Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Noteworthy literary trees

There is something special and sacred about trees that really appeals to me. They simply stand strong, upright and silent. They don't boast about how important they are, yet their role is vital to our continued health on this planet. They purify our air and offer delicious treats in the form of fruit. I've enjoyed their welcome shade and shelter many times. Some birds and animals make their homes within their boughs. And even when trees pass away they are still useful, as they give us fuel and paper. Even their name imparts a sort of calmness. Try whispering 'tree, tree, tree,' and it sounds a bit like the rustling of breeze through pine needles. 

I totally understand why so many authors and artists have immortalised trees in their creative work. They have a lot of beauty, patience and character. Most of all, I love it that trees are a blessing we can easily enjoy in our own lives, as well as in stories, folklore and history. Before I launch into my lists of literary and biblical trees, I'm going to mention some I've come across in my own travels.

1) The Herbig Tree

It stands in Springton, South Australia, not far from where I live. In the mid 1800s, some distant ancestors of my family lived inside its hollow trunk during a rough stage of their pioneering life. They later managed to build a house for their growing family, but the tree helped tide them over when they needed it.

2) The Yungaburra Curtain Fig Tree

We visited this impressive tree in tropical north Queensland just recently. These fig trees may be the living counterparts of some of the vicious literary trees I've listed below. They wrap their tendrils around host trees until they suck the life out of them and take over. In some, you can still see the withered husks of the original trees within, and this one is a doozy.

3) The old gum tree around the corner

I walk past this one whenever I choose to have a stroll down the road to our local wetlands. It's so enormous, gnarled and old, I can't wondering about all the history it's seen.

4) This Cedar of Lebanon

I was delighted to come across this during a trip across to Victoria, in the Bendigo Botanic Gardens (or was it Ballarat?), because they had such a grandiose reputation, I always wondered what they were like. No wonder they were treated with such awe and respect in biblical times.

1) The Whomping Willow from Harry Potter
This is one aggressive tree when people violate its comfort zone. Harry and Ron accidentally collide with it in Mr Weasley's flying car, and it strikes out at them in response. Later, it's discovered that this tree has a crucial role in the mystery surrounding the eerie shrieking shack.

2) Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree
I grew up on these stories. Small magic people build their homes up in its branches, and each week a different land appears in the clouds at its very top. It often grows several different types of fruit at once, which tend to change over time. It's vulnerable to sabotage though, when nasty goblins decide to delve underground and hack its roots, so rescuing this tree is an act of environmental altruism.

3) Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy
He's a heroic and sacrificial tree who is prepared to lay his own life on the line to shield and protect his friends. The special, rejuvenating quality of trees becomes evident at the end of the movie when he gets another chance at life in a very natural way.

4) Grandmother Willow from Pocohontas
Since she's lived to a ripe old age and has seen many changes, it's no wonder she makes such a wise and kind mentor for the spirited and impressionable young heroine.

5) Old Man Willow from Lord of the Rings
He's not as nice as Grandmother Willow above. The sneaky old tree uses his hypnotic powers and strength to lull the hapless hobbits to sleep, then traps two of them tight in the cracks of his trunk. The suspicion of Sam wins the day. Merry, Pippin and Frodo might have all been goners otherwise.

6) Treebeard and the Ents from Lord of the Rings
They are a race of talking tree-like beings, and Treebeard is the eldest of them all. His claim to be the oldest creature in Middle-earth could be quite true.

7) The Great Deku Tree from The Legend of Zelda
Recurring continuously in the series, his age and wisdom qualifies him to be guardian of the forest. 

1) The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
It is this which proved to be the undoing of Adam and Eve, plunging the human race into the inherited darkness of sin. They had been forbidden by God to eat the fruit from this tree, but when the serpent tempted Eve and caused her to question God's motive for this command, she weakened and caused her husband to succumb too.

2) The Tree of Life
It stood in the centre of the Garden of Eden, symbolising that God is the source of eternal life and blessing.

3) The Cursed Fig Tree
When I was a kid, this used to perplex me a lot. Why would Jesus get all petulant and curse a poor, innocent tree to death, just because there were no figs on it for him to eat? It seemed a gross over-reaction, entirely out of character. I got it later on, when someone suggested that he cursed the tree because of what it symbolised. Being full of verdant green leaves, there was no reason why there shouldn't have been any fruit for hungry passers-by. Jesus' action was more to do with his opinion about pretentious people and things which proudly display all the signs of fruit, but lack actual fruit!

And while I'm on a roll, here are a couple of other very nice tree photos I've taken.
This camphor tree at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

These gracious palm trees at Palm Cove, Cairns

These mangroves trees

And this granddaddy it would be impossible to hug.

The Bible is also chock full of analogies which compare good men and women to trees, including this one from Psalm 1. 'He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season. His leaf shall not wither and whatever he does shall prosper.'

And now I'd love to invite anybody with any favourite trees of your own to share your stories or photos in the comments. Or just tell us about your favourite trees.


  1. Hi Paula. Loved this post. Trees for me are all you described - majestic, serene, almost protective. When my friend and I were looking for a place to rent nearly four years ago we met an agent at the house where we now live. As soon as we walked into the house I knew there was something special about it. It felt like 'home' immediately. I didn't understand it at first - it was nothing special really - it was an old house recently renovated with not too much garden to look after (I am not a gardener). Having a look around the back yard I asked my friend whether she could handle the garden - that was the deal - because I don't enjoy gardening. She was happy with that and said she could. I was talking with the agent while she wandered around the back yard checking everything out when I noticed a plaque hanging from an orange tree. I looked at the words and it was a prayer. It read: Please Lord, give me the wisdom to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks.' Since then I've often prayed that when something seems to be blocking my path. By the way, that tree produces an abundance of beautiful, sweet, juicy oranges every year which we give to lovely ladies in our church who make marmalade jam for missions fundraising. I often look out into the yard from my sitting room and smile at that tree. I reckon it smiles back at me too.

    1. Hi Lesley,
      I might adopt your orange tree's prayer too. That really resonates with me. Beautiful. It's good to hear those oranges spread as far as they can, including the marmalade :) It must be a really healthy spot where you live, for such a bumper crop each year. Like you, I don't have a green thumb and a low maintenance garden would be a priority.

  2. Hi Paula
    Im the friend Lesley refers to. I lived very near Windsot Great Park, the back garden of the Queen. I spent many a day walking round it and admiring the magnificent trees. Some of them were very old. When I decided to emigrate to Australia at the age if 74 I wanted to do something that I would remember. So I decided to climb a tree in the Park. I threw out the challenge to a group of ladies I was involved with in my church and told them where I would be, what time and bring lunch as I intended having a picnic. Nine ladies turned up. I remember one lady brought a huge bowl of strawberries. You are not really allowed to climb trees in the park. We had to find one off the main paths. We did and two of the ladies climbed it with me. I had a ball and it will be a memory about trees that I will always remember. They are so different and I often used to look at them and wish they could talk to me. I suspect they could tell many a tale. We also had a tree just outside our house. An old oak tree. It was said that Queen Elizabeth 1 sat under it once and a famous preacher preached under it. If you want to look it up it was called Crouch Oak. So trees to me are so important. Thank you for writing about them Paula

    1. Hi Sheila,
      Wow, what a day to remember! I would have liked to have been around to see all you ladies climbing trees :) I totally agree with you about the stories they could tell, if only they could talk. Especially when I see trees such as the Proclamation tree in Glenelg. But the Crouch Oak must surely be way up there, going right back to the days of Elizabeth 1. No wonder they can give the impression that they are full of secrets. I'm so glad you dropped by.

  3. loved the scope of this post! Also the stories in the replies. And SO appreciate the creativity and thoughtfulness of your posts, Paula.

    1. It's always great when you visit, Rhonda. Yes, those stories in the comments are beautiful. Something about trees must stir our nostalgia.