Trees are, really, amazing organisms. When left alone, they perform dozens of essential ecosystem services including carbon absorption, food production, erosion control, and temperature regulation. Some species live for hundreds—even thousands—of years and others grow to be truly massive in size. Even in death, trees continue to serve vital functions, contributing to the vibrance of the forest floor.
Unfortunately, however, trees these days are rarely left alone to do their good work. Instead, people keep finding ways to interfere—sometimes with catastrophic consequences. There is perhaps no better example of this than these six trees killed by human folly.
1. Meth Addicts: 1, Ancient Trees: 0
Last week, a methamphetamine abuser in search of shelter stumbled upon "The Senator," a 118-foot, 3,500 year old cypress tree in Florida. After taking refuge inside a hollow portion of the tree's trunk, however, something went wrong and the tree caught fire. The tree burned from the inside out and, by the time firefighters arrived on the scene, had collapsed.
The Senator was the fifth oldest tree in the world at the time.
2. The End of a Football Tradition
Auburn Football fans have long enjoyed a strange tradition known as "Rolling Toomers." In essence, it involves covering an iconic pair of oak trees on the campus with reams of toilet paper in celebration of, well, anything.
This tradition was put in jeopardy, however, in 2011 when a fan of the rival football team—the Alabama Crimson Tide—poisoned the 130-year-old trees. Though the tradition may live on thanks to a replanting effort from the community, it will likely come at the cost of the original trees.
3. Extreme Isolation is not Protection
L'Arbre du Ténéré, known in English as the Tree of Ténéré, was a solitary acacia tree in the middle of the Sahara desert. For decades—if not longer—it served as a landmark for caravans passing through the desert, marking the site of a deep well.
However, in 1973, the tree was run over by an allegedly drunk truck driver. It did not survive.
4. An Ancient Landmark Becomes a Victim of War
In Singapore, an tree known as the "Changi Tree" stood as a symbol of the city's strength. It had gained notoriety because of its unusual height, reaching a reported 76 meters.
Then, in 1942, as the fighting of WWII spread through South East Asia, the tree was cut down. It was feared that, if allowed to stand, it would be used as a ranging point by invading Japanese soldiers.
5. An Unwitting Participant in Protest
Kiidk'yaas, also known as the Golden Spruce, was a Sitka spruce in British Columbia, Canada. It was notable, however, because it was an example of a rare genetic mutation that caused its needles to be golden in color, instead of green.
In 1997, a 48-year-old forest engineer named Grant Hadwin felled the tree. The act was a protest against large commercial logging companies. Though the tree did not survive, scientists have been able to produce clones from a collection of recovered branches.
6. The Confusing Decision to Kill the World's Oldest Organism
Perhaps the saddest entrant on this list is Prometheus, a Great Basin bristlecone pine, that was cut down in 1964. At the time, the tree would have been the oldest known organism on the planet at was at least 4862 years old and possibly more than 5000 years old.
The exact details of why Prometheus was cut down are still sketchy but the basic story is that Donald R. Currey, then a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, was studying trees in the area in search of very old specimens. This was typically done by cutting a core from the trunk using a boring device, but for some reason Currey claimed he could not obtain a core sample from Prometheus. When he petitioned the Forest Service, he was granted permission to fell the tree inorder to count its rings.
The silver lining to this story—albeit a small one—is that outrage over the felling led to a movement to protect the White Mountains of California.