Happy Arbor Day weekend!
Back in 1874, a nature lover named J. Sterling Morton came up with a day to help communities, including urban areas, plant more trees, shrubs, and other foliage. That year, the first Arbor Day was observed in Nebraska and ten years later, it was designated national observance.
Today, communities across the United States host Arbor Day tree plantings and other activities in celebration of Morton’s vision. Pretty much everyone loves trees (we hope). Most cultures and religions worldwide celebrate trees in some way, and even in fictional worlds, trees play an important role.
If you can’t plant a tree this weekend, enjoy these fun and geeky facts about fictional and real trees:
1. Ents, like the tree-guardian Treebeard of Fangorn Forest in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, are known in the Elvish language as Onodrim. The word “ent” was taken from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “giant.”
2. In 2007, when a 20-foot stainless steel ent statue (designed by Tolkien’s great-nephew, Tim Tolkien) was proposed in Moseley, Birmingham (where Tolkien spent some of his childhood), it was met with harsh opposition by city conservationists who didn’t feel a big steel stature would improve the landscape or be very tree-like.
There is, however, a pretty cool ent statue on the campus of Epic Systems, a healthcare software company in Verona, Wisconsin. The campus itself is known for its elaborate design features based on everything from Harry Potter to the Blues Brothers, thanks to the imagination of Epic CEO Judy Faulkner.
3. Ents aren’t the only trees in Tolkien lore, as the author was an ardent nature lover. Other notable trees include the Gold and Silver trees (Telperion and Laurelin) in his story The Two Trees of Valinor, the White Tree (symbol of Gondor found in the fountains of Minas Tirith), and the giant trees of the Elvin kingdom of Lothlorien.
4. C.S. Lewis may have been a close friend Tolkien, but his own fictional trees weren’t all good. Some of the tree spirits (Dryads) his world of Narnia were on the side of the hero Aslan, but others worked as spies for the White Witch. Be careful what you say among the trees in Narnia.
5. Harry Potter fans know the Whomping Willow well. Not only is it the tree that nearly destroyed Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia, with Harry and Ron in it, it hides the secret entrance to the Shrieking Shack in the village of Hogsmeade. This tree was planted in 1971 to hide the entrance and allowed then-student Remus Lupin to travel to and from the shack to safely transform into his werewolf form. Students used to play a game of dare trying to get close enough to touch the tree’s trunk until a student named Davey Gudgeon nearly lost an eye in the 1970s. Then, it was forbidden for students to touch the tree. Thanks, Davey, you ruined it for everyone.
Visitors to Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in both Florida and California can see the beat up Ford Anglia after its nasty run-in with the willow.
6. The most famous foliage in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series and books is the Weirwood Tree of Westeros, with white bark and blood-red leaves and sap. Some of these trees, called heart trees, have faces in their trunk that were considered to have been carved by the non-human race the Children of the Forest. These trees are said to live exceptionally long lives, and even after they die they don’t rot. A dead Weirwood Tree can stand thousands of years.
You can make—and eat—your own Weirwood Tree with a cauliflower steak recipe at GeekMom.
7. According to D23, there are many VITs (Very Important Trees) at the Disney Parks, including a living 150-year Mugo Pine seen on the Storybook Land Canal Boats. The oldest tree is a 55 to 70 million-year-old stump of a petrified tree seen in Frontierland. One of the most famous trees in the original Disneyland Park is the 70-foot-tall Swiss Family Robinson treehouse built in 1962. It was refurbished in 1999 as “Tarzan’s Treehouse,” but still had the same basic elements. There are also versions of this treehouse at Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris.
Disney’s 145-foot “Tree of Life,” along with its home park, Animal Kingdom, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The tree features the carvings of 325 existing and extinct animals on it, is home to the “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” attraction, and is the surface of a new nighttime light show, “Tree of Life Awakenings.”
8. Who loves trees more than anyone in the Star Wars universe? Ewoks, of course, who live on the Forest Moon of Endor. According to Wookiepedia, Ewoks, who live in, utilize and worship trees and believe themselves to be descendants of the sacred “Great Tree,” which brought life to the forest.
9. Probably the “greenest” characters in the world of pop culture are Pandora’s Na’vi from Avatar. Each Na’vi clan makes their home in giant “Hometrees” that can be about 150 meters tall, three times bigger than the coastal redwoods on Earth (or Terran). The tree tragically destroyed in the movie belonged to the Omaticaya clan and was 10,000 years old. Coincidentally, Tinker Bell and her fellow fairies also live in a “Home Tree” (aka Pixie Dust Tree) in Neverland.
Another sacred tree of the Na’vi is the Willow, that connects Eywa, the guiding force and deity of Pandora, to the plant and animal life on the moon.
10. Ten is the magic number for the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation. Memberships start at $10, and new members can get 10 6″ to 12″ trees to plant suitable for whatever part of the county they live in. Other membership levels will help to plant 10 new trees in a rain forest or 10 trees in the National Forests.
11. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, more than 3,400 cities in the United States are designated as “Tree Cities,” as the result of a nationwide program started in 1976 to help communities expand their public tree numbers. As of June 2017, the state with the most Tree City USA communities (243) is Ohio.
12. The now-abandoned Minister’s Treehouse in Crossville, Tennessee was given World’s Largest Treehouse status by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012. The house is nearly 10,000 square feet, with 80 rooms supported by at least six trees.
13. Guinness Book of World Records has plenty of tree-centric records, including the largest, oldest, and newest species of trees, largest Christmas tree (and living Christmas tree), the largest “tree hugging” event, and more. The most trees planted in one hour was by a group of 100 volunteers in Bhutan, who plated 49,672 trees in just 60 minutes in 2015.
14. Earlier this month, LEGOLAND Japan celebrated its first anniversary with a record-breaking LEGO brick cherry tree, made with more than 800,000 Lego bricks.
15. The most loved tree in the Marvel Universe is Groot, but he wasn’t always that adorable. In his first appearance in Tales to Astonish #13 in 1960, he was depicted as an evil invader who wanted to use humans for experimentation.
He wasn’t reinvented as a hero until 2006 in the crossover comic Annihilation: Conquest and later it’s spin-off Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s a good thing, too, because where would today’s Guardians be without Groot?
For a fun Arbor Day DIY, check out this Groot Sock doll designed and illustrated here at GeekMom by Rocket Raccoon. Also, kids can make an easy craft Groot as part of our Star Lord-inspired care package.