I knew the Tule Tree was the widest tree in the world before I visited it yesterday evening. But nothing prepared me for a tree that is over 14 meters in diameter – think about it: 14 meters, that’s 46 feet or 552 inches. My house in Belfountain sits on a lot that is about the same width as this tree! Yes, exclamation mark. Maybe two exclamation marks. This tree has a serious waist.
I read that it takes 30 people holding hands to form a ring around it. To put that into perspective, the largest diameter tree that I know of in Caledon is a sugar maple in the Forks of the Credit Park. If you stretch, 3 people can reach around it. So think 10 times our largest tree.
Look closely at the photo above. In the background to the left of the tree is a pinkish splotch below a green splat. The pink splotch is me.
Statistics about the Tule Tree vary and some have not been verified, but here are a few for you fans of trivia:
Diameter in 2005: 14.05m
Diameter in 1985: 11.42m
Circumference in 2005: 42m
Height in 2005 (determined by laser): 35.4m
Diameter of smoothed-out trunk below buttresses: 9.38m
Diameter of second largest tree in the world: 8.98m (a Giant Sequoia in Yosemite)
Age: 1,433 to 1,600 years
Type of tree: Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum)
The largest tree in Canada is on Vancouver Island. A Western red Cedar called the Cheewhat Giant, it is 6 metres in diameter, so less than half the width of the Tule Tree. However, it is 56m high, making it taller.
The legend behind Mexico’s Tule Tree–how could there not be a legend?–is that Pecocha, a servant of Ehecatl, the Aztec god of wind for the Zapotecs (the indigenous population in this part of Mexico), planted the tree about 1,400 years ago on a sacred site. Today, a Catholic Church sits next door to the tree since, as was often the case, the Catholic Church built where the Zapotec “heathens” worshipped their gods.
When young, the trunk of a Montezuma cypress tree is normally cylindrical. It’s only when they age that the buttresses begin forming (sound familiar?). Buttresses are thought to be caused by heavy and uneven growth in the tree that requires it to create an irregular support system. Because of all of its buttresses, some people didn’t believe the Tule Tree was actually a single tree. However, DNA testing indicates that the Tule Tree is a single tree.
I photographed the fabulous buttress or irregular growth that appears above. When I looked at the picture, I realized it included a likeness to a man’s face. Take a look for yourself. Could it be Ehecatl, the Aztec god of wind?
Okay, I admit to having a bit of a fetish for trees. Though I know I’m not alone since tree-loving has a name (dendrophilia), and a “dendrophiliac” is a person who loves trees. (Not to be mistaken for a “paraphiliac,” which is a person who is sexually aroused by trees.) But even people not as enamoured with trees as I am will appreciate the picture above. In it, I am holding a slice of one of the ancient Eastern white cedar trees that grow along the Niagara Escarpment. Some are thought to be over 1,000 years old, so about as old as the Tule Tree.
Don’t worry, no one cut down a tree to get the slice I’m holding. It came from a bit of tree trunk my friend Neil Morris found on a beach on Georgian Bay. A dendrophiliac if there ever was one, Neil sliced the tree trunk up into thin pieces, polished them, glued pins on the back and at Christmas time sold these brooches to tree-lovers like me. Neil also undertook the difficult task of counting the rings on the tree. Using a microscope, he determined it was 320 years old. Not a grandma tree, but one that is certainly an adult. So the slice of tree that I wear as a pin, with a diameter of about 3 inches, is less than a quarter the age of the Tule Tree. But it has a diameter that is only 0.6 per cent of its Mexican brethren.
It was a coincidence that I was wearing my brooch when I visited the Tule Tree. But since I had it on, I showed it to a small group of Mexicans who were standing at the entrance gate. They were fascinated by it. Recognizing Alex and I as dendrophiliacs like themselves, one of these Mexicans took us on a personal tour of the churchyard. He pointed out all the Tule Tree’s babies. The eldest is estimated to be nearly 1,000 years old itself. Others were tiny saplings, they’d managed to sprout. Our guide was part of an 8-member committee charged with protecting the Tule Tree.
The short tour was great, but the pièce de résistance came when he spoke to one of the guards who then rooted through some garden waste that had been raked into a neat pile near the entrance and would soon be carried away. The guard came back and presented us with a foot-long stick explaining that it was part of the Tule Tree! It was a gift, he said.
While signs in four languages warn visitors that it is prohibited to cut branches from the Tule Tree, we were presented with our own piece–a gift from one dendrophiliac to another.