Can you imagine what your neighbourhood or this country would look like if there were no trees covering the countryside or dotted around our cities, towns or villages?
In her novel The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie, author Ayana Mathis describes this scene perfectly when she writes, “ She smelled the absence of trees before she saw it…"
There was a time in the past when the UK was covered in wild forests, where trees would live for up to 2000 years. Surely the ancient trees that have survived, who have worked so hard on our behalf, providing wood, habitat for animals and shelter should be afforded the same status as listed buildings? Should they not be preserved in the very same way and awarded protection orders so that we protect these national treasures and keep them alive as long as we can for the future generations?
The roots of my love of trees stemmed from childhood. I grew up in an area in South London called Norwood, which was once a huge ancient forest called the Northwood. But what is it about trees that make them a requirement of our landscapes? What are their botanical benefits and what is to be made of the sacred and mystical energies of the native and inherited trees that adorn the treescape in the UK today? The human race owes its own very existence and survival to trees around the world. Trees stabilize the soil, store carbon and generate oxygen into the air. The bottom line is the human race would barely survive if trees disappeared.
Many ancient trees situated in communities and forests were deemed natural temples, meeting places, places where courts and trials would be held and important ceremonies and events within communities would take place under the glorious crowns of some of the great many trees that have existed throughout the years. Trees were an important source of survival, providing wood for homes, food and medicine and blessed because of their significance and importance in community life.
Traditionally the Oak tree is associated with the quality of 'strength', the Weepy Willow tree with 'emotions' and Apple trees with 'love, harmony and trust'. What's more, the Yew trees growing in churchyards were thought to protect the dead (Yews have an uncanny ability to renew themselves from decay) and the Pine is one the oldest trees native to Britain, having flourished here well before the great Ice Age, it is associated with birth.
One of the practical ways I connect with the energies of different trees is to spend time with that particular tree, with the intention of tapping into the specific energy it is aligned with. So there have been times when my energy was low or I was going through a difficult period when I have intentionally gone and sat with my back against the bark of a notable (a tree that has personal or local significance) oak tree, or I have hugged the tree (yes! I'm a tree hugger) or I've chosen to sit quietly in the tree's presence soaking up the energy of 'strength' that the oak tree is associated with. Doing this really works for me.
Years ago a spiritual teacher taught me to always ask permission to be with the tree (which originates from the Celtic custom of knocking on wood for good luck) and as often as is possible to leave a small gift with the tree as a sign of appreciation. Many of the trees alive in our neighbourhoods, parks and common lands are fighting for survival in the wild. We owe it to our trees to protect them as they have protected us over thousands of years.
A trio of trees in Sao Paulo known as the Three Kings
Photo credit: James E. Davis / luzdelux
Forests have borne witness to the best and worst of humanity, providing shelter for first kisses and warring troops, games of hide-and-seek and terrible crimes. Towering and sturdy or dainty and lithe, trees not only provide the very air we breathe but are perhaps the world’s most omniscient listeners. It’s no wonder that humans have created songs, folktales, visual artwork, religious beliefs, and many other tributes to these beautiful living things. Although conventional wisdom warns us not to miss the forest for the trees, we’d like to take a moment to honor a few of the more famous trees in the world.
Maya World Tree
In ancient times, the Maya believed that the ceiba tree (also known as the world tree or kapok tree) stood at the center of the earth. It can grow up to 200 feet tall and can be found in many lands, from Mexico to the Amazon to West Africa. Some varieties of the ceiba tree are characterized by spines or conical thorns, giving the tree a menacing appearance.
A ceiba tree at Tikal National Park in Guatemala
Money Tree (Pachira Aquatica)
Parents are notorious for saying that “money does not grow on trees.” Well, in the case of the money tree house plant…that phrase still holds true. Unfortunately, the money tree does not sprout currency. However, according to legend, the plant’s lushness and preponderance of leaves are supposed to directly correlate to the owner’s financial well-being. In its natural habit in the wetlands of Central and South America, the pachira aquatica can grow up to 60 feet tall. As a houseplant, its growth is dependent upon the size of the pot. Plant and prosper.
Money trees in Costa Rica
Photo credit: Leonora Enkling
The Tree of Hope
During the 1920s and 1930s, a stretch of Seventh Avenue in Harlem was lined with theaters and nightclubs. An elm tree sprouted there and entertainers took to rubbing the tree for luck. It got the nickname the Tree of Hope. When the tree was chopped down in 1934 to widen the street, a portion of it was placed at the Apollo Theater. Today, contestants at the venue’s Amateur Night rub the Tree of Hope before taking the stage in front of the Apollo’s notoriously tough crowd. Famous entertainers like Lauryn Hill, Luther Vandross, and Dave Chappelle all lost the competition in the early stages of their now-legendary careers.
The Tree of Hope at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Photo credit: The Apollo Theater
Peento Tree (Peaches of Immortality)
In Chinese mythology, peaches from the peento tree are known as peaches of immortality. Legend has it that goddess Xiwangmu had 3,600 peento trees on her estate in the hills of Western China. Anyone who ate the peento peach from her trees was given eternal life. The catch? The enchanted fruit was said to ripen every 3,000th; 6,000th; and 9,000th year, and Xiawangmu was not one to dole out her treasure. Today, mere mortals can enjoy the sweet juiciness of peento peaches without worrying about getting on the bad side of a goddess.
Peento peaches are also known as donut peaches.
Photo credit: Plant Fora
Acacia Tree (aka the Africa tree)
If you’ve read a book set on the continent of Africa over the past couple decades, there’s a good chance that an acacia tree was on the cover. A perceptive reader of the Africa is a Country blog tweeted an image of 36 book covers featuring the tree. While the acacia tree is lovely, one tree cannot represent an entire continent. The biodiversity of African countries is tremendous, and the Rainforest Alliance is proud to do work in several of them, including Kenya and Ghana.
Books on Africa featuring the acacia tree.
Photo credit: Twitter