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Árbol del Tule

Árbol del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico
Árbol del Tule. Girth - 36.2 m / Gengiskanhg, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 17.0465 N 96.6362 W
No:474        (list of all attractions)
Category:Trees
Values:Biology
Rank:2
Address:North America, Mexico, Oaxaca, churchyard of Santa María del Tule town
Alternate names:Tule Tree (English name), El Gigante
Species:Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum Ten., 1853)
Height:35.4 m
Circumference:36.2 m (2005) (at the ground level - 45.75 m)
Diameter:11.62 m (nominal / mean - 9.38 m)
Width of crown:43.9 m
Volume:750 m³

One of main tourist attractions in the Mexican state of Oaxaca is an amazing tree - Árbol del Tule (Tule Tree). This Montezuma cypress at the breast height has a circumference of 36.2 m, thus making this species second stoutest in the world.

Montezuma cypress

Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum Ten., 1853) is a species of cypress which grows in Mexico, Guatemala and United States, in highlands, dry areas with deeper water level, near rivers and near wetlands.

This is a national tree of Mexico and has been a holy tree to local cultures, for example Aztecs planted these majestic trees in gardens and along causeways and channels as a symbol of governance and power.

Tule Tree with person in 1948, Oaxaca, Mexico
Tule Tree with person in 1948 / Janice Waltzer, / CC BY 2.0

Cypress of Tule

Santa María del Tule is small town in Oaxaca. In the past here was located lake which turned into swampland and back in these times here started to grow Montezuma cypresses. Today in the town are found seven giant cypresses - besides the largest one others also are very large, with a circumference of some 10 m. Árbol del Tule most likely is the oldest one - its age is assessed to be 1,400 - 1,600 years.

Before the coming of Europeans Árbol del Tule was a sacred tree to local Zapotec culture. Now next to the tree in the 17th century was built a Christian church - it looks like a child toy next to the giant tree.

In the late 19th century tree suffered from the lack of water but since then local people have taken care of it.

Árbol del Tule, Mexico
Árbol del Tule, another aspect of trunk which shows that the trunk has elongated form / cezzie901, / CC BY 2.0

Now the tree is one of the most important tourist attractions in this area, with many small shoups nearby selling souvenirs. Local people have much respect for the tree and there is separate non-governmental organization which takes care of Árbol del Tule according to a dedicated plan for the conservation and maintenance of this tree (4).

In every second monday of October here takes place the festivity of Árbol del Tule when people gather with candles and fire rockets.

Tree is important also for many other beings: for example, here are nesting six species of birds (3).

Cypress is in a good condition (1) and while part of branches are slowly dying, others are still growing larger. Specialists consider that the trunk of the tree will become larger in the future (4). Earlier there were fears that the tree is dying due to traffic pollution but, happily, this is not true.

Size of trunk

Circumference

Data about the circumference of tree are contradicting. Most frequently is mentioned a circumference of 45.75 m or even larger - 54 or even 58 m. This is measurement at the ground level and larger numbers most likely include measurement along the bays and promontories.

Árbol del Tule and church, Mexico
Árbol del Tule and church / Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca, / CC BY 2.0

Correct way is to measure the circumference at the breast height (1.3 - 1.5 m) and the tape should not follow all the bumps and bays along the trunk.

Correct measurements by Dr. Robert Van Pelt in 2005 gave more modest result - 36.2 m (3). Tree is growing - in 1987 the circumference was 35.84 m (also measured by Dr. Robert Van Pelt).

But also this measurement does not tell the full story. Configuration of the trunk of Árbol del Tule is unusual - tree is buttressed, with elongated form of the crossection of trunk. This unusual form and unique size of it could be explained with the great age and existence of mighty branches which are "fortified" with fast growth under these branches in order to prevent them from splitting.

Diameter

Most likely more correct way to describe the size of this tree would be calculation of the average diameter - it is assessed to be 11.62 m if the line of measurement tape is taken into account or 9.4 m if the mean width between buttresses and bays is calculated.

Third stoutest tree in the world

Whether the diameter of the tree is 11.62 or 9.4 m, Árbol del Tule makes Montezuma cypress the second stoutest tree in the world, after balete (Millenium Tree in Philippines, diameter around 15 m). The inclusion of balete tree could be discussed - this tree consists of numerous smaller trunks of a single organism which are joined together. After the split of once stoutest tree in the world - Glencoe Baobab in South Africa (diameter 15.9 m) next stoutest baobab (Sagole Tree) has a circumference of "only" 33.72 m. Fourth stoutest is the magnificent giant sequoia (General Grant Tree in United States, California, diameter - 8.8 m).

Árbol del Tule, Mexico
Tree is 1,400 - 1,600 years old / Fernando Tapia Rodríguez, / CC BY-SA 2.0

There have been discussions whether Árbol del Tule is single tree or several cypresses grown together. Electrophoretic analysis of the leaf material shows that this is single tree (2).

Other dimensions

Height of Árbol del Tule reaches the impressive height of 35.4 m, measured by laser equipment. There are also larger numbers (41 - 43 m) given, but this most likely is a mistake caused by the wide crown of tree.

Estimated volume of tree is 750 m3.

Map

See the location of Árbol del Tule on the map of Mexico!

References

  1. Gerard Passola i Parcerissa. Informe del estado general del Árbol de Santa María del Tule, 11.11.11. Asociación Mexicana de Arboricultura, 2012. Accessed in the 21st July 2014.
  2. Gustav W. Hall, George M. Diggs, Jr., Douglas E. Soltis, Pamela S. Soltis. Genetic Uniformity of El Arbol Del Tule (The Tule Tree). Madroño, 1990.
  3. Taxodium mucronatum. The Gymnosperm Database. Accessed in the 21st July 2014.
  4. Programa de Mejoramiento del Árbol del Tule. Comité "Mi Amigo el Árbol"

Árbol del Tule is included in the following list:

Map of 10 stoutest trees in the world

10 stoutest trees of the world

Landmarks of Mexico

El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza
El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Few countries of the world can offer such array of unique and astounding attractions as Mexico.

Area of this country was cradle of several highly developed indigenous civilizations and some regions in the country are dotted with remnants of ancient cities with temples, palaces and pyramids.

Trees

Kamou no Ohkusu - the largest camphor tree in Japan
Kamou no Ohkusu - the largest camphor tree in Japan / Masahiko Ohkubo, / CC BY 2.0

Category includes some of the most impressive and interesting separate trees of the the world. Total number of tree species in the world still is a wild guess - may be 10,000 and may be 100,000 but most likely somewhere in between. Every month there are reported new tree species from the whole world, including the Western Europe.

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