World’s Creepiest Trees

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  • Post last modified:March 20, 2024
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In the shadowy corners of our planet, where twisted roots and gnarled branches intertwine, a peculiar kind of arboreal magic exists. These are the trees that defy convention, the ones that send shivers down our spines. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the creepiest trees on Earth—each with its own unsettling story to tell.

1. Sakisima-Suonoki Trees

Up-close shot of the sakisima-suonoki tree's strange roots
joka2000 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Origin: Japan’s subtropical regions.
  • Appearance: Blade-shaped roots emerge from the soil, resembling woody, wavy mermaid tails.
  • Eerie Factor: Imagine stumbling upon a forest where trees seem anchored by mystical aquatic forces.
  1. Blade-Shaped Roots: The most distinctive aspect of Sakisima-Suonoki trees is their peculiar blade-shaped roots. These roots have an otherworldly appearance, resembling woody, wavy mermaid tails. Why do they look like this? Well, it’s because these trees grow in areas with extreme moisture and limited sunlight. To adapt, their roots reach upward out of the soil, seemingly defying gravity as they stretch toward the sky.
  2. Subtropical Adaptation: Sakisima-Suonoki trees thrive in the subtropical climate of Japan. Their roots compensate for the lack of sunlight by reaching upward, creating an unusual and somewhat creepy scene. Imagine a tree held in place by these sinuous, blade-like roots—truly a sight to behold!
  3. Cultural Significance: While their appearance may be unsettling, Sakisima-Suonoki trees hold cultural significance. They are considered sacred in the Shinto religion, along with other evergreens like hinoki (Japanese cypress) and kansugi (sacred cryptomeria). Shinto shrines often feature these “sacred trees” as part of their surroundings.
  4. Uses: Beyond their spiritual importance, Sakisima-Suonoki wood serves practical purposes. It is used for making utensils (especially combs), building materials, and even as fuel.

2. Joshua Trees


File:Joshua Trees Yucca brevifolia in Joshua Tree National Park.jpg
Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
File:Yucca brevifolia kz9.jpg
Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Native Habitat: North American Southwest, particularly the Mojave Desert.
  • Features: Woody stems, spiky leaves, and a skeletal appearance.
  • Chilling Detail: Explorer John C. Frémont once dubbed them “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.”
  1. Not Your Typical Tree:
    • Contrary to their name, Joshua Trees aren’t actually trees—they’re succulents. These hardy plants store water in their thick, spiky leaves, making them well-adapted to the desert environment.
    • Their appearance is striking: tall, spindly trunks crowned with clusters of long, dagger-like leaves.
  2. Biblical Inspiration:
    • The name “Joshua tree” has an interesting origin. According to legend, 19th-century Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave Desert were reminded of a biblical story when they encountered these peculiar plants.
    • In the Book of Joshua (8:18–26), Joshua keeps his hands outstretched for an extended period, aiding the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. The Joshua tree’s outstretched limbs seemed to echo this story, hence the name.
  3. Natural Range and Habitat:
    • Joshua Trees thrive in the arid expanses of California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, as well as northwestern Mexico.
    • They prefer elevations between 400 and 1,800 meters (1,300 and 5,900 feet) above sea level.
    • Notably, Joshua Tree National Park is a prime habitat for these remarkable plants. You’ll find them gracing the open grasslands of Queen Valley and Lost Horse Valley within the park.
  4. Distinctive Appearance:
    • Imagine a tree-like silhouette with spiky, yucca-like leaves. The Joshua tree’s unique shape and rugged beauty have made it an enduring symbol of the desert.
    • While not true trees, they evoke a sense of resilience and endurance in the harsh desert landscape.
  5. Cultural Significance:
    • Indigenous Cahuilla people refer to Joshua trees as “hunuvat chiy’a” or “humwichawa.”
    • In Spanish, they’re known as “izote de desierto” (meaning “desert dagger”).
    • These plants have played a role in guiding travelers and settlers, much like Joshua guiding the Israelites.

3. Angkor Wat’s Strangler Figs

File:Angkor Wat Ta Prohm Temple doorway overgrown with tree roots.jpg
GayleKaren, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat ruins.
  • Roots: Burly roots coil around doorways and pavilions, consuming the Ta Prohm temple.
  • Eerie Fusion: Witness the relentless embrace of nature as these trees entwine with ancient architecture.
  1. The Enigmatic Setting:
    • Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a sprawling temple complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Constructed during the Khmer regime before the 15th century, it stands as a testament to ancient architectural brilliance.
    • However, centuries of neglect allowed nature to reclaim its territory. The temple’s abandoned state became a canvas for an astonishing transformation.
  2. The Strangler Figs Take Over:
    • Enter the strangler figs—remarkable trees that thrive in tropical forests. These figs, along with their botanical companions—the Silk Cotton tree and the Thitpok tree—found a foothold amidst the temple ruins.
    • The strangler figs earned their nickname because their growth results in the demise of host trees. Their roots snake over, through, and under temple foundations, crushing them completely.
    • Imagine thick, sinuous roots gripping and crushing ancient stones—their dimensions exceeding human size. These are not mere movie props; they are real and awe-inspiring.
  3. The Strangling Process:
    • Birds and bats play a role in propagating the fig tree seeds. Sticky seeds find their way onto existing trees.
    • A young strangler begins its journey by growing on the surface of the host tree. It sends long roots downward, eventually reaching the ground.
    • As multiple roots follow this process, they graft together, encasing the host’s trunk in a strangling latticework. The victimized tree loses sunlight, withers, and dies.
    • The figs’ fierce grip creates a complete sheath around the trunk, capturing the temple stones in their relentless embrace.
  4. Ta Prohm: The Iconic Example:
    • Ta Prohm, a temple within Angkor Wat, exemplifies this symbiotic struggle. Built without mortar, it allowed the strangler figs to establish roots within the dislodged stones.
    • The temple’s lush jungle setting, combined with the figs’ growth, has turned Ta Prohm into a sought-after destination for visitors.
    • As you explore Ta Prohm, witness the astonishing sight of roots winding through the structure, creating an eerie yet mesmerizing scene.
  5. Symbolism and Resilience:
    • These figs symbolize the passage of time, resilience, and the delicate balance between nature and human creation.
    • While their grip may seem destructive, it also sustains forest creatures by providing food.
    • So, next time you stand amidst the ancient stones of Angkor Wat, marvel at the tenacity of these strangler figs—the guardians of forgotten temples. 🌿🌳

4. Bloodwood Trees

File:Bloodwood Tree.jpg
Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Found: Near the Namibia-Angola border in southern Africa.
  • Secret: When cut or wounded, they “bleed” bright-red sap.
  • Unsettling Twist: Their ordinary appearance conceals this eerie phenomenon.

5. Bald Cypresses

File:Bald Cypress Swamp at FLSP (5249362232).jpg
Virginia State Parks staff, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Habitat: Swampy regions in the United States.
  • Roots: Gnarled, twisted roots protrude from water, evoking ancient mysteries.
  • Whispers of Spirits: Some believe these cypresses harbor spirits or memories of the past.
  1. Adaptability and Resilience:
    • The Bald Cypress, also known as the swamp cypress, is a deciduous conifer in the family Cupressaceae.
    • It’s native to the lowlands of the Southeastern and Gulf Coastal Plains, particularly in saturated and seasonally inundated soils.
    • Hardy and tough, this tree adapts to a wide range of soil types—whether wet, salty, dry, or swampy.
  2. Appearance and Growth:
    • The Bald Cypress is a large, slow-growing, and long-lived tree.
    • It typically reaches heights of 35–120 feet (10–40 meters) with a trunk diameter of 3–7 feet (0.9–2.1 meters).
    • The main trunk is often surrounded by cypress knees, which are woody projections from the roots.
    • Its needle-like leaves are 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch (1.3 to 1.9 centimeters) long, green, and linear. In autumn, they turn yellow or copper red.
  3. Cones and Reproduction:
    • The Bald Cypress is monoecious, meaning it has both male and female cones on the same plant.
    • Male cones emerge on panicles, while female cones are round, resinous, and green when young. As the tree matures, they turn hard and brown.
    • Each female cone contains 20 to 40 large seeds, which disintegrate at maturity to release them.
    • Seedlings have three to nine cotyledons, usually six.
  4. Fall Colors and Bark:
    • The name “bald” cypress comes from its early leaf drop in fall. The leaves turn tan, cinnamon, and fiery orange.
    • The bark is brown or gray with a stringy texture.
  5. Cultural Significance:
    • The Bald Cypress is the official state tree of Louisiana.
    • It grows in full sunlight to partial shade and thrives along riverbanks and swamps.

6. The Burmis Tree

File:2016-07-01 Burmis Tree (29102421562).jpg
Darren Kirby from Nanaimo, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Alberta, Canada.
  • Resilience: Despite being dead for decades, it stands tall, its skeletal branches etched against the sky.
  • Silent Witness: The Burmis Tree embodies eerie resilience and the passage of time.
  1. Location and History:
    • The Burmis Tree, also known as the Burmisanu, stands in the community of Burmis, Alberta, along the Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3).
    • Once a thriving coal mining community, Burmis is now primarily home to recreational properties and, of course, this iconic tree.
    • The Burmis Tree was estimated to be between 600 and 750 years old when it died in the late 1970s after losing its needles.
  2. Resilience and Symbolism:
    • Limber pines (Pinus flexilis) are known for their ability to survive harsh conditions, making them some of the longest living trees in Alberta.
    • In 1998, strong winds toppled the Burmis Tree, but the local community refused to leave it lying. Alberta Culture’s Historic Sites staff stabilized it using stainless steel rods and brackets.
    • Vandals later cut one of the tree’s main branches, but locals repaired it with glue and a prop pole.
    • The community rallied to have the new Highway 3 built around the tree, preserving this heritage symbol.
  3. Cultural Significance:
    • The Burmis Tree remains as the sole point of interest in the once prosperous town of Burmis.
    • Its eye-catching, lifeless form against the Rocky Mountain backdrop serves as a powerful reminder of resilience and the passage of time.
  4. Musical Connection:
    • Interestingly, the Burmis Tree also inspired a band from Vancouver, BC, named Burmis Tree. They play dark regional folk/rock and took their name from this remarkable limber pine.

7. Brazilian Grapetrees

Up-close shot of tree trunk covered in grapes
TacioPhilip / Getty Images
  • Brazilian Enigma: Warty trees with twisted, contorted trunks.
  • Imagined Curses: Their gnarled forms evoke ancient curses or forgotten rituals.
  • Moonlit Shadows: Picture them casting elongated shadows in the rainforest.
  1. Appearance and Growth:
    • The Brazilian Grapetree, or Jaboticaba, is native to Brazil and other parts of South America.
    • Its fruit is small, purple-black in color, with a thin skin and soft white pulp.
    • Imagine a grape-like fruit, but with a thicker skin and larger seeds.
  2. Fruit Varieties:
    • There are several varieties of Jaboticaba, each with unique characteristics:
      • Sabará Jaboticaba: Produces small black fruits with a thin skin and sweet flesh.
      • Paulista Jaboticaba: Yields larger fruits with thicker skins but still maintains a sweet flavor.
      • Branca Vermelha: This variety produces bright green fruits.
      • Other varieties include Rajada, Roxa, and Sao Paulo.
  3. Color Transformation:
    • The fruit’s skin color changes dramatically as it matures:
      • Young and developing: Bright green.
      • Mature: Dark purple to almost black.
      • Fully ripe: Shiny deep purple with a smooth texture.
  4. Ripeness Indicators:
    • To check if Jaboticaba fruits are ripe:
      • Look for the dark purple or almost black skin.
      • Mature fruits come off easily from their stem when gently pulled.
      • The skin should feel smooth yet firm without any bruising.
  5. Origins and Thriving Conditions:
    • The Brazilian Grapetree can reach up to 45 feet in height.
    • It thrives in tropical and subtropical climates with high rainfall.
    • In the United States, it grows well in parts of California, especially Southern California.
  6. Culinary Delight:
    • Jaboticaba fruits are delicious raw or cooked.
    • Their sweet flavor is often compared to grapes or blueberries.

8. Walking Palms

Walking palms in Pastaza, Ecuador, by Felipe Serrano.
Walking palms in Pastaza, Ecuador, by Felipe Serrano.
  • Rainforest Wanderers: Found in Central and South America.
  • Gravity-Defying Roots: Stilt-like roots allow them to shift position over time.
  • Whispers to the Jungle: These trees seem to wander, sharing secrets with the forest.
  1. Appearance and Growth:
    • The Walking Palm can reach impressive heights, growing up to 25 meters (82 feet). Its stem diameter can be as wide as 16 centimeters (6.3 inches), although the typical dimensions are around 15–20 meters tall and 12 centimeters in diameter.
    • The most striking feature is its stilt roots, which resemble long stilts extending from the base of the tree.
  2. Stilt Roots and Their Function:
    • The purpose of these unusual stilt roots has been a topic of debate among scientists.
    • One hypothesis suggests that they allow the palm to grow in swampy areas by providing stability and anchoring in soft soil.
    • Another intriguing idea proposed by John H. Bodley in 1980 is that these roots enable the palm to “walk.” If another tree falls on a young seedling, knocking it over, the palm produces new vertical stilt roots. The original roots then rot away, allowing the palm to right itself.
    • However, detailed studies have debunked the myth that Walking Palms actually move like sentient beings. They remain rooted where they sprouted12.
  3. Epiphytes and Adaptations:
    • Walking Palms host a variety of epiphytes—plants that grow on other plants. These epiphytes thrive on the palm’s trunk and branches.
    • Stilt roots may serve additional purposes, such as allowing the palm to colonize areas with debris (like dead logs) or providing stability for rapid vertical growth.
    • By investing less biomass in underground roots, Walking Palms allocate more energy to above-ground growth.
  4. Symbol of Resilience:
    • While they don’t truly walk, these palms symbolize resilience, adaptation, and the intricate balance between nature and survival.

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