In honor of Arbor Day, consider these famous trees
With the extremely rare exception (this means you, ratty Chinese elms), there are infinite things to love about trees.
The splendor! The shade! The mulberries and coconuts! The multi-purpose symbolism! There’s a reason poets compose odes to them. Why, Joyce Kilmer thought that he should never see a poem as lovely as a tree!
Because forests cover about 30 percent of Earth’s land surface, according to NASA research, and because Friday is National Arbor Day, it’s a good time to consider the trees. Specifically, the famous ones, the cultural reference points, the ones anthropomorphized to the point of walking and talking.
In the collective memory, there are good trees and bad trees, evergreen and deciduous, trees to sit under and trees to avoid, trees that throw apples and trees that symbolize a greater message.
Here are some memorable trees, ranked on a one- to 10-leaf scale (one leaf = might as well be a blight-on-humanity Chinese elm; 10 leaves = no poem could be so lovely):
Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree
A scrawny little twig that would be sad if it wasn’t so charming, Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree bends under the weight of a single ornament. It symbolizes not so much Charlie’s lucklessness, but the humility of the holiday and the beauty in simplicity. And love. So much love.
Leaves: 10. This tree is delightful from its scraggly tip to its twiggy trunk.
The Giving Tree
The titular tree in Shel Silverstein’s 1964 children’s book “The Giving Tree” probably should be read as an allegory for parents or caregivers, but it’s tough to see past the kid who just takes and takes while the tree gives and gives. At the end, after having eaten all the tree’s fruit and using its wood to build a house, the kid is old and sitting on a stump, all that’s left of the tree.
Leaves: 10 (for the tree; the kid gets zero leaves).
Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree
According to William Stukeley’s 1752 “Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life,” on an April day in 1726, the pair went into a garden and drank tea in the shade of an apple tree, where Newton recalled to Stukeley “he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. ‘why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,’ thought he to himself; occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood. ‘why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earths center? assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in matter’.”
Some legends have the apple falling on Newton’s head, which makes for a better story, but regardless: the Universal Law of Gravitation!
Leaves: 9. It loses a leaf in sympathy for the not-so-STEM-inclined who suffered through high school physics.
OK, fine, they’re not exactly trees, but if it looks like a tree and lives in a forest… And speaking of forest, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Ring” series, Ents are Middle Earth’s ancient guardians of the forest and cut a “large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck.”
Leaves: 7. They’re ancient and wise and handy in a fight, but kind of a downer to be around.
The ole oak tree with a yellow ribbon tied ‘round it
Yep, America’s majestic national tree is reduced to starring in the 1973 Tony Orlando & Dawn hit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree.” It’s about a prisoner getting out of the pokey who doesn’t know if his sweetie will receive him at home.
Leaves: 1. The mighty oak deserves better.
The “Swiss Family Robinson” tree
You know the one. It’s enormous and in the jungle and hosts The Most Amazing Treehouse in the Entire Universe. Anybody who’s seen the 1960 Disney film, based on the 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss, has obviously spent many happy hours daydreaming about getting shipwrecked on an uninhabited tropical island and living in The Most Amazing Treehouse in the Entire Universe.
Leaves: 10. It’s a seriously amazing tree(house).
The Whomping Willow
A violent, thrashing tree introduced in J.K. Rowling’s 1998 “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” it does some serious damage to a Ford Anglia accidentally flown into it by Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. There’s a secret to pacifying it, but you’ll have to read “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to find out.
Leaves: 5. This is one scary tree. And think of the possibility for splinters!
George Washington’s cherry tree
An unsubstantiated legend has it that as a child, George Washington chopped down his father’s favorite cherry tree and then owned up to with his famous “I cannot tell a lie.” It’s meant to teach children moral fortitude and the importance of honesty, but nobody ever explains why Pres. No. 1 allegedly chopped it down in the first place. Had it annoyed him? Was he building a table?
Leaves: 4. Washington’s honesty is commendable, but it would have been much funnier if he’d replied, “Uhhh, nope, wasn’t me” while hiding a hatchet behind his back and standing over the downed tree.
Grouchy apple trees
Poor Dorothy Gale. She and her travel companions in “The Wizard of Oz” had been walking on the yellow brick road for a long time and all she wanted was an apple, but when she reached to pick one the tree slapped her hand with a grumpy “Whaddya think you’re doing?” And then it threw its own apples at Dorothy and the scarecrow so, you know, ha ha, Dorothy got her apple after all.
Leaves: 6. Apples are a painful weapon, grouchy tree.
You know those fuzzy, lollipop-looking deals in Dr. Seuss’ 1971 “The Lorax”? They have a name: Truffula trees. Once-ler cuts them down to make Thneeds, “which everyone needs,” causing the Lorax to appear and speak for the trees, “for the trees have no tongues.” But Once-ler cuts them all down anyway and let’s protect the forests, OK, folks?
Leaves: 8. For being lovely and fuzzy and reminding everyone that no one needs Thneeds.
The heart tree
In the complicated “Game of Thrones” universe, the heart tree grows in a Godswood and is considered sacred in the religion of the Old Gods of the Forest. It has a face carved in its trunk and oozes red sap, making it look like it’s weeping blood. So, eew.
Leaves: 9. Not that it deserves them, but it’s heavily implied that you don’t mess with the heart tree.
It’s very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat. That’s according to the folk song “Lemon Tree,” at least. It’s about the difficulty of love and has been covered by performers ranging from Peter, Paul and Mary to Bob Marley. (It also brings to mind all those YouTube videos of babies being given sour things to eat, which are hilarious/mean.)
Leaves: 2. Oh, the sourness of a broken heart! Thanks for nothing, lemon tree.