13 of Europe's Most Fascinating Trees

Every year since 2011, the consortium of European eco foundations known as the Environmental Partnership Association has held one of the world’s great contests: The European Tree of the Year. The contestants – in 2018, there were 13 – are the winners of national rounds, voted upon by communities hoping to send their best competitors to the finals. The brief for the 2018 contest? Trees with the most interesting stories. The following 13 fascinating finalists (in alphabetical order by country) vied for the crown—even though we all know that every tree is a winner already.

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Belgium: The Lime of the Old Country

credit: Fred Beard

Species: Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) Age: 400 years Region: Bioul, Wallonia, Belgium The stately lime tree (pictured above) from Vî Payîs is the largest small-leaved lime tree in the country, and is one of the most outstanding trees in Wallonia, say its nominators. "The roles that have been attributed to it, as nobility or a landmark, have died out over time. The fact that this tree has resisted all assaults and threats can only be understood as a collective desire to preserve it as a symbol or parcel of memory. It continues to be the subject of attention and admiration by the population."

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Bulgaria: Sequoias from Yuchbunar

credit: Tourist Association Osogovo, town of Kyustendil

Species: Giant sequoia (Sequoia giganteam) Age: 130 years Region: Village of Bogoslov, Kyustendil, Bulgaria These three magnificent giant sequoias live near the village of Bogoslov in Kyustendil. Given that the natural distribution of giant sequoias is restricted to a limited area of the western Sierra Nevada, California, finding the giants elsewhere is a special occurrence; this one thanks to forester Yordan Mitrev who brought sequoia seeds to Bulgaria at the end of the 19th century. The trees' nominators say that the trees have an important place in the history of forestry, adding, "Many people from the region and the country would visit the site to hug the trees and benefit from their energy."

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Croatia: The Living Witness

credit: Tree of the Year

Species: Oriental plane tree (Platanus orientalis L.) Age: Over 500 years Region: City of Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik-Neretva county, Republic of Croatia From the contest site comes this fascinating history: "The massive plane tree, the symbol of Trsteno, is a protected park architecture monument. Its beauty, size and age make it a popular tourist attraction. In the early 15th century, the sapling was brought from Constantinople by Captain Florio Jakob Antunov, who planted it next to a spring. The tree has survived all would-be conquerors – Turkish invaders, Napoleon’s army and Russian troops – thanks to the mild climate, the life-giving spring, and the care of the locals entrusted with its survival."

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Czech Republic: The Gem in the Park

credit: Marek Olbrzymek

Species: Black walnut (Juglans nigra) Age: 230 years Region: Kvasice, Zlín region, Czech Republic In 1790, the Count of Lamberg created a park with a special black walnut tree. After the death of her father, the Countess of Lamberg had a wooden chapel built under the tree in memory of her late father who drowned in the Morava river. When the park opened to the public, it became a destination of frequent spiritual visits. After flooding in 1997, the deluged tree was in very poor shape, but with professional care has returned back to health and remains the gem of the park.

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Hungary: The 300-Year-Old Survivor

credit: Eva Kutas

Species: Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) Age: 300 years Region: Zengővárkony, southern Transdanubia, Hungary Zengővárkony, a small village of 400 people, is famous for its chestnut wood, which was the source of growth for the locals; therefore they lovingly cared for the trees. One tree in particular stands out, the 300-year-old beauty that has conquered "crustal cancer, survived nationalization after the war and even once being set on fire in a cold winter. For the locals the 300-year-old chestnut tree is the symbol of continuity and its desire to live gives strength to them."

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Lithuania: Witches' Spruce

credit: Lukas Balandis

Species: Norway spruce (Picea abies L.) Age: 170 years (estimated) Region: Vilkyškiai Forest near Vilkyškiai Town, Pagėgiai Municipality, Lithuania The "Mysterious Witches’ Broom" is a Norway spruce that soars to 111 feet (34 meters) in height, with a chaos of trunks and branches that give it the appearance of tangled witch’s hair. The nominator's explain: "One legend says the witch's broom turned into the tree because she met a local man she liked, and forgot to fetch her broom until midnight. Another story tells that Napoleon cut off the top of a small spruce while he was riding a horse, and it grew back into its strange shape as a result. Many legends have been captured in children's drawings."

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Poland: Poplar Helena

credit: Marek Dykta

Species: Black Poplar (Populus nigra) Age: 220 Years Region: Hel, Pomorskie Province, Poland The name of this natural monument was not chosen randomly, explains the tree's supporters. "It emphasizes the identity of the place it grows in. The tree has witnessed many events and transformations in the community of Hel. Its life is related to the drama of warfare and the heroic defence of Hel. Like the queen of the surrounding landscape, the poplar towers majestically along the path leading to the headland."

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Portugal: The Whistler

credit: UNAC

Species: Cork Oak (Quercus suber) Age: 234 Years Region: Águas De Moura, Alentejo, Portugal While this magnificent tree doesn't whistle on its own, the birds that it hosts on its branches do and have given the tree its melodic name. Planted in 1783, the cork oak has been stripped more than twenty times, notes its description. "In addition to the contribution to the cork industry, it has huge relevance for ecosystem services and fighting climate change." At 234 years of age, the Whistler has been classified as "Tree of Public Interest" since 1988 and is registered in the Guinness Book of Records as "the largest cork oak in the world."

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Romania: The Oak from Cajvana

credit: Nicolae Robu

Species: Common Oak (Quercus Robur L.) Age: About 750 Year Region: Cajvana Town, Suceava County, Romania Now here's some history: "Local inhabitants believe that this tree dates from the time of the great Tatar invasion (1241), when all the people from the area died in battle. They would have been buried in a common pit, at the site of which this oak was planted. According to another legend, in 1476 Moldavian Prince Stefan cel Mare, accompanied by his soldiers, rested in the shade of this tree, where they were served with a fresh cheese - caș in Romanian, hence the name Cajvana."

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Russia The Elder of the Belgorod Forests

credit: Ekaterina Belgorodskaya

Species: English Oak (Quercus robur L.) Age: 188 Years Region: Village Dubovoye, Belgorod Region, Russian Federation This grand beauty is a National Natural Heritage Monument that has witnessed historical events and enjoys environmental protection. A place of celebration, it is also beloved by children. "For them, the oak is a symbol of friendship, good health and memory of their ancestors," notes the Elder's description. "They hold flash-mobs there to form a heart around the tree to send waves of peace and kindness to all people of the planet."

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Slovakia: The Persevering Apple Tree

credit: Martin Babarik

Species: Apple tree (Malus domestica, borkh.) Age: 120 years Region: Bošáca, Slovakia "An apple tree that doesn’t give up," note the nominators of this amazing tree that has been bearing a rare regional variety of apple for more than 100 years. "Today, the tree has a beautiful, scarred trunk. But despite its damage, it has an amazing inner vitality. It always blooms richly in the spring and provides an extremely rich harvest of apples in autumn, which lasts until the next summer. When we sit down in its shadow, we can learn from it how to never give up and face life's challenges."

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Spain: Templars Elms

credit: Bosques sin Froteras

Species: Elm (Ulmus minor) Age: 450 Years Region: Cabeza Buey, Badajoz, Spain These seven ancient elms are considered the last of the urban elm groves in the Extremadura region of Spain. While Dutch elm disease has killed more than 1 million trees in Spain and more than 1 billion worldwide, these trees have managed to survive, "presiding over the surroundings of the hermitage of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Belen, of great artistic historical value and with Templar origins." A pilgrimage has been celebrated here since 1650; now that's pretty historic.

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UK: The Gilwell Oak

credit: Woodland Trust

Species: Common oak (Qerucus robur L.) Age: 450 - 550 years Region: London, England, UK Located in Gilwell Park, within Epping Forest, near Chingford, the park was purchased by the Scout Association in 1919 and used as a campsite and activity center. In 1929, scouting founder Robert Baden Powell cited the giant oak as an example of how grand things grow from modest beginnings, thus cementing the tree's place in scouting history, as well as the history of the area in general.