This is the story of a magnificent Mexican tree located in the town of Santa Maria del Tule, just outside Oaxaca. I learned about it months before our trip and coerced my friends into renting a car so that we could drive outside of the city of Oaxaca to see it. I want to tell you about this most singular of trees but I don’t know whether to start with old or big…
This grand ahuehuete (water cypress) has stood in the atrium of the town’s Baroque-style church, El Templo de Santa María de la Asunción (Temple of the Virgin Mary of the Assumption), since before the church was built in the 18th century. But how long before? The ancient tree has been growing in this spot since the area was lake and swampland. Most people agree that the tree is at least two thousand years old, while some folks claim that the Tule tree may be closer to 3,000 years old which would mean that it was already growing when Monte Alban was being built.
This tree holds the world record for the largest trunk girth at 190 feet (58 m) and trunk diameter at 37 feet (11.3 m). Locals say that the Tule tree is so thick that “you don’t hug this tree, it hugs you instead.” The tree is also believed to be the world’s largest single biomass. Recent DNA studies of the trunk have shown that it is indeed one single trunk, and not several trunks that have fused together.
In 1994, it seemed as if the tree might be dying. The leaves turned yellow and branches fell from the tree. When the Tree Doctors arrived, they quickly diagnosed the problem: Dehydration. A careful watering program was implemented and, when we saw the tree more than a decade later, it was green and looking fit as a fiddle. Long live Mexico’s Tule Tree!
Where is your favourite tree?