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Arbol del Tule (Árbol del Tule)

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

WorldBlue  In short

One of main tourist attractions in the Mexican state of Oaxaca is an amazing tree – Arbol 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.

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GPS coordinates
17.0465 N 96.6362 W
Location, 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

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WorldYellow In detail

Montezuma cypress

Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum Ten., 1853) is a species of cypress which grows in Mexico, Guatemala, and the United States, in highlands, dry areas with deeper water levels, 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
Tule Tree with person in 1948 / Janice Waltzer, Flickr / 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. Arbol del Tule most likely is the oldest one – its age is assessed to be 1,400 – 1,600 years.

Before the coming of Europeans Arbol 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 a lack of water but since then local people have taken care of it.

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

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

On every second Monday of October here takes place the festivity of Arbol del Tule when people gather with candles and fire rockets.

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

Cypress is in a good condition (1) and while part of the branches is 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 the trunk

Circumference

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

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

The 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 a more modest result – 36.2 m (3). The 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 – the tree is buttressed, with an elongated form of the cross-section of trunk. This unusual form and unique size of it could be explained by 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

The most likely more correct way to describe the size of this tree would be a 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, Arbol del Tule makes Montezuma cypress the second stoutest tree in the world, after balete (Millenium Tree in the Philippines, diameter around 15 m). The inclusion of the balete tree could be discussed – this tree consists of numerous smaller trunks of a single organism that 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).

Tule Tree is 1,400 - 1,600 years old
Tule Tree is 1,400 – 1,600 years old / Fernando Tapia Rodríguez, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Other dimensions

The height of Arbol 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 the tree.

Estimated volume of the tree is 750 m3.

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”
Arbol del Tule is included in the following lists:

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