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The World’s Ancient Trees: Where To Find Them And What They Teach Us

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“Many of the trees I have photographed have survived because they are out of reach of civilization; on mountainsides, private estates, or on protected land,” says Beth Moon whose spectacular, hyper-real yet romantic portraits of ancient, strange and immense trees rooted in existence should inspire us all to get out of ourselves and into nature. Framed and immortalised by Moon’s skilled photography and artistic eye, the trees look like museum pieces, remnants of a lost past. But what Moon calls “earth’s largest and oldest living monuments” are out there now. You can find these trees and touch them.

 

Dragon’s blood tree, Dracaena cinnabari, Socotra, Yemen.

Dragon’s blood tree, Dracaena cinnabari, Socotra, Yemen.

 

Beth Moon brings us the exotic and mythical, no more so than in her trip to the Arabian Sea off the horn of Africa, where the magical dragon’s blood trees live to be 500 years old, and the frankincense tree and desert rose bloom.

“There are few places left on earth so remote and untouched by time,” write Beth. “Socotra is one of the world’s last truly wild places with a uniquely diverse and enchanting landscape of surreal beauty. Glimpsing the dragon’s blood trees that mantle the Haghier Mountains, one imagines this is what the world must have looked like millions of years ago.”

 

The great western red cedar of Gelli Aur, Thuja plicata, in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales. The arboretum at Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) is home to an impressive selection of mature specimen trees, but none so magnificent as the multitrunked western red cedar, thought to have been planted in 1863.

The great western red cedar of Gelli Aur, Thuja plicata, in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales.  Planted 1863.

 

kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra, in Palm Beach, Florida

Kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra, in Palm Beach, Florida.

 

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
― William Blake

 

Croft Chestnut. in the grounds of Croft Castle in the Welsh Marches is between 400 and 500 years old

Croft Chestnut. in the grounds of Croft Castle in the Welsh Marches is between 400 and 500 years old

 

kings-canyon-sequoias

Kings Canyon Sequoias, USA

 

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone…

When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
― Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

 

Linton yew, he largest of two old yews in St Mary’s churchyard, Herefordshire

Linton yew. The largest of two old yews in St Mary’s churchyard, Herefordshire

 

huge ancient trees

Majesty. Majesty, English oak, Quercus robur, in Nonington, Kent, England
One of the largest maiden, or unpruned, oaks in all of Europe grows on a private estate in Kent. Thought to be more than 400 years old, this aristocratic tree boasts a girth of more than 40 feet. At one point, a large branch broke off the north side of the tree, leaving a hole that reveals the cavernous space of the hollow trunk.

 

quiver-trees-at-dusk South Africa

Quiver Trees At Dusk, South Africa

 

“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.”
― Thomas Hardy, Under the Greenwood Tree

 

Rilke’s Bayon, Tetrameles nudiflora, in Ta Prohm, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia Today, the late 12th-century Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm stands in a semiruined state among forests and farmland. The structure is straddled by immense Tetrameles whose serpentine roots pry apart the ancient stones in a desperate journey to find soil. The temple provides a striking example of what the untamed tropical forest will do to even the mightiest monument when human hands are withdrawn. Launch Gallery

Rilke’s Bayon, Tetrameles nudiflora, in Ta Prohm, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia
Today, the late 12th-century Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm stands in a semiruined state among forests and farmland. The structure is straddled by immense Tetrameles whose serpentine roots pry apart the ancient stones in a desperate journey to find soil. The temple provides a striking example of what the untamed tropical forest will do to even the mightiest monument when human hands are withdrawn.

 

The Ifaty Teapot, Adansonia za, in Toliara, Madagascar

The Ifaty Teapot, Adansonia za, in Toliara, Madagascar. Thought to be 1,200 years old

 

“When you enter a grove peopled with ancient trees, higher than the ordinary, and shutting out the sky with their thickly inter-twined branches, do not the stately shadows of the wood, the stillness of the place, and the awful gloom of this doomed cavern then strike you with the presence of a deity?”
― Seneca

 

These yews at Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, were a few years ago found to be more than 600 years old

These yews at Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, were a few years ago found to be more than 600 years old

 

zalmon-olive-trees Israel

Zalmon Olive Trees, Israel

 

Oh tie a yellow ribbon
‘Round the old oak tree
It’s been three long years
Do you still want me
If I don’t see a yellow ribbon
‘Round the old oak tree
I’ll stay on the bus, forget about us
Put the blame on me
If I don’t see a yellow ribbon
‘Round the old oak tree
– Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown, Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree

 

bufflesdrift-baobab

Bufflesdrift Baobab. This massive tree near Lephalale, Limpopo, is one of South Africa’s five biggest baobab trees and is over 800 year’s old.

 

“The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.”
― George Orwell

 

desert rose tree Socotra

Desert Rose, Socotra, Yemen

 

“As soon as he had disappeared Deborah made for the trees fringing the lawn, and once in the shrouded wood felt herself safe.

She walked softly along the alleyway to the pool. The late sun sent shafts of light between the trees and onto the alleyway, and a myriad insects webbed their way in the beams, ascending and descending like angels on Jacob’s ladder. But were they insects, wondered Deborah, or particles of dust, or even split fragments of light itself, beaten out and scattered by the sun?

It was very quiet. The woods were made for secrecy. They did not recognise her as the garden did. (“The Pool”)”
― Daphne du Maurier, Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories

 

desert rose tree Socotra

Wadi Fa Lang, Sacotra, Yemen

 

“Haldir had gone on and was now climbing to the high flet. As Frodo prepared to follow him, he laid his hand upon the tree beside the ladder: never before had he been so suddenly and so keenly aware of the feel and texture of a tree’s skin and of the life within it. He felt a delight in wood and the touch of it, neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree itself.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

 

Dragon heart tree Socotra

Diksom Forest. Socotra, Yemen

Frankincense Socotra

Frankincense, Socotra, Yemen

Dragon heart tree Socotra

Socotra, Yemen

Dragon heart tree Socotra

Dragon heart tree Socotra

Shebehon Forest, Soctotra, Yemen

 

It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injury on the tree that feeds or shadows us. Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance. If you would learn the secrets of Nature, you must practice more humanity than others.
– The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837–1861

 

Erher Beach Socotra Yemen

Erher Beach, Socotra, Yemen

 

Trees speak to the mind, and tell us many things, and teach us many good lessons
– Ralph Austen, The Spiritual Use of an Orchard Or Garden of Fruit Trees: Set Forth in Divers Similitudes Betweene Natural and Spiritual Fruit Trees, According to Scripture and Experience, 1847

 

Baobab trees Madagascar

Off to market in Madagascar

 

See more of Beth Moon’s jaw-dropping work on her website.