Ancient and huge trees



If left in peace, many species of pine trees (Pinus) are able to grow very old and gnarled. One day, in late April 1992, I was on a mountain peak in Inyo National Forest, White Mountains, eastern California. In front of me were the most remarkable trees I have ever seen. At a distance, they appeared completely dead, with twisted, naked branches, stretching from a yellowish trunk towards the blue sky. But then – at closer quarters I noticed a narrow strip of bark on the side of the trunk, which pointed away from the direction of the prevailing wind. This strip of bark was leading up to one or two branches, densely covered in green needles, and from the tip of these branches, small cones were hanging down, their scales equipped with bristle-like appendages. These peculiar trees were Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) – the oldest living organisms on Earth (apart from certain clones), a few of them being almost 5,000 years old.

Below is a collection of photos of remarkable old pine trees that I have encountered at various places around the world.


Californien 2011
Californien 2011
Californien 2011
Californien 2011
Californien 2011
Ancient Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva), Inyo National Forest, White Mountains, eastern California. Some of these trees are the oldest living organisms on Earth (apart from certain clones), a few of them being almost 5,000 years old. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Tyrkiet 2006
The Turkish pine (Pinus brutia) is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, north to Bulgaria, south to Israel and Jordan, and east to the Caucasus and northern Iraq. These old, gnarled specimens were photographed at the Tuzlabeli Pass (1440 m), south-western Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) has an enormous distribution, found from Spain and Scotland eastwards across Europe and Siberia to north-eastern China, and southwards to Turkey, the Caucasus, and Mongolia. In Scandinavia, it is found north to the Porsanger Fjord, Norway, making it the northernmost pine species in the world. In 2014, the Scots pine was elected the national tree of Scotland.


Sverige 2015
An ancient Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), which has finally succumbed to old age, Byrums Sandfelt, Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Sverige 2015
These c. 35-metre-high Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris), growing in Böda Kronoskog, Öland, Sweden, are called Mastträd (‘The Mast Trees’) – a suitable name for these majestic trees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Californien 2011a
The whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is a montane species, occurring from the Californian mountain ranges and the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, north to British Columbia. This old, gnarled specimen is growing on the crater rim in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Wizard Island is seen in the background. Crater Lake evolved in the caldera of a collapsed ancient volcano, called Mount Mazama. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Himachal Pradesh 2007
Tapping resin from the trunk of an old chir, or long-leaved, pine (Pinus roxburghii), Sairopa, Himachal Pradesh, India. – Read more about this species elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine: Pinus roxburghii. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The bishop pine (Pinus muricata) is a coastal species with a very restricted distribution, found only on a few localities on the Californian coast, on some of the Channel Islands, and two places in Baja California, Mexico. The name bishop pine arose, when this tree was first identified near the Mission of San Luis Obispo, California.


Californien 2011a
This old bishop pine (Pinus muricata) was observed in Jughandle State Park, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The mountain pine (Pinus mugo) is native to southern Europe, from the Pyrenees across the Alps to the Carpathians, and south to the Apennines in Italy, and to higher mountains of the Balkans. It is also called creeping pine due to its often low and creeping habit at higher altitudes. In sand dunes along the Danish west coast, it has been widely planted to stabilize sand dunes, and has become widely naturalized there.


Alperne 2016
Old mountain pine, Rosanintal, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)




Cambodia 2009
This Khmer sculpture at Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, depicts a Hindu apsara (‘heavenly nymph’, or ‘daughter of joy’), a female court dancer and prostitute. Over time, it has been almost completely enveloped by a huge tree. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



In the wild, the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is found only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Specimens of this tree are the heaviest living beings on the planet, the largest ones having an estimated weight of c. 1,200 tons.


Californien 2011
Californien 2011
Giant sequoias, Giant Sequoia National Park, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Californien 2013a
People appear like dwarves, when they stand next to a giant sequoia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Californien 2013a
Due to their thick, spongy bark, giant sequoias can withstand forest fires. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Californien 2013a
In the 1930s, this giant sequoia was dubbed ‘Auto Log’, because its trunk was levelled, making it possible for cars to drive on it. This picture shows the root net of this tree. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


USA 1992
Likewise in the 1930s, a road was cut through the trunk of this giant sequoia in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park. Today, fortunately, this type of vandalism is strictly prohibited. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)




Taiwan 2018
This gnarled Taiwan acacia (Acacia confusa) in Tunghai University Park, Taichung, has toppled, but is still growing vigorously. This and other acacia species are presented elsewhere on this website, see: In praise of the colour yellow. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The magnificent plane trees, of the genus Platanus, constitute a family of their own, Platanaceae. Eight of the ten living species are indigenous to North America, one is found in Laos and Vietnam, while the tenth species, the oriental plane tree (Platanus orientalis), is distributed from the Balkans and Turkey south to Jordan, but may be a native as far west as Italy, and as far east as Kashmir in northern India. As it is widely cultivated, it is often difficult to decide, whether a population is indigenous or not.

The generic name Platanus is from the Greek platanos, which was the ancient name of maple trees (Acer). It refers to the maple-like leaves of the oriental plane tree. Some North American species are called sycamores, likewise referring to the leaves, which resemble those of the European sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus).

The London plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia), which is widely planted in North European cities, is a hybrid between the oriental plane tree and the North American occidental plane tree (P. occidentalis). Some authorities claim that this hybrid arose in Spain in the 1600s, where the two mother species were planted side by side. Others point to the Royal Tradescant Arboretum, southern London, where John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662) was a gardener. P. occidentalis as well as P. orientalis are mentioned from this arboretum, so the hybrid possibly arose here, as indicated by the name London plane.


Tyrkiet 2006
Tyrkiet 2006
An old, partly burned oriental plane tree (Platanus orientalis), growing outside the Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayı), Istanbul, Turkey. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Nordindien 1997
This oriental plane tree, growing near the village of Pahalgam, Kashmir, India, displays brilliant autumn foliage. The slender trees with yellow foliage are poplars (Populus). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Tyrkiet 2018
Metro train, passing a huge oriental plane tree in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Arizona-Utah 2001
An old Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii), photographed in the Catalina Mountains, Arizona. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Platanus 7
The London plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia) is widely planted in northern Europe. This beautiful row grows near Gjorslev Estate, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Sjælland 2006-11
On the Gråbrødre Square in central Copenhagen, a London plane tree was planted in 1907. Today, it is a large, beautiful tree with an enormous crown. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Tyrkiet 2018a
Plane fruits are very characteristic, with numerous nutlets forming balls, which hang on long stalks, 2 to 4 together. The nutlets are surrounded by stiff hairs, which assist in spreading the seeds with the wind. – This picture from Manisa, western Turkey, shows fruits of oriental plane. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Taiwan, or Kawakami, fir (Abies kawakamii) is restricted to the highest mountain tops of Taiwan, between 2,400 and 3,800 metres altitude. This species is declining, as its sub-populations have become fragmented, fire being the main threat.


Taiwan 2011
These Taiwan firs, photographed at c. 3,000 metres altitude on Hohuan Shan, are stunted from fierce winds and frost. The one to the right has already succumbed. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Jylland 2017-18
Ancient, gnarled cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), central Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora) is native to southern Japan, South Korea, south-eastern China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and is widely cultivated elsewhere for production of camphor, which is used as a component of incense, as a spice, as medicine, and as an insect repellent. The largest known camphor tree, Kamō no Ōkusu (‘Great camphor of Kamō), which is found in Japan, has a circumference of 24.2 metres.


Taiwan 2018b
Taiwan 2018b
This large camphor tree grows in Tunghai University Park, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa, or Hesperocyparis macrocarpa) is native to central California, formerly growing only on two small locations, Point Lobos State Park and Pebble Beach, both in Monterey County, south of San Francisco. Today, however, it has been planted in many other areas along the Pacific Coast, and also in Europe, New Zealand, and South Africa.


Californien 2011a
Californien 2013
Both of these ancient Monterey cypresses were encountered in Point Lobos State Park. In the lower picture, the trunk is covered in an orange alga, Trentepohlia aurea. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The common baobab (Adansonia digitata) is the most widespread among the nine species in this genus, of which six are native to Madagascar, two to mainland Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and one to Australia. This majestic tree often dominates large areas of savanna in sub-Saharan Africa. Common names of this species include dead-rat tree (from the sausage-like fruit, hanging in a long stalk – the rat’s tail), monkey-bread tree (the fruit is edible), and upside-down tree (the sparse branches resemble roots). The name baobab is derived from the Arabic būħibāb, meaning ‘the father of many seeds’. The generic name Adansonia refers to French botanist and explorer Michel Adanson (1727-1806), who was the first European to observe the species during an expedition to Senegal.


Tanzania 1988
Rainbow behind giant baobabs (Adansonia digitata), Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Tanzania 1989
This picture, also from Tarangire National Park, depicts a hollow baobab, partly destroyed by elephants (Loxodonta africana), which have eaten much of the bark, peeling it off with their tusks. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)




Norden 1967-86
The root net of a toppled conifer, photographed with a very wide-angled lens, Stora Sjöfallet National Park, Lapland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Figs (Ficus) are a genus of about 850 species of trees, vines, or epiphytes, belonging to the mulberry family (Moraceae). They are native throughout the tropics and subtropics, with a few species extending into warmer parts of the northern temperate zone.


Banyan, or Bengal fig (Ficus benghalensis), has long aerial roots, hanging down from the branches, which often take root, over time creating a ’forest’ of trunks, all of which are in fact a single individual. – More about banyan is presented elsewhere on this website, see Plants: Pipal and banyan – two sacred fig trees.


Indien 1994
This 250-year-old banyan in Kolkata Botanical Garden, West Bengal, India, has grown to enormous dimensions, creating an entire patch of ‘forest’, which is in reality only a single tree. The central trunk (the mother tree) was removed in 1925 because of rot. When this picture was taken in 1994, there were c. 1,825 stilt roots, with a total circumference of c. 420 metres and a height of c. 25 m. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) is native to the Indian Subcontinent, eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence south through Southeast Asia and Indonesia to northern Australia, and east to some of the Pacific islands. When small, it is a very popular house plant, but in the wild it grows to enormous dimensions, with numerous aerial roots.


Bali 2015
This gigantic weeping fig grows near the Wenara Wana Temple (popularly called ‘Monkey Forest’), near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2014b
Another huge weeping fig with numerous aerial roots, called the ‘Thousand-root banyan’, growing in Jhiben National Forest, eastern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The dye fig (Ficus tinctoria), also called humped fig, belongs to a group of fig trees, called strangler figs. Most seeds of these trees begin their life as an epiphyte in a tree, the seed often sprouting in a pile of bird dung, delivered by the bird which ate the fig fruit. Over the years, aerial roots of the young strangler fig grow down to the ground, where they take root, while other roots wrap themselves around the host tree, over time completely enveloping the tree, which is eventually strangled to death. As the trunk of the host tree decays, it leaves the fig tree as a hollow cylinder of aerial roots. – The dye fig has more or less the same distribution as the weeping fig. Its name stems from the traditional usage of its fruits to produce a dye. The specific name tinctoria is Latin, meaning ‘to dye’.


Cambodia 2010
The gnarled base of the trunk of a dye fig of the subspecies gibbosa, strangling a silk-cotton tree (Bombax ceiba), photographed among the Khmer ruins at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Cambodia 2009
Dye figs also readily grow on buildings, as this huge specimen, embracing a ruin at Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, Cambodia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The large-leaved fig (Ficus superba) is another strangler fig, which also readily grows on buildings. However, it is also able to thrive as a normal tree. It is distributed in China, Taiwan, Japan, and parts of Southeast Asia, south to Indonesia.


Taiwan 2012a
Aerial roots of this giant large-leaved fig have enveloped the remains of the former warehouse of Tait & Co., Anping, Taiwan. Today, the building is called Anping Tree House. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2017
Ancient large-leaved fig, growing in a park at the Daoist ‘Temple of the Five Concubines’, from 1683, Tainan, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Pipal, or sacred fig (Ficus religiosa), is yet another strangler fig, which also often grows on buildings. Its leaves are broad and heart-shaped, ending in a long, tapering point. This tree is sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, hence its specific name, as well as one of its English names. – Read more about pipal elsewhere on this website, see Plants: Pipal and banyan – two sacred fig trees.


Nepal 2008
This pipal grows around a small Hindu shrine in Kathmandu, Nepal, causing it to crack. Over the years, it will destroy the building completely. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



In Europe, many hollow trees were worshipped far into the Middle Ages. Two such trees, both ancient common oaks (Quercus robur), are found north of Copenhagen, Denmark. With a circumference of 10.3 metres, Skovfogedegen (‘Forest Ranger’s Oak’) is one of Denmark’s largest trees. It was named after forest ranger Johan Georg Weissler, who, in the early 1800s, arranged his own private oratory inside its hollow trunk. The other ancient oak is Ulvedalsegen (‘Wolf Valley Oak’), also called ‘The Theatre Oak’, which is slightly larger than the Forest Ranger’s Oak, with a circumference of 10.4 metres. The name ‘The Theatre Oak’ stems from an old tradition of performing plays in front of this old tree.


Sjælland 2006-11
Sjælland 2006-11
Skovfogedegen (‘Forest Ranger’s Oak’). In the lower picture, I am standing inside the hollow tree. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Sjælland 1969-2005
Ulvedalsegen (‘Wolf Valley Oak’). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Formerly, the forest at Halltorps Hage, Öland, Sweden, was home to about a thousand ancient common oaks (Quercus robur), but unfortunately most of these were felled in the 1930s, and out of the remaining 30 or so, most are not doing too well.


Norden 1967-86
Sverige 2015
Dead common oak (Quercus robur), Halltorps Hage, Öland, Sweden. Its trunk is covered in feeding tunnels of larvae of the great capricorn beetle (Cerambyx cerdo). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sverige 2015
Lars Skipper, standing next to an old common oak (Quercus robur), growing on the island of Almö, Blekinge, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Jylland 1996-99
Bolleregen (‘The Boller Oak’), an ancient common oak (Quercus robur), about 800 years old, growing at the Boller Estate, near Horsens, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The common alder (Alnus glutinosa) lives in symbiosis with a nitrogen-fixing actinomycete bacterium, Frankia alni. These bacteria cause the growth of coral-like nodules on the roots of the trees, inside which thick-walled cells are formed, housing the bacteria. Protected here against the harmful oxygen of the air, the bacteria change nitrogen into nitrates, which can be utilized by the alder trees. This is the reason that these trees are able to grow in oxygen-poor soils. The nitrates enrich the soil, making it possible for other plants to grow in these poor soils.


Jylland 2016 
An ancient common alder (Alnus glutinosa), growing at the shore of Lake Mossø, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is native to Europe, found from southern Scandinavia south to the Pyrenees, Italy, and the Balkans, east to Ukraine, and thence south to the Caucasus and Turkey. Norway maple has been introduced to North America, where it has become invasive in many eastern states. For this reason, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have banned planting of this tree.


Sverige 2016
This ancient Norway maple grows in a park in the centre of the Old Town, Ystad, Skåne, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Canadian poplar (Populus x canadensis) is a hybrid between black poplar (Populus nigra), which is native to Europe, south-western and central Asia, and North Africa, and eastern cottonwood, or necklace poplar (Populus deltoides), which is native to the United States, south-eastern Canada, and north-eastern Mexico. This hybrid is very commonly planted around the world, often along roads.


Fyn 1967-2004
Pruned Canadian poplars along a road on the island of Langeland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Fyn 1967-2004
Pruned Canadian poplars, illuminated by the morning sun on the island of Lyø, Denmark. The one in front resembles a gaping monster. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Vorsø 2000-2020
Bark of an old Canadian poplar, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Grand forests of pehuén, or Chilean monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), are ubiquitous in Parque Nacional Conguillio, and a few other places in the Andes. Elsewhere, the species is endangered. – Read more about pehuén, and about other wildlife in the Chilean Andes, elsewhere on this website, see Travel episodes: Chile 2011 – The white forest.


Chile 2011a
Pehuén, Parque Nacional Conguillio, Chile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Chile 2011a
Lars Skipper, standing next to a pehuén, called ‘Araucaria Madre’ (‘Mother of Monkey-puzzle Trees’). This giant is about 1,800 years old, 50 metres tall, and has a diameter of c. 2.1 metres. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The sessile oak (Quercus petraea) is mainly European, found from southern Scandinavia and the British Isles, southwards to Portugal, eastwards to Poland and the Balkans, with isolated populations in Turkey, the Caucasus, and northern Iran. It can be told from the common oak (Q. robur) by its darker, shiny, less indented leaves.


Jylland 2016
Lars Skipper, admiring an ancient sessile oak, Lake Almind, Silkeborg, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara), or deodar, is distributed from Afghanistan eastwards to western Nepal. This tree can grow to enormous dimensions, up to 80 metres tall, its huge bole having a circumference of up to 12 metres. Its generic name, Cedrus, from the Greek kedros, stems from an ancient Indo-European word, meaning incense. Formerly, needles and wood of cedar were used as incense. Today, traditional medicine is made from an essential oil in its wood. – Read more about deodar elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine: Cedrus deodara.


Nordindien 1997
Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Himalayan cedars, growing near the Hadimba Temple, a Hindu shrine in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, northern India. – Read more about the Hadimba Temple elsewhere on this website, see Religion: Hinduism. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Himachal Pradesh 2007
At some point during its lifetime, this old deodar, which was observed in the Tirthan Valley, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, was probably on the verge of sliding into the abyss. However, it managed to cling to the precipice, several of its trunks becoming partly horizontal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Welwitschia mirabilis is the sole surviving representative of an ancient family of cone-bearing plants, distantly related to conifers. This species is confined to the Namib Desert in western Namibia. In fact, Welwitschia is a tree, but most of it is underground, the roots obtaining water 20 metres or more below the desert surface. – Read more about Welwitschia, and about Namibia in general, elsewhere on this website, see Countries and places: Namibia – a desert country.


Sydafrika-Namibia 1993
This Welwitschia, which was photographed near Swakopmund, is about 1,500 years old. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Tetrameles nudiflora is a huge rainforest tree, growing to 45 metres high, distributed from the Indian Subcontinent via Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia to northern Australia.


Cambodia 2009
Cambodia 2009
Cambodia 2009
Many of the Khmer ruins at Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, have been enveloped by the roots of giant specimens of Tetrameles nudiflora. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The common lime (Tilia x europaea), in America called common linden, is a hybrid between small-leaved lime (T. cordata) and large-leaved lime (T. platyphyllos). In Europe, it occurs in the wild here and there, where the two parent species are present. It is very widely cultivated, being the commonest lime species in urban areas, despite the fact that it is host to vast populations of aphids, which produce huge amounts of honeydew, leaving a sticky layer on parked cars, and everything else, beneath the trees. It is a very popular tree among bee-keepers, as its flowers produce an esteemed type of honey.

Common lime can grow very old and very large, up to 50 metres tall. One long-lived specimen was the ’Malmvik lime’, planted as a sapling near the Malmvik Manor, Stockholm, Sweden, in 1618. This tree lived for 381 years, until its remains fell during a storm in 1999. (Source: R. Bengtsson, 2004. The Malmvik Lime: An Historical and Biological Analysis of the Oldest Documented Planting of Common Lime (Tilia x europaea L.) in Sweden. The Garden History Society. 32 (2):188-196). The largest common lime in Britain is at Aysgarth, Yorkshire, which, in 2009, was 26 metres tall, with a diameter of 2,95 metres. (Source: O. Johnson, 2011. Champion Trees of Britain & Ireland. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London).


Sjælland 2012-15
Old and gnarled common lime trees (Tilia x europaea), Jægerspris, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Sjælland 2006-11
Bronze Age burial mound at Gisselfeldt, Zealand, Denmark, overgrown by large common lime trees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Two species of false cypresses, of the genus Chamaecyparis, are native to Taiwan, the Taiwan red cypress (C. formosensis) and the Taiwan yellow cypress (C. obtusa var. formosana), both growing in areas of high precipitation at medium elevations, between 1,300 and 2,600 metres altitude.

Following the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, Taiwan was ceded to Japan and became a Japanese colony. In 1912, the Japanese government began large-scale logging of false cypresses in the Alishan area, and where the Alishan Mountain Railway today passes through areas at higher elevations, cypress forests once covered the entire landscape. Soon, the forests on Taiping Shan, Ilan County, and Pahsien Shan, Nantou County, were also opened up for logging, and later also many other areas. An endless stream of cypress logs flowed out of the mountains, carried across the sea to Japan to become e.g. pillars for Shinto shrines.

Early surveys estimated that, before logging began, about 20 million ancient false cypresses were found in Taiwan. Of the approximately 300,000 false cypresses at Alishan, which were more than 1,000 years old, all that remains today is a few giant trees, scattered among introduced Japanese red cedar (Cryptomeria japonica).

Large-scale logging of these magnificent trees was continued, even after the Japanese left Taiwan in 1945 – in fact, right up to 1989. Today, the only larger areas of ancient false cypresses are forests on Hsiukulan Shan, central Taiwan, and on Chilan Shan, Ilan County. (Source: Chang Chin-ju, Ancient Giants of the Forest – Taiwan’s False Cypresses).


Taiwan 2003-05
A giant red cypress, about 1,900 years old, Alishan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2003-05
Red cypress, c. 1,000 years old, Alishan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2014b
This ancient red cypress in Alishan National Forest is called ‘Third Generation Tree’, because a younger cypress has rooted on its stump. There is supposed to be yet a cypress, which has rooted on the younger specimen, but I was not able to find it! (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2003-05
The lower part of the trunk of this old red cypress resembles a kneeling elephant. – Alishan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2017a
The lower part of the trunk of an ancient red cypress, Dasyueshan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2014b
Two red cypresses in Yushan National Park, which have been named the ‘Fuci Trees’, were killed by a forest fire in 1963, but the dried-out trunks have remained. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2014b
This trail in Alishan National Forest has been worn by so many visitors’ feet that the roots of a red cypress has appeared on the surface. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Taiwan 2008
Taiwan 2008
Taiwan 2008
Yellow cypresses, 600-700 years old, Mingchih National Forest. The lower picture shows a close-up of the bark, with a climber. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Mendocino cypress, growing only in the Mendocino area north of San Francisco, California, is sometimes treated as a separate species, called either Cupressus pigmaea or Hesperocyparis pygmaea. Others maintain that it is a variety, pigmaea, of the more widespread Gowen cypress (Cupressus goveniana, or Hesperocyparis goveniana). Under all circumstances, not much is pygmy-like about this tree, as it may be able to grow to 43 metres tall, with a diameter exceeding 2 metres.


Californien 2011a
The trunk of an old Mendocino cypress, illuminated by the evening sun, Laguna Point, Mackerricher State Park, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is largely restricted to Europe, occurring from England and the Pyrenees, east to Poland and Ukraine, and from southern Sweden south to Italy and the Balkans, with a patchy occurrence in southern Norway, central Spain, and Turkey. In the Balkans, it hybridizes with the oriental beech (F. orientalis), which is found in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran. European beeches can grow very large, up to 50 metres tall, with a trunk diameter of up to 3 metres. These pictures show various types of old beeches.


Jylland 2006-12
This old, gnarled beech (Fagus sylvatica) from Jutland, Denmark, has several trunks, probably after being pruned many years prior. Numerous tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius) grow on the trunks. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Alperne 2018
Fog envelops an old, mis-shaped beech in Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. The stump to the right resembles some long-horned animal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Frankrig-Spanien 2007
Ancient, dying beeches, growing near St. Martin, in the Spanish Pyrenees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Jylland 2016
An aberrant form of beech from Jutland, Denmark, its branches bending down and growing along the ground. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Taiwan hemlock (Tsuga chinensis var. formosana), a variety of the Chinese hemlock, is quite common in mixed broad-leaved forests in montane areas of Taiwan, at altitudes between 1,700 and 3,500 metres. Some authorities question the validity of this variety, claiming that it is identical with the type, T. chinensis. The Chinese hemlock, in its wider sense, is found from Tibet east to China and Taiwan, south to northern Vietnam.


Taiwan 2006
White trunks of dead Taiwan hemlocks, contrasting sharply with the lush, green forest on the slopes of Yu Shan (3997 m), the highest mountain in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The black juniper (Juniperus indica) is a high-altitude tree, growing between 2,100 and 5,200 metres, from Pakistan eastwards to south-eastern Tibet and south-western China. Its foliage is burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines, and the fruit is utilized in traditional medicine for fever and headache.


Nepal 2009-2 
This old and gnarled black juniper was photographed at an altitude of c. 3,600 metres in the Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



LFM 1987-2020
The northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis), which belongs to the cypress family (Cupressaceae), is native to eastern Canada and north-eastern United States, but is widely cultivated elsewhere as an ornamental. This huge, multi-trunked specimen is growing in a park on the island of Lolland, Denmark. Note the woman, peeping out behind one of the trunks. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Chile 2011a
An old coigüe (Nothofagus dombeyi) – a species of southern beech – attacked by fungi, Parque Nacional Conguillio, Chile. – Read more about coigüe, and about other wildlife in the Chilean Andes, elsewhere on this website, see Travel episodes: Chile 2011 – The white forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Olive trees (Olea europaea) can live for more than 2000 years. Some specimens in the Gethsemane Garden, beneath the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, were young trees, when Jesus wandered in this area. – Read more about the olive tree elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine: Olea europaea.


Europa 1972-2005
An ancient olive tree, growing on the Lassithi Plains, Crete. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Tyrkiet 2018a
This split and pruned olive tree was once planted on a square in the town of Mordogan, Karaburun Peninsula, near Izmir, Turkey. Or is it in reality four trees, which have been joined? (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Lunta spruce (Cunninghamia konishii) is named after a mountain in Taiwan, Luan Ta, where it was first found in 1908. The occurrence of this species in the wild is confined to Taiwan, a few locations in Laos and Vietnam, and perhaps the Fujian Province of south-eastern China. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2017, this species is endangered in the wild.


Taiwan 2003-05
This Lunta spruce in Taroko National Park, Taiwan, called ‘Pilu Sacred Tree’, is c. 3,200 years old and 40-50 metres high. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Fyn 1967-2004
Two knots on the trunk of this old cherry tree (Prunus avium), and a wound in the bark beneath them, cause the trunk to resemble a large-eyed alien. – Read more about this species elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine: Prunus avium. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is native to western North America, with two varieties, one coastal, growing from British Columbia south to central California, and one montane, found in the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia south to Mexico. Today, this species is cultivated almost worldwide for its excellent timber. It is named after David Douglas (1799-1834), a Scottish botanist and collector, who first reported it. – A picture of an unripe cone of this species is found elsewhere on this website, see Nature: Nature’s patterns.


Arizona-Utah 2001
This 750-year-old Douglas-fir has taken root in a narrow canyon on the Navaho Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Everest 2010
Worship of trees takes place around the world. This picture shows a growth of old drooping junipers (Juniperus recurva) near the Pangboche Monastery, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. These trees are sacred to the local Tibetan Buddhists – a remnant of the animist Bon religion, which dominated in Central Asia, prior to the introduction of Buddhism. – Read more about animism elsewhere on this website, see Religion: Animism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is a conifer, which is the tallest tree in the world, reaching a height of up to 115 metres. It is also among the longest-living trees, some individuals being more than 1,800 years old. Before commercial logging began in the 1850s, this tree occurred in the wild along coastal California (excluding the southernmost part), north to the south-western corner of Oregon. Today, it is restricted to rather scattered localities from Monterey County, south of San Francisco, northwards to extreme south-western Oregon.


Californien 2011a
Californien 2011a
Forest of coast redwood, Humboldt Redwood State Park, California. In the lower picture, I am standing at a fallen, partly decayed trunk, which gives a clear impression of the height of these magnificent trees. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Nepal 1998
The Muktinath Temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, is situated in a growth of old Himalayan poplars (Populus ciliata) in the Jhong River Valley, Mustang, central Nepal. – Read more about this temple, and about Hinduism in general, elsewhere on this website, see Religion: Hinduism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Vorsø 2000-2020
The trunk of an old sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), Nature Reserve Vorsø, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. – Read more about the development of growths of these trees on abandoned fields in this nature reserve on this website, see Vorsø on my mind: Expanding wilderness. About the species in general, see Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydindien 2008
Fungi, growing on the trunk of a burned forest tree, Silent Valley National Park, Kerala, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Taiwan 2014b
The Chinese Hemlock Nature Trail leads through montane monsoon forest in Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area, eastern Taiwan. Here, the trail is passing beneath the roots of an ancient tree. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica), of the pea family (Fabaceae), is indigenous to Tropical Africa, but is widely cultivated elsewhere in hot countries for its fruits, whose pulp is used in cuisines around the world. It is also utilized in folk medicine, and to polish metal. In many Latin-speaking countries, a beverage, called tamarindo, is made from the pulp. The name tamarind is from Arabic تمر هندي‎ (tamar hindi), meaning ‘Indian date’.


Myanmar 2007 
Cyclist, passing by the gnarled trunk of an ancient tamarind tree, Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The European yew (Taxus baccata) is native to Europe, North Africa, south-western Asia, and northern Iran. In the Himalaya, it is replaced by a close relative, the Himalayan yew (T. wallichiana), which was formerly regarded as a subspecies of the European yew. Yew cones are highly modified, each cone containing only one seed, surrounded by a bright red, fleshy, berry-like aril, which is edible. The seed, however, is very poisonous.


Irland 1987-99
Trunk of an ancient European yew, Glendalough, Ireland. To the right, still clinging to the trunk, is a withered ivy (Hedera helix). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Taiwan 2014c 
Terminalia mantaly, of the leadwood family (Combretaceae), is a native of Madagascar, but is widely cultivated in warmer countries around the world. In Taiwan, it is very commonly planted in cities. This one, in the city of Taichung, was planted in a square bed, which proved too small, and as it grew larger, its roots spread onto the sidewalk. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Himalayan hemlock (Tsuga dumosa), which grows to 40 metres tall, is very common in the Himalaya, found at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,600 metres, from Uttarakhand eastwards to northern Myanmar, south-eastern Tibet, and south-western China, with an isolated population in northern Vietnam. Its timber is used for construction, furniture, and foot-bridges, and its needles are burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines.


Nepal 2008 
After a forest fire, two tall stumps are all that remains of a huge Himalayan hemlock, near Tharepati, Langtang National Park, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Uttarakhand 2008 
The Indian holly oak (Quercus floribunda, formerly Q. dilatata) is distributed from Afghanistan east to central Nepal, growing at altitudes between 1,800 and 2,700 metres. This large specimen from the Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand, is a so-called ‘money tree’. Coins are hammered into its bark as an offering, hoping for good luck. This practice is a remnant of animism, which dominated as a religion in India prior to the emergence of Hinduism and Buddhism. – Read more about animism on this website, see Religion: Animism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani) is native to the eastern Mediterranean, found in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. This tree is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Moses told Hebrew priests to use the bark of this tree to cure leprosy (Leviticus 14:1-4). – Hebrew prophet Isaiah used the Lebanon cedar as a metaphor for the haughty pride of humans (Isaiah 2:13). – King Solomon ordered the Temple of Jerusalem to be built of cedar timber. (Source: – And, finally, the Song of Solomon, 5:15, “His legs are like marble pillars, set in sockets of finest gold. His posture is stately, like the noble cedars of Mount Lebanon.”


Tyrkiet 2006
Ancient Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani), near Ermenek, Toros Dağlari (Taurus Mountains), Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The sacred temple of the Sikhs, Hari Mandir – often called ‘The Golden Temple’ – is situated in Amritsar, Punjab, north-western India. On the temple premises grows a 475-year-old jujube tree (Ziziphus mauritiana), which, supposedly, possesses healing powers. Women, who wish to give birth to a son, attach bits of cloth to its bark as an offering. – You may read more about the Hari Mandir elsewhere on this website, see Travel episodes – India 1997: Golden Temple of the Sikhs. – More about the jujube tree is found at Traditional medicine: Ziziphus mauritiana.


Nordindien 1997
This ancient jujube tree grows at the Hari Mandir Temple, Amritsar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



(Uploaded June 2016)


(Revised continuously)