Celebrated around the world throughout the year -- but on the 22nd of April in the US -- Arbor Day reminds us of how valuable trees are to our daily life, to the ecosystems around us and to our planet. We have written often about the value of trees in Living Deep’s Into the Deep blog -- most recently in our post “Let These Nature Poems Inspire You on Great Poetry Day 2021” for National Poetry Month. We discussed how children benefit from immersion in nature in our post “How to Talk to Your Kids About the Environment on Earth Day” and how adults can benefit from improved mental and physical health when exposed to trees in our post “Green Spaces Lessen the Health Costs of Climate Change.” Trees are one of the most valuable resources our planet has to offer. They lessen the impacts of climate change, capture carbon, lower the temperature on hot days, protect soil from washing away homes during heavy rains and so much more. Trees are often the heart of habitats, providing a safe haven for all manner of life. It is no small wonder, then, that trees would be so heavily featured in our mythology, our religions and our cultural traditions. As such -- on the final day of a month filled with environmental awareness holidays -- we pause to honor the variety of trees across the globe. From the sacred Ancient Yews of Ireland to the romantic Great Sakura Trees of Japan, follow below for ten trees worth traveling the world to see.
History of Arbor Day
Today’s environmental movement began a hundred fifty years ago as one of many reactions to harm wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Pollution had made cities virtually unlivable, with long periods of thick smog stinging eyes, burning throats and leading to the deaths of many urbanites. During the third quarter of the 19th century, attitudes began shifting away from consumption and production, towards conservation and preservation. This period gave Americans naturalists like John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, who fought to keep rivers clean and forests lush.
It was during this time that Julius Sterling Morton -- a newspaper editor and member of President Cleveland’s cabinet -- founded Arbor Day. Despite growing up in the Great Plains state of Nebraska, Morton was obsessed with and fascinated by trees throughout the course of his life. Morton so loved trees of every kind that he developed an enormous botanical garden surrounding his family’s estate -- populated with both rare and local varieties. He also advocated for planting trees across the Great Plains -- a tradition that continues today.
Trees Stand Because of Morton -- But His Legacy Does Not
Unfortunately, while Morton was a fierce defender of nature -- and a , he often acted against the rights of other human beings. The post “J. Sterling Morton’s War on Christmas Trees” from the History Nebraska blog details Morton’s aggressive protection of trees -- and his lack of interest in protecting people. History Nebraska notes that Morton’s Arbor Day legacy often obscures the fact that he was “both one of the most distinguished and despised of Nebraska’s early politicians.” It eschews that Morton was “an ardent defender of slavery and a fierce critic of Abraham Lincoln, whom he considered a tyrant leading “‘the country to eternal war or eternal disunion.’”
Arbor Day in America and Abroad
19th century Nebraskans celebrated the first Arbor Day on 10 April 1872 after Julius Morton lobbied the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, “more than 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day.” For the next eight years, Arbor Day was celebrated locally on the tenth of April, but in 1885, Nebraskans established Arbor Day as a state holiday on 22 April. Between 1882 and 1920, an additional forty-five states adopted Arbor Day, incorporating the holiday into school curricula nationwide.
The Foundation notes that while most Americans celebrate Arbor Day on the last Friday in April, “a number of state Arbor Days are at other times to coincide with the best tree planting weather, from January and February in the south to May in the far north.” Other countries celebrate Arbor Day too -- from Europe and Asia to Africa and South America. For instance, Barbadians celebrate Arbor Day on 22 September, Germans celebrate on 25 April and Namibians celebrate on the second Friday in October.
10 Trees Around the World to Admire on Arbor Day
#1 Joshua Trees
Where: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
Technically, Joshua Trees are succulents rather than trees. However, this member of the agave family easily fooled us with its tall stature, mysterious shape and status as one of few large scale elements in the desert landscape that surrounds it. Native to the Mojave Desert of Southern California, these unusual plants were named by Mormon settlers passing through as they traveled west. These Mormon travelers named the trees after the Hebrew leader Joshua, who directed the Isrealite tribes through Canaan in a quest to conquer the region.
According to the National Wildlife Federation entry “Joshua Tree - Yucca brevifolia,” the Mormons chose Joshua as the namesake for these succulents because their outstretched limbs appeared to guide the travelers towards the coast. In their article “Everything to know about Joshua Tree National Park,” the National Geographic editorial team recommends also checking out the “cholla cactus, ocotillo, cottonwood trees, and California fan palms” while exploring the national forest.
#2 Rainbow Eucalyptus
Where: Hana Highway, Maui, Hawaii, USA
The second in our list of strange trees around the world is the rainbow eucalyptus. Though the Rainbow Eucalyptus looks more at home in a Dr. Seuss book than in the real world, the vibrant tree does in fact exist outside our dreams. Growing as tall as two hundred fifty feet, these stunning trees are native to tropical forests, found across the world in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. In her article “These Exotic Trees Transform Into Rainbows as Their Barks Shed” for My Modern Met, Jessica Stewart writes that the rainbow eucalyptus is also known as “the Mindanao gum or rainbow gum” and is unique because “it's the only eucalyptus to live in the rainforest and only one of four species found outside of Australia.” Rainbow eucalyptus trees unveil their orange and red resin technicolor trunks and branches after shedding their bark, taking “on different colors as...the inner bark slowly ages.”
Though travelers can find rainbow eucalyptus trees in tropical destinations around the world, one of the most stunning examples is the forest of trees just off Hana Highway on the island of Maui in Hawaii, USA. Megan Shute writes about the Maui spot in her article “The Enchanting Forest In Hawaii That’s Loaded With Beautiful Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees” for OnlyInYourState.com. Shute notes that “while you will find rainbow eucalyptus trees scattered across Maui, including at the Ke’anae Arboretum and just before Hana town, the most well-known grove...is found near Mile Marker 7 along the Hana Highway.” These rainbow eucalyptus trees are somewhat difficult to find -- hidden amongst other varieties --, but their “blue, purple, orange, and maroon tones” are well-worth the search.
#3 Baobab Trees
Where: Avenue of Baobabs, Morondava, Madagascar
The third on our list of unique trees around the world is the baobab, found in Africa, Australia and Madagascar. Jonathan Drori describes the unusual trees in his article “9 of the world's most unusual trees. How many have you seen?” for Wanderlust. Drori explains that nearly thousand years old baobab trees “look like they’ve been flung into the Earth upside down, their branches somehow too spindly for their huge girth.” Perfect for arid desert regions, baobabs soak up water through their sponge-like trunks, which “are able to expand as they take up water in the rainy season.” Drori writes that Madagascar is a popular “baobab hot spot, particularly around Morondava with its famous Avenue of Baobabs.”
In his recent article “Avenue of the Baobabs: Where the Trees Reach the Sky” for Culture Trip, Cassam Looch writes that the Adansonia baobabs found in Morondava “are one of eight species found around the world, with six endemic to Madagascar.” Looch writes that according to legend, “when Arab seafarers first reached Madagascar and saw the top-heavy trees they said that it was as if the devil had ripped them from the ground and placed them back upside down.” Though there are fewer than thirty trees across Menabe, each towers over the landscape and a few are “more than 800 years old.”
#4 Windblown Macrocarpa Trees
Where: Slope Point, South Island of New Zealand
Though many trees on this list are otherworldly and ethereal, few match the bizarre beauty of the windblown macrocarpa trees in Slope Point, New Zealand. Josh Hrala admires the trees in his article “Welcome to Slope Point, Where The Trees Grow Sideways” for Science Alert. Hrala writes that the windswept trees of Slope Point “are unlike anything else in the world.” Though the macrocarpa trees “aren't too different to those you'd find elsewhere on the island, in this particular location, the trees all end up growing sideways, looking like dense patches of windswept hair.”
According to Hrala, this windswept look is due to the far south location of Slope Point, which is only three thousand miles from the South Pole. This makes the spot susceptible to blustery Antarctic winds that -- until they hit the cliffs of Slope Point -- cannot break on any other landmass. As such, the macrocarpa trees of Slope point lean permanently to one side -- even when the wind is not blowing -- wowing tourists and locals alike.
#5 Gingko Trees
Where: Gingko Tree Road in Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea
In her article “8 Most Stunning Trees in Asia That Will Take Your Breath Away: Say hello to these beautiful trees around Asia!” for TripZilla, Tiffany Conde writes about the gingko trees in Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea. Number six on Conde’s list of beautiful trees across Asia are the Asan Gingko trees that boast golden leaves and thousands of visitors each Fall. Also called “maidenhair trees,” Conde notes that these gingkos “are somewhat unique among native trees in Asia, as they produce nutritious nuts with a strong, distinct odour.” Though this grove is the most popular in South Korea, gingko trees can also be found “around the streets and bridges of Seoul” and elsewhere in the country. Towards the end of Autumn, the leaves fall from the gingkos, creating a beautiful golden carpet across Gingko Tree Road in Asan.
#6 Quiver Trees
Where: Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop, Namibia
The sixth in our list of trees around the world takes us to Namibia in Africa. The Audley Traveller post “WORLD'S MOST UNUSUAL PLANTS AND TREES” places quiver trees in second place on their list, noting its unusual shape and fascinating history. According to Audley Traveller, “the name 'quiver tree' comes from the San People's (or Bushmen) use of the hollowed-out branches (the wood is soft) which makes an excellent quiver for their arrows.” People of this region have also used the trunks of quiver trees to store water and other foodstuffs. Somewhat resembling the Joshua Trees of Joshua Tree National Park in California, quiver trees “flourish in desert and semi-desert areas and are found most easily in parts of South Africa and Namibia.” Like the Joshua Tree, the quiver tree is not a true tree, but rather an uncommon variety of Aloe that can grow upwards of thirty feet tall.
Travelers hoping to catch a glimpse of these mysterious desert trees might consider a trip to Quiver Tree Forest in Keetmanshoop, Namibia. In a recent article for Atlas Obscura, contributing writer Blake Allen describes these quiver trees as “a rare cluster of alien-like plants [that grow] along a dusty highway.” Allen writes that this forest of quiver trees is incredibly unusual because “these wonky plants prefer to grow almost exclusively atop medium-to-large dolerite rock formations...great distances from each other.” The uncharacteristic forest of quiver trees found in Keetmanshoop, Namibia is “one of the only known naturally occurring such sites in the world.”
The culture that surrounds these thirty feet tall trees is one of many elements that makes them so incredibly interesting. According to Allen, quiver trees are “regarded as a national symbol of Namibia and are featured on the currency and in popular imagery” as well as used in traditional medicine. Scientists also find the plants fascinating because they are “capable of a rare botanical practice known as self-amputation, which allows them to shed diseased limbs to prevent sudden infections from spreading and remove extra limbs in times of drought.”
#7 Witches Spruce
Where: Vilkyškiai Forest Near Vilkyškiai Town, Pagėgiai Municipality, Lithuania
An eerie yet beautiful tree, the Witches Spruce was awarded European Tree of the Year in 2018. Like many trees in forests around the world, the Witches Spruce carries with it a long, storied history -- steeped in the culture of the people who have surrounded it for centuries. According to Melissa Breyer in her article “13 of Europe's Most Fascinating Trees” for Treehugger, the Witches Spruce -- also known as the Norway Spruce and Mysterious Witches’ Broom -- “soars to 111 feet (34 meters) in height, with a chaos of trunks and branches that give it the appearance of tangled witch’s hair.”
Quoting those who nominated the tree for European Tree of the Year, Breyer writes that “‘one legend says the witch's broom turned into the tree because she met a local man she liked, and forgot to fetch her broom until midnight.” Another tale of this forest dates to the early 19th century, positing that “Napoleon cut off the top of a small spruce while he was riding a horse, and it grew back into its strange shape as a result.” Other legendary conifers dot the forests of Lithuania, including the Crone Spruce in Žemaitija National Park.
#8 Ancient Cherry Trees
Where: Miharu, Fukushima, Japan
There are dozens of destinations across Japan where tourists flock to view the cherry trees that bloom during Spring and early Summer. According to the LiveJapan.com article “Japan Cherry Blossom 2021 Forecast: When & Where To See Sakura in Japan,” Ueno Park is one of these, boasting “around 1,200 cherry trees [and considered] one of the most famous cherry blossom viewing sites in Japan.” Each season during which the sakura bloom, “nearly 2 million people visit the park for hanami.” Other destinations include Goryokaku Tower and Fort Goryokaku, Asahigaoka Park and Mt. Tengu. While every cherry tree that blooms in Japan is stunning and transportative, perhaps none is as impactful as the giant, ancient monument of Miharu Takizakura.
The All Things Considered broadcast “'A Reminder That Nature Is Strong': In Japan, A 1,000-Year-Old Cherry Tree Blooms” from NPR in April 2020 described the oldest living tree located in the nation that “has lived through wars and famines, earthquakes and storms.” A symbol of the resilience of the Japanese people, Miharu Takizakura was a special touchstone for citizens across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite its relative closeness to the Fukushima disaster of 2011, this ancient tree survived and continues to thrive in its hillside home. This tree is a special member of the community, notes Kat Lonsdorf for All Things Considered. The entire community participates in its care and keeping, visiting to “pull weeds, or help fertilize the ground with leaves — the same way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.”
#9 Ancient Yew Trees
Where: Witch’s Yew Tree, Blarney Castle, Cork, Ireland
One of the ancient yew trees of Ireland was also chosen as a finalist for European Tree of the Year and actually did receive Ireland’s Tree of the Year Award in 2019. According to Ali Isaac in his article “Sacred Trees of Ireland | The Yew,” “the three oldest trees in Ireland happen to be yews.” Far older than other ancient trees on the island, “the yews of Crom Castle, Co Fermanagh are said to be over 800 years old.” The tree that won Ireland’s Tree of the Year in 2019, however, was the Haunted Witch’s Yew Tree -- found on the grounds of Blarney Castle near Cork.
Eibhlin O'Neill writes about the mystery that surrounds this tree in his article “Haunted Witch's Yew Tree Wins Ireland's 'Tree of the Year' 2019” for Transceltic. O’Neill writes that the six hundred year old tree “at Blarney is steeped in stories of magic and is believed to be haunted, [seeming] to fit in well with some of the criteria that the Tree Council of Ireland were looking for when deciding on the winner of the 'Tree of the Year' competition.” Lovers of ghost stories and local lore believe the massive Witch’s Yew Tree contains “the ghost of the Blarney Witch.” In Irish legend, the Blarney Witch was the first to reveal to the townspeople “the magical powers of the Blarney Stone which is built into the battlements of Ireland's Blarney Castle, Blarney.”
#10 Mangrove Trees
Where: El Triunfo-La Encrucijada-Palo Blanco, Chiapas, Mexico
Mangroves can be found in tropical locations across the globe -- in Asia, Africa, Oceania, Australia, South America and many other areas worldwide. However, some of the largest networks of mangrove trees exist in the North American country of Mexico -- particularly along the coast of Chiapas. In their article “The Mangroves of Mexico – By Numbers” for National Geographic, The International League of Conservation Photographers offers incredible visual and verbal imagery of the Mexican mangroves. The ILCP notes that though “the salt and the lack of oxygen make life impossible for other plants, [mangroves] have evolved to survive in flooded coastal environments.” Travelers are drawn from all over the world each year to marvel at the “40 meter-giants in the coastal forests of Chiapas,” as well as others along the coast of Mexico, which boasts “more than 700,000 hectares of mangroves, 5% of the world total.”
Alejandra Valero and Christine Burdette write in their article “Southern North America: On the Pacific coast of southern Mexico” for the World Wildlife Fund that Chiapas is particularly special because it hosts “some of the tallest mangrove trees, a species of yellow mangrove that is not widely distributed, serves as a nursery to fish and invertebrates, and provides refuge for many endangered animals.” Those who visit the region might see the red, white, yellow or black mangrove in this forest -- all of which “dominate the tall tree species in this ecoregion.“ Like the yews of Ireland, the mangroves of Mexico are surrounded by lore and mystery.