Trees are some of the oldest living organisms in the world and come in every shape, size and colour imaginable. From the famous cherry blossoms of Japan and giant sequoias of California to the butterfly-covered trunks in Mexico’s cloud forests, they are one of the most breathtaking natural wonders found across our globe.
Many trees also have extraordinary qualities that draw people to connect with them, such as their longevity, beauty and even mythical legends, and they have sparked inspiration for art, stories and poetry for centuries. Here are some of the most beautiful trees in the world.
American Elm (Ulmus americana)
With its seasonal splendour, the American Elm is largely what has made New York’s Central Park so famous. It is a deciduous hermaphroditic tree — which means the reproductive organs can be found on separate female and male trees, or one tree can have both parts. They have a high, spreading, umbrella-like canopy and every year, they switch from lush green to a dazzling array of yellows and reds.
Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus moorei)
Image by Alan Wigginton, CC BY-SA 4.0
A staple of fire-free areas in southern South America and Australasia, only locations that are profoundly damp at all times can grow these gorgeous creations. Thanks to their climate preference, they are perpetually draped in greenery that gives them their rugged and aged appearance. In Australia, they are an important Gondwana relict that is found in many high altitude areas.
Argan (Argania spinosa)
Argan trees are a genus of flowering plants that are endemic to the southern regions of Morocco and the region of Tindouf in southwestern Algeria. They grow up to ten metres and can live to 200 years. And although they have gnarled trunks and are thorny, their branches lean towards the ground providing a great playtime opportunity for the local goats!
Aspen Tree (Populus)
Aspen trees are native to cold regions with cool summers in the northern hemisphere. They typically reach a height of 15 to 30 metres and, in North America, are known as Quaking Aspens as their leaves tremble in the wind. One of the most fascinating aspects of these trees is that they can stop fires from spreading. This is because of their higher water content and, unlike pine trees, they don’t have chemical compounds that make them more flammable. So when they are able to flourish, they create natural fuel breaks.
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Native to the US, this is a deciduous conifer noted for the russet-red autumn colour of its lacy needles. It is also tough and hardy and able to adapt to a wide range of soil types and growing conditions, as shown in this example, where it is growing straight up out of a lake! This one is barren and skeletal and supported by aerial prop roots.
Image from One Tree Planted
Bamboos are a diverse group of evergreen perennial flowering plants. This amazing example, known as the Sagano Bamboo Forest, is located on the outskirts of Kyoto in Japan, near the major temples. Buddhist shrines and temples are often found near bamboo groves as they are a symbol of strength and good luck. One of the major draw cards of this forest is its soundscape when the wind passes through the tall, slender trunks, and the stunning visual display when the sun shines through the densely packed trees.
The baobab comprises eight species of medium to large deciduous trees and is native to Australia, mainland Africa and Madagascar (which is where this example is from). They can grow to over 30 metres tall and have an amazing ability to store a large volume of water in their trunks (over 120,000 litres) to defy drought.
Beeches are deciduous trees that are native to temperate Asia, Europe and North America. This Ponthus Beech is located in Bretagne in France and is a wonderful example of how immense these trees can grow and how stunning they are as they age. Spreading wide and deep into the surrounding forest, it’s a daunting landmark.
Blue Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia)
Native to south-central South America, this is a sub-tropical tree that is also known as the Black Poui or Fern Tree. It can grow up to twenty metres tall and has thin, grey-brown bark, which becomes scaly as it ages. However, the jacaranda is most renowned for its stunning and long-lasting violet-coloured flowers that unfurl during spring and early summer.
Camel Thorn (Vachellia erioloba)
These trees hail from southern Africa and are hardy and slow-growing, with dark reddish-brown wood that is extremely strong and dense. The “Deadvlei Trees” are located in the Deadvlei clay pan, which was formed after rainfall. However, when drought hit the area, sand dunes encroached on the pan, blocked the river and many of the trees died around 600 to 700 years ago, leaving “skeletons” that have been blackened by the intense sun.
Cannonball Tree (Couroupita guianensis)
This is a deciduous tree that is native to the tropical forests of Central and South America, however, is cultivated in other parts of the world because of its beautiful, fragrant flowers and interesting fruit. Most trees keep their fruits and leaves together at the tips of their branches. However, the Cannonball tree bears its fruit directly on its bark, which makes for distinctive and wonderfully odd caricatures.
Chinese Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Also known as the Maidenhair tree, this is a species of tree native to China. This particular example is located next to the Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple in the Zhongnan Mountains. It is referred to as a “living fossil” because at 1400 years old, it is a living link to the dinosaur age! Every November, it drops its leaves and turns the temple into a divine yellow ocean.
Dragon Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari)
These unusual-looking trees only grow on Socotra Island, in Yemen, which is located in the Arabian Sea. They are named after the dark red resin they produce, which looks like thick blood. Their unique appearance is also due to their upturned, densely-packed crown, which has the shape of an uprightly held umbrella.
Flamboyant Tree (Delonix regia)
This tree originally hails from Madagascar but has spread to several sub-equatorial countries. It is noted for its fern-like leaves and erupts with a flamboyant display of orange-red flowers over summer. In many tropical parts of the world, it is grown as an ornamental tree and is often also known as the Royal Poinciana or Flame of the Forest.
Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
This is one of three species of coniferous trees known as redwoods, and the Giant sequoia are the most massive trees on earth. This example — “General Sherman” — is located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in California, and is the largest known living single-stem tree on earth. It is estimated to be between 2400 and 2800 years old.
Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)
Also known as the Western bristlecone pine, this is a long-living species of tree found in the higher mountains of Utah, California and Nevada. This example — “Methuselah” — is one of the oldest known trees at nearly 5,000 years old! It is found in Inyo county in California – although its exact location remains undisclosed to protect it from destruction.
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
This species of woody plant is native to Korea, Japan, China, eastern Mongolia and southeast Russia. They are grown worldwide for their large variety of attractive leaf shapes, forms and spectacular colours — from green to crimson to russet. This version is located in the Japanese Garden in Portland, USA.
Japanese Cherry Tree (Prunus cerasus)
Considered as one of the most beautiful flowering trees in the world, they are also known as Cherry Blossoms and Sakura. Considered the national flower of Japan, every spring they produce sprinklings of pink and white blooms that first adorn the branches. They then drop away to litter the ground with a breathtaking and magical dusting.
Juniper Trees (Juniperus)
Junipers are coniferous trees, and there are up to 67 species distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere. This amazing example is found in Sedona, Arizona, and the reason they twist is a bit of a mystery. It could be to get more sun, however, many locals and tourists believe it is due to mystical energy that comes from vortexes. Vortexes are believed to be an electromagnetic earth energy centre that aids in meditation and healing. Nearly three million people visit this spot every year to benefit from their supposed healing energy.
Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra)
The Mayan people of Guatemala and Mexico consider this a sacred tree, and it is the national tree of Guatemala and Puerto Rico. It is also known as the Silk Cotton Tree because it produces pods of light, fluffy fibre. When fully matured, it can reach a height of over seventy metres. It is also known for its huge buttresses that grow from their trunks, and unique thorns, which protect the tree from predators.
Mangroves typically grow along sheltered subtropical and tropical coastlines. They have a unique ability to grow within reach of the tides in salty soil, so must adapt to soil that lacks oxygen as the roots are often submerged under water. Mangroves are part of the most biologically complex ecosystems on the planet and play an important role in protecting coastlines from storms and rising waters.
Oyamel Fir Tree (Abies religiosa)
Also known as the Sacred Fir, this tree is native to the mountains of central and southern Mexico. Deep in the “cloud forests” of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, they grow at altitudes up to 3000 metres. But their most amazing aesthetic quality are their neighbours — they are home to colonies of monarch butterflies that cover their trunks and branches with their stunning black and orange wings.
Pando Tree (Populus tremuloides)
Also known as the “trembling giant”, while this tree may be mistaken for a massive forest, it is actually a clonal colony of individual aspen with one huge underground root system. It is located in Fishlake National Forest in Utah and is the world’s largest single organism. It is estimated to collectively weigh 6,000,000 kilograms, and its root system is estimated to be several thousand years old.
Pine Tree (Pinus pinoideae)
The pine tree has over 126 species. This grove of oddly-shaped specimens is known as the Crooked Forest and is located near the town of Gryfino in Poland. Each tree bends sharply towards the north at the base of the trunk before curving back to grow straight. It is generally believed that some form of human technique was used to make the trees grow this way to create naturally curved timber for furniture or boat building. Others believe that a snowstorm bent the trunks, but to this day, their shape remains a mystery.
Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa)
Commonly also known as the Bull Pine, this tree is native to the mountainous regions of western North America. These amazing examples are found at Bryce Canyon in Utah, and are some of the southwest’s tallest trees. They can grow to over 60 metres tall with huge trunks up to two metres in diameter. Another redeeming feature is that they smell like butterscotch or vanilla!
Rainbow Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta)
Native to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, it is the only species of eucalyptus to live in rainforests. It is also one of only four eucalyptus species out of more than seven hundred that aren’t found in Australia. It can grow to over 75 metres tall, and its most striking feature is its long thin trunk with multi-coloured bark that is streaked with a rainbow of reds, purples, greens and oranges.
The rhododendron is actually not a tree, it’s a shrub and is a part of a large genus of over 1000 species of woody plants in the Ericaceae family. They are found from East Asian mountainsides to American woodlands and boast large clusters of showy blooms in spring. This 125-year-old specimen is found in an (extremely lucky) property owner’s front yard in Canada.
Silk Cotton Trees (Ceiba pentandra)
This tropical tree is native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and northern South America. This specimen is found in the Cambodian ruins of Ta Prohm, and its prominent feature is its huge, twisted root structures that are made up of wavy, long and narrow plants that cut into the earth, forming flanged walls at the base.
Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
Endemic to the Southeastern United States, this beautiful elderly specimen known as the “Angel Oak tree” is located in Charleston in South Carolina. It is estimated to be 400 to 500 years old and stands at over twenty metres tall, and produces shade that covers over 1,600 m2.
Strangler Fig (Ficus)
Strangler fig is the common name for a number of tropical and subtropical plant species that all share the common “strangling” growth habit that is found in many tropical forest species. This magnificent example is found at Ta Prohm, a temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and exhibits the true strength of this tree. Humans abandoned the buildings but the forests wasted no time moving in!
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)
This is a large, deciduous, broad-leaved tree and this example stands proudly in a dip in Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland National Park in England. Known as the Sycamore Gap Tree or Robin Hood Tree, it is one of the most photographed trees in the country and featured in a famous scene in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Tibetan Cherry Tree (Prunus serrula)
Also known as the Paperbark Cherry, the Tibetan Cherry Tree is known for its gorgeous red coppery bark and lovely yellow foliage in autumn. It is native to western China, and in particular, Tibet. It is considered an ornamental tree planted for its beauty, particularly its delicate white flowers that bloom in spring.
Wisteria (Fabaceae leguminosae)
A genus of plants in the legume family, wisteria includes species that are woody, twining vines that are native to Korea, China, Southern Canada and the eastern United States. Instead of getting taller over time, they prefer to move outwards with boughs that are draped in purple flowers. The world’s largest wisteria is located in Sierra Madre, California and measures nearly half a hectare in size.
Yucca is a genus of trees notable for their rosettes of evergreen, sword-shaped leaves and white flowers. They are native to the arid parts of the Americas and the Caribbean. This specimen is a tree that gave its name to the Joshua Tree National Park and is a member of the agave family.