Five revered trees around the world, from Bahrain to Australia

These plants have become places of pilgrimage for many

This 400-year-old Prosopis cineraria tree is in Bahrain, near Jebel Dukhan, and has become known as the Tree of Life. AFP
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The recent destruction of England’s famous Sycamore Gap tree prompted outrage and also highlighted the reverence for certain remarkable plants around the world.

While nature has always dazzled humans, particular trees have exalted status because they are sites of religious pilgrimage, tied to major historic events, linked to key mythology or simply unique in appearance.

This is true from the Middle East to Africa, the Americas and Europe, where the 300-year-old Sycamore Gap tree had long thrilled tourists, hikers and photographers in Northumberland, England.

Located next to Hadrian’s Wall, a Unesco-listed Roman defensive barrier, the sycamore appeared in films and was voted England’s favourite tree.

This month it was illegally cut down, leading to the arrest of two men. Although tourists can no longer admire that photogenic sycamore, there are still many other esteemed trees they can visit around the planet.

Here are five examples:

The Great Banyan Tree, Kolkata, India

It easily could be mistaken for a forest. Yet the natural wonder that stars in Kolkata’s finest botanical garden is actually a single tree.

Boasting one of the widest canopies of any tree on Earth, the Great Banyan Tree is more than 500 metres in circumference.

What makes it even more dramatic, and unmistakable, are more than 3,000 downroots. From a distance they can look like individual trees and a visitor may think that they are peering into a grove.

The Great Banyan Tree is in the western suburbs of that ancient Indian city, where visitors are lured by the serenity and splendour of AJC Bose Indian Botanic Garden.

Others visit that garden’s famed banyan as a pilgrimage because for millennia, in Hindu beliefs, this species of tree has been considered to possess rare powers.

Banyans are also called a “Tree of Life” and praying before them is commonly believed to boost fertility and attract good fortune.

Tree of Life, Bahrain

Bahrain has its own Tree of Life, a 400-year-old mesquite specimen called Shajarat Al Hayat.

This 10 metre-tall tree is marooned in a patch of desert about 35km south of Manama, the modern capital of Bahrain, with no other trees in its vicinity.

It is this extremely dry environment that has earned the tree mythical status.

For generations, people have visited Shajarat Al Hayat to ponder how a tree of this size could survive in such a parched, inhospitable setting. One local legend suggests it may represent the site of the Garden of Eden.

The Tree of Life is particularly popular with tourists in the early evening, when the sun’s disappearance sees Shajarat Al Hayat cast a striking silhouette against a colourful sky.

General Sherman, California, US

Vast, massive, gigantic, monumental – the General Sherman tree is so big that it’s almost as if those adjectives were coined just to describe it. By volume, this Californian colossus is the world’s largest tree.

Not only is General Sherman remarkably tall, stretching 83 metres above the lush forest floor of Sequoia National Park, it is also absurdly broad.

Measuring 31 metres in circumference at its base, 15 average adults could spread out around its trunk with their arms outstretched, and still not surround it completely.

It is one of the key attractions of the national park, which is abouty midway between San Francisco and Las Vegas.

To reach General Sherman, visitors follow a short walking trail beneath the giant Sequoia canopy.

Long before tourists began visiting General Sherman, it was revered by Native American tribes who admired the enormous Sequoia trees.

Baobab Prison Tree, Derby, Australia

Australia’s remote and spectacular north-west has been inhabited by Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years, a passage of time so vast that suddenly this region’s Baobab Prison Tree doesn’t seem so old at 1,500 years.

This distinctive tree species, with its bulbous trunk and skinny branches, has long been treasured by Australian Aboriginals, who collected its large nuts to eat or carve into artworks.

This particular boab, a short distance from the small West Australian coastal town of Derby, is significant for three reasons.

First, it is unusually big, with a base 14 metres in circumference. Second, its broad trunk has a door-like slit, which makes it look like a house.

Third, this tree has a dark history. In the late 1800s, it was used to detain Aboriginal people kidnapped from their communities to be enslaved in the pearling industry near Derby.

This baobab is now a protected Aboriginal site, and attracts tourists who wish to observe its unique appearance and learn about its grim back story through the plaques alongside it.

Cnoc Meadha fairy tree, Galway, Ireland

Near Ireland’s popular tourist city of Galway, a small hill is cloaked by verdant forest.

Visitors who follow a narrow walking trail beneath this majestic canopy can reach a tiny wooden home, far too small to accommodate humans.

This was built for fairies and is attached to the base of Cnoc Meadha fairy tree.

According to Irish lore, this entire hill is a 1,000-year-old fortress for the country’s Sidhe fairies.

These supernatural beings supposedly use Cnoc Meadha as a gateway to move back and forth between Earth and another dimension filled with other fairies and powerful entities.

Regardless of whether you are interested in such folk tales, Cnoc Meadha is wonderfully scenic.

Updated: October 27, 2023, 6:02 PM