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I’ve been looking into the world of trees recently, and they’re truly fascinating. But what strikes me most is how strange some species can be, and I wanted to share some of the weird and wonderful examples of tree species from around the world.
Strangest Tree Species in the World
While we cannot be certain, studies have revealed that there could be as many as 73,000 different species of tree in the world. Most are pretty standard and have no outstanding features, but there are some that are incredibly obscure and interesting.
1. Rainbow Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta)
The rainbow eucalyptus is like something out of a fantasy story. As its name suggests, the tree is awash with color, and it’s the bark that takes center stage.
This is an evergreen species with pale yellow flowers, but the bark has a striking rainbow effect. But it isn’t like that all the time, it happens when the tree sheds its bark and underneath, a brilliant layer of what looks like a colored pencil, is revealed.
The trees are native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Philippines, although it has been introduced to many other countries. It prefers to grow in lowlands in a rainforest habitat. The tree is commonly harvested for pulpwood in paper making.
2. Sandbox Tree (Hura crepitans)
Have you ever heard of a tree that explodes? Well, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little since it’s actually the seeds that explode; not the whole tree. But still, it’s an intriguing characteristic. This tree is found growing in tropical regions on the continents of both North and South America.
I’m talking about the sandbox tree, which can grow up to 98 feet (30 meters) in height. When it’s time for the tree to reproduce, its pumpkin-shaped seeds blast open into segments to spread. That’s why it’s sometimes referred to as the dynamite tree.
Unsurprisingly, the tree is pretty dangerous as you never know when the fruit pods will explode. What’s more, it’s got poisonous bark and leaves, so it’s not something you’d want to grow in your garden. That said, it’s often used to landscape boulevards; better watch out!
3. Socotra Dragon Tree (Dracaena cinnabari)
The Socotra dragon tree is another species that feels as though it’s come straight out of a fantasy kingdom. But it’s as earthly as any other tree species. Found exclusively in the Socotra region of Yemen, this tree prefers limestone and granite environments.
So what makes this tree so obscure? It’s the fact that the dragon tree bleeds. Well, not quite, but it does ooze out a red sap that’s remarkably similar to blood. When this hardens to create resin, humans have long harvested it for medicinal purposes, as use as a dye, and even for incense.
While these trees can live for up to 600 years, there is a suggestion that they’re under threat which is hardly surprising when you consider that they’re only found on this one island. Much of the threat comes from humans and poor regeneration, but conservation efforts are underway as the Socotra dragon tree is now considered to be an umbrella species.
4. Jabuticaba (Plinia cauliflora)
We’re all used to seeing fruit hanging from the bough of the tree, but have you ever seen a tree whose fruit comes right out of the trunk? If you travel to some places in Brazil, where the jabuticaba is native, this is something you’ll be able to witness for yourself.
The fruits are a deep purplish black when they are ripe and look more like alien eggs popping right out of the bark. This gives the tree a kind of squishy appearance, especially when viewed from afar, and the fruits are edible.
In fact, in its native Brazil, these are the most common fruits to be eaten out of hand, and they’re also a popular ingredient in various wines and jams.
5. Boab Tree (Adansonia gregorii)
The boab tree is only found in some parts of Western Australia and the country’s Northern Territory. It’s certainly an eye-catching tree with its thick trunk that gives the tree a bottle-like appearance. This is common for many species of baobab but what’s unique about this one is that it’s almost a piece of history.
This is because of the bark, which can hold onto inscriptions for many hundreds of years. In some cases, it’s thought that they could be retained for up to 100 years, and there’s a suggestion that an individual tree could live as long as 2000 years. However, this is true of the African boab; there’s still research that needs to be done into its Aussie cousin.
The boab tree is usually found in open areas or forests and is the only species of baobab that’s found outside of Africa and Madagascar.
6. Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra)
The kapok tree can get up to 262 feet (80 meters) in height, and it doesn’t take long to grow as it is one of the fastest-growing species in the world. Amazingly, the fruits of these trees can grow up to 3 feet (0.9 meters) in size and contain a fleece-like material that’s often used in blankets.
But you wouldn’t want to eat the fruit of the kapok tree since it is incredibly toxic and contains chemicals that can irritate the eyes and the respiratory system. This is likely a defense for the tree against animals that want to feed from it.
The kapok is native to Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of the southern United States. It’s a tree steeped in history and folklore, with certain Caribbean nations believing that the kapok is a prison for the devil of death!
7. Pong-Pong Tree (Cerbera odollam)
I never thought I’d stumble upon a tree as macabre as the ping pong tree. It doesn’t sound too dark, does it? That is until you learn that its nickname is the suicide tree. Surely that’s not as scary as one might imagine; it’s actually worse!
The fruit of this tree is so toxic and potent that it’s historically been harvested by people looking to end their lives. Even more disturbing is the fact that the fruit has been used in several murders.
But it’s not all doom and gloom; the ping pong tree is an attractive species that’s often grown in gardens in places like Thailand. If you want to add something decorative, then it’s a great choice; just don’t eat the fruit.
These trees are native to Queensland, Australia, and parts of Southeast Asia where they are mainly found in marshy or swampy areas.
8. Narrow-Leaved Bottle Tree (Brachychiton rupestris)
In Queensland, Australia, you can find the narrow-leaved bottle tree, which I don’t think would look out of place in a martian landscape. These trees have a very thick based trunk that tapers, giving the tree its bottle-like appearance.
Growing on hills or ridges, these trees typically get to around 82 feet (25 meters) in height. However, they can also be potted as grown in the garden.
While the tree was first discovered in 1848, it has been used by the indigenous people of Australia for many years. Native Aboriginals would cut a hole in the trunk of the tree to create a reservoir. They would also use all parts of the tree for food and making things like nets and rope. However, while the tree’s pulp is edible and tasty, it’s not considered to be very nutritious, so isn’t generally harvested.
9. Cannonball Tree (Couroupita guianensis)
The cannonball tree is within the same family as the Brazil nut tree and is found natively in Central and South America. It typically grows in tropical rainforest regions and can grow up to 75 feet (23 meters).
Just like the jabuticaba tree that we looked at earlier, the cannonball tree has fruit that grows directly out of the trunk. This is just one thing that makes it fascinating, with the fruit taking as long as 18 months to fully develop. When it is ripe, it is the size of a cannonball, which is where the tree gets its name.
The cannonball tree also boasts beautiful large pink flowers with six petals that add to its stunning, unique appearance. But what you’ll really want to watch out for are the falling fruits. When they break away from the vine on which they grow, they hit the ground with an almighty bang; another reason they earned the name they did.
10. Boojum Tree (Fouquieria columnaris)
The boojum tree is almost exclusively found along the Baja California Peninsula, although there are a few examples of the tree a little further south, in Mexico. At first glance, you might think that this was a type of cactus, and you’d be right; this tree is a succulent.
It’s the unique appearance of these trees that makes them so special with their haphazardly growing branches and swollen trunk base. They’re said to resemble an upside-down carrot, and they earned their name thanks to the author, Lewis Caroll, and a mythical thing that featured in his The Hunting Of The Snark.
Boojum trees only grow in arid regions and are often found in rocky areas where rainfall is scarce. This means that it’s very difficult to grow them as a garden tree.
11. Quiver Tree (Aloidendron dichotomum)
Indigenous to South Africa, the quiver tree is another type of succulent. However, the tree is in decline, and it’s thought to be a result of climate change. Although African conservationists are looking further into this.
The quiver tree isn’t a large species and tends not to get much bigger than around nine meters. It grows in arid locations, and what makes it so special is that the hollow branches have long been used to make quivers for arrows; it’s not hard to see where it got its name.
While it’s very difficult to grow the tree outside of its native areas, it is perfectly adapted for desert conditions. The light bark is covered in a white powder that helps to reflect the rays of the sun and razor-sharp plates on the bark provide a layer of protection against animals.
12. Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana)
The monkey puzzle tree is one of the most unusual-looking tree species I think I’ve ever seen as, while it’s actually a type of pine, its appearance would have you thinking otherwise. The leaves twist in a spiral around the branches and they’re so dense that it actually looks as though there aren’t any branches; just leaves.
What’s more, the bark has an interesting appearance and is gray in color and wrinkled which some say makes it look like the skin of an elephant.
The monkey puzzle tree is native to parts of Central and South America including Argentina and Chile, which is why it’s sometimes called the Chilean pine. They can get up to about 130 feet (40 meters) and are a popular choice as a garden tree since it’s tolerant of various soil types although it does prefer volcanic soil.
13. Banyan Tree (Ficus benghalensis)
The banyan is pretty crafty when it comes to how it grows. The seeds will land on another tree and take over the host, spewing out long roots that anchor them to the tree and develop into a series of trunks that look like a mass of intrusive limbs.
What’s amazing is that this Indian tree has the ability to continue spreading outwards indefinitely. There’s even one in West Bengal whose canopy and spread is the same size as a Manhattan block! The largest one has a spread of more than four acres and can shelter up to 20,000 people! It’s no wonder that it’s the national tree of India with this impressive ability.
The banyan is a type of fig tree that relies on pollination by wasps. While they might take over other trees and spread far and wide, their fruit is one of the most important foods for local wildlife like birds, bats, primates, and many others.
14. Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)
Bristlecone pines are one of three species, and they’re all native to North America. Being a pine, you might think that there’s nothing exceptional about them until you learn that these are among some of the longest living trees on the planet. What’s more, they can survive in conditions that are super harsh and at high elevations where other trees just wouldn’t manage. The oldest living bristlecone pine is thought to be almost 4,500 years old. Although there is one specimen that is believed to be over 5000 years old, this is yet to be confirmed.
Even more fascinating is that, even after the tree dies, it can continue as a dead tree for many more thousands of years. Some of the oldest examples of dead bristlecone pines are thought to have germinated from their seeds more than 7000 years ago!
15. Traveller’s Tree (Ravenala madagascariensis)
The traveler’s tree is something of a mystery as it’s considered to be a hybrid between a palm tree and a banana tree. These trees grow exclusively on the island of Madagascar, and they’re also special because of their bright blue seeds.
These seeds are unlike anything else and grow little edible shoots to attract animals. When animals, mainly lemurs, eat the seeds, they disperse them, therefore pollinating the tree.
The tree has a fan-shaped canopy that can’t be missed, towering over the rest of the humid forest. Although they can also be found growing in grasslands and rocky areas.
But where does the tree take its name? It comes from the stems, which have sheaths that are capable of holding significant amounts of water. Should a traveler ever find themselves thirsty and without water, these trees might come to their rescue with an emergency supply.
16. Manchineel Tree (Hippomane mancinella)
The manchineel is a tropical tree that is found in North and South America. It has little green fruits that aren’t all that dissimilar from the apple. In fact, the tree’s very name comes from the Spanish word for little apple, manzanilla.
But it is these very fruits that make the tree one of the strangest in the world, and that’s because they are so toxic. Inside the fruit, there is a milky white sap that can cause the skin to blister and it’s also found in other parts of the tree, including the bark. It’s best to admire these trees from afar!
The manchineel tree likes to grow in sandy areas and can often be found along beaches in places like Florida and the Caribbean. Should you be unfortunate enough to get the sap in your eyes, you could end up with permanent damage to your vision. It’s no wonder this has been labeled the most dangerous tree in the world!
17. Whistling Thorn (Vachellia drepanolobium)
If I told you that a tree could whistle, would you believe me? It might sound crazy, but it’s true, and it’s this that makes the whistling thorn such a weird and wonderful tree species. The whistling sound happens when the wind blows over the spines of the tree.
These spines are often inhabited by ants in a symbiotic relationship and in order to gain access, the ants make little holes in the thick spines. Essentially, they’ve created nature’s very own wind instrument.
If you want to listen to the wonderful sounds of the whistling thorn, you’ll need to travel to the Kenyan savannah, where this species of acacia is in abundance.
18. Toothed Lancewood (Pseudopanax ferox)
If you want to understand what makes the toothed lancewood so unusual, you only need to take a look at its leaves. What do you notice? They’re shaped like teeth and this gives the tree a very unique appearance.
The leaves could almost be mistaken for small branches as they look like long, green, leathery appendages spouting outwards of the tree. The species is a popular garden tree, especially in its native New Zealand. However, it’s also become a prominent feature in British gardens. While they’re not huge trees, they are slow growing and don’t tend to mature for at least 10 to 15 years.
Unique Individual Trees in the World
As well as there being some pretty fascinating species of trees, the world is home to some special individuals. From the tallest trees to those that appear to be dead. Here are some trees that you have to see to believe.
1. El Árbol del Tule – Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum)
The Árbol del Tule lays claims to being the stoutest tree in the world. There have been various measurements taken of the trunk, and they all come out different, with some at 137 feet (42 meters) while others state 170 feet (52 meters). In any case, it stands out as the widest trunk of any tree known to man.
The El Árbol del Tule sits in a church yard in Oaxaca in Mexico and while it did feature as a UNESCO world heritage site, it was delisted in 2013.
But it’s been standing for an incredibly long time, although we aren’t entirely sure how long. Educated guesses suggest it’s no younger than 1200 years old and could be up to 6000 years old, with 3000 being a realistic average age.
2. Boab Prison Tree – Boab Tree (Adansonia gregorii)
Imagine there is a tree so large that it could be used to detain prisoners. Well, it’s thought that that was what the boab prison tree in Derby, Australia, was once used for. It’s said that indigenous prisoners were kept here to await sentencing although this has never been documented.
The myth that prisoners were kept here actually came to light in the 1940s and it was spread far and wide until most people accepted it as fact.
The tree is thought to be around 1500 years old and measures a whopping 48 feet (15 meters) around the widest point of the trunk.
3. Angel Oak Tree – Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
In South Carolina stands not only one of the oldest oaks but certainly the largest. When I say large, I’m not talking about height, although it’s pretty tall at 66 feet (20 meters). But I’m referring to the spread of the tree whose canopy covers a massive 17,200 square feet (1,598 square meters)!
The branches of the tree are so well developed and heavy that many of them sit on the ground in a state of ‘rest.’ While the tree might not have an angelic appearance, it actually took its name from the original land owners where it sits; Justis and Martha Waight Tucker Angel.
4. Tree of Life – Mesquite (Prosopis cineraria)
Imagine a tree that could survive where all others would die; such a thing exists, and it’s a mesquite that goes by the name of the Tree of Life. The tree stands in the middle of the Bahrain desert, and it’s miles before you’ll see another tree since the arid conditions are typically too harsh to sustain life. But with roots that reach as deep as 164 feet (50 meters), this tree has no problem accessing water.
Much of the tree’s ability to survive is to do with age and how well established it is. It’s thought to be more than 400 years old and attracts around 65,000 visitors every year.
But it isn’t just an impressive tree in terms of how it has survived, it’s also got a plethora of uses, including candles that are made from the resin and jams that are made from the beans.
5. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi – Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa)
Where Methuselah is the oldest living wild tree, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is the oldest known planting tree and has been standing for the last 2300 years. Its age is something to make a claim about but it’s the spiritual legend behind the tree that makes it really special.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred tree that’s thought to have been grown directly from a cutting of the Sri Maha Bodhi. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is said to have been in contact with Buddha himself who sat underneath the tree when he achieved enlightenment.
With such significance in the religious world, it’s no wonder that the tree, a type of bo tree, has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in the sacred city of Anuradhapura.
6. Dead Vlei Trees – Dead Camelthorn Trees (Acacia erioloba)
Trees are fascinating when they’re living but when they continue after death, it’s truly a sight to behold. That’s why the dead Vlei trees of Namibia have to feature on this list of the strangest trees in the world.
The trees inhabit a clay pan known as the Dead Marsh, where their lives ended in the 1300s due to a lack of water. Still, their haunting skeletons remain to this day, and they’ll probably be standing for many more years to come. While most trees would rot away, the Dead Vlei trees remain because a lack of moisture makes decomposition impossible.
7. Methuselah – Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)
I briefly mentioned Methuselah earlier in this post as the oldest tree in the world. This is a bristlecone pine that’s located in eastern California and is thought to be 4789 years old. It’s named after the biblical character who was said to have lived to the ripe old age of 969!
According to scientists, the germination date of the tree was around 2880 BC but there has been research to show some deceased samples that may date back much further than this.
While there are some trees and plants, such as an 11,700-year-old creosote bush, that are clones, Methuselah is an individual tree that has survived this long, and who knows how much more time it will stand.
8. Lone Cypress – Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa)
The Lone Cypress is perhaps one of the most well-known trees in North America; it certainly holds the record of being the most photographed. But why does it stand out so much?
Well, this tree sits alone at the top of a granite hill, overlooking Pebble Bay in California. It’s thought that the tree was planted in the mid-1700s, so certainly not the oldest tree, but its resistance against the coastal elements has surely made people wonder.
The tree is so well thought of that many efforts to protect it have been put in place over the years, such as a wall around it in the 1940s as well as support cables to prevent it from sagging.
While the tree has been through thick and thin, it’s actually only expected to live for 300 years so sadly, its life could soon be over.
9. Three Kings kaikōmako (Pennantia Baylisiana)
Located on Three Kings island off the coast of New Zealand sits a tree that has been called the rarest in the world. While the tree, a kaikomako, was once part of a larger group of trees, the human introduction of goats to the island means that its neighbors have been eaten. This remarkable tree has stood alone since 1945!
The only reason that this one specimen remains is thanks to its location atop a steep, rocky hill that the goats cannot access. However, all is not lost, and it doesn’t look as though the species will become extinct, as several other specimens have been planted in public gardens around New Zealand.
10. Chêne Chapelle – Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur)
If you thought you’d seen the most obscure trees, just wait until you lay eyes on the Chêne Chapelle. This isn’t just any 1200 year old oak, it’s a 1200 year old oak that’s been converted into two small chapels, thanks to the wide, hollow trunk.
Not only are there the two chapels, but a spiral staircase has been added to grant access. The tree is located in Normandy in the North of France and has essentially been dead for the last 500 years as a result of a lightning strike. But if it hadn’t been for that bolt out of the blue, the tree would never have been hollowed out, and we wouldn’t have the amazing structure we see today.
What’s more, the Chêne Chapelle can lay claim to being the oldest known tree in France. That said, it has to be supported by poles in some places, otherwise parts of it would simply crumble.