this cotton-like seed fiber. This whitish, fluffy, silky down also provides a waterproof, insulating, rot-proof filling that is used to stuff cushions, pillows, mattresses, or vests. The kapok offers a biodegradable alternative to synthetic oil or hydrocarbon adsorbents in the event of pollution, following oil tanker wrecks, for example.

The Ceiba (Ceiba Pentandra) or Silk Cotton tree, also known as the Kapok tree, is a large tropical tree with a smooth trunk covered with large conical thorns.

 

Dead Vlei Acacia: a spectral and grandiose landscape (Namib Desert, Namibia)

The name Dead Vlei means « Dead Swamp » or « Dead marsh » from the English word « dead » and the Afrikaans word « vlei »meaning swamp or marsh. Dead Vlei is one of the places most visited by photographers. It showcases a display of ebony-colored, sun-dried dead acacia tree skeletons, some over 900 years old, trapped in the middle of the desert. The trees lie on the ground in salt and white clay, contrasting with the brilliant blue sky and the bright red color of the dunes. Dead Vlei is located in the southern part of the Namib Desert inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park. It’s the oldest desert in the world, formed about 55 million years ago when the Tsauchab River flooded after heavy rainfall creating a pool of water. Luxuriant vegetation grew after the flood. Camel thorn trees started growing, but centuries of droughts changed the landscape. Sand dunes expanded and blocked off the Tsauchab River and what once was a lush marsh became a barren landscape. This ocean of white clay and salt is surrounded by the highest red dunes in the world. The wooden « skeletons » silhouette their huge shadows against the dunes. The resultant phenomenon is a forest frozen in time.

At Dead Vlei in the southern part of the Namib Desert, the sun-dried dead acacia trees lie on the ground in salt and white clay, contrasting with the brilliant blue sky and the bright red color of the dunes.

 

Silhouettes of snow-covered trees in the vastness of the Great North (Finnish Lapland)

In Finnish Lapland, nearly 97% of the forests are pine, Baltic pine, spruce, and birch. When winter comes, the cold is biting, and the trees are covered with a thick layer of ice and snow, leaving only their silhouettes in a magical landscape. Finnish Lapland is a true winter postcard landscape. Snowshoeing is an excellent way to discover the vast virgin forests covered with immaculate powder snow. On your way you may encounter a few reindeer feeding on lichens, bark, and birch leaves…

When winter comes in Lapland, the cold is biting, and the trees are covered with a thick layer of ice and snow, leaving only their silhouettes in a magical landscape.

 


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