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.
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 the lack of water but since then local people have taken care of it.
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 Arbol 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 the trunk
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.
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.
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, Arbol 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).
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).
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 tree.
Estimated volume of the tree is 750 m3.
Arbol del Tule is included in the following list:
- 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.
- 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.
- Taxodium mucronatum. The Gymnosperm Database. Accessed in the 21st July 2014.
- Programa de Mejoramiento del Árbol del Tule. Comité “Mi Amigo el Árbol”
Arbol del Tule on the map
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|Location, GPS coordinates:||17.0465 N 96.6362 W|
|Where is located?||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)|
|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|
Few countries of the world can offer such array of unique and astounding attractions as Mexico.
Area of this country was the 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.
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.
As a child growing up in the Fraser Valley, Al Carder was awed by the ancient Douglas fir forest and spent hours staring up at trees that commonly stood over 300 feet high. Sixty years later, after retiring from his career as a plant biologist, he set out to find the trees that had transfixed him in his youth. Discovering many of them felled by storms or loggers, he determined to document those that were left before they could vanish from our memories as well as from our landscapes.
Ever since the forest primeval, men and women have walked among the trees and admired their beauty and wondered at their size. How big are these magnificent things, anyway? We moderns are wont to measure, categorize and document, and so a book like this is born which is world-wide in scope and not only embraces space but also time. As the author, Al Carder, shows us in his study of forest giants the past is as important as the present.