Most people probably don’t give much thought to trees. Although ours is a green planet, they have been relegated to part of the scenery, something pretty to look at but perhaps not particularly exciting or mysterious. Yet from many parts of the world, in some cases stretching back centuries, are tales of trees that defy this status as merely a part of the background. These are trees that have managed to pull about themselves an air of supernatural mystery, legend, and even terror. Lurking among the vast expanses of green of our planet are indeed trees that have managed to push out from the mundane to extend their branches firmly into the world of the weird. I have covered this topic on Mysterious Universe before, but such cases are many. Whether they be cursed, haunted, or even blessed, these fantastical trees are truly something beyond the ordinary.
Although some old, gnarled trees can be truly spooky and forbidding at night, imbued with a certain sense of foreboding, there are some that take things a step beyond by being cursed, haunted, or both. One such tree was once located right in the middle of an intersection of the small town of Smithfield, in the state of Rhode Island, the United States. Ominously referred to as “The Witch Tree,” the twisted, skeletal tree was a feral, snaking thing nearly devoid of leaves which sat at the intersection of Log Road and Mann School Road, looking utterly ancient, quite sickly, and rather sinister. The scary looking rotted old tree seemed like something straight out of some dark fairy tale, and to make things even spookier still if one were to take a a close look at the thick, scaly bark, one might have noticed the generous scars splayed across it, which were evidence of the many traffic fatalities it was said to have been responsible for, perhaps not surprising looming practically right in the middle of the road as it was. So decrepit and damaged was the tree that it was said that it was nearly stripped of bark in most places, the only clue that it was still alive at all being the fact that it still managed to bloom in spring, and it seemed to be almost hanging on to life just so that it may witness more disaster and death.
It is death that was said to cling to this particular tree, to cloak it. There were numerous phantoms and shadow people said to lurk around its trunk, said to be the spirits of those who had died by plowing into it, tethered there by some dark force and perhaps doomed to remain there forever. One very common type of ghost associated with the Witch Tree was the frolicking spirits of what appeared to be spectral children, who would cavort around the trunk and even call out to passing drivers before vanishing into thin air, leaving one to wonder from where they came or why they had become doomed to wander here. Another type of apparition was angry lights that would sometimes emerge from the tree to pursue vehicles down the road for unknown purposes, the frightened witnesses no doubt wondering what would have happened if the bright spheres had caught up with them. One popular old tale in the area concerning such a ghost was that if one were to drive around the tree three times a spectral motorcyclist was said to appear to chase the car, drive up along side it, and then disappear. Whether the Witch Tree was ever really haunted or not may forever remain unknown, as it was eventually cut down to prevent any further accidents, or perhaps even to deny the tree its feast of souls.
There are other allegedly haunted trees in the New England area of the United States as well. Another was an old white pine that once lied on the grounds of the Governor Baxter School of the Deaf, located on Mackworth Island, off the coast of Falmouth Maine. The tree was well-known at the time for having what appeared to be human faces protruding from the bark, which all seemed to be depicted in various states of agony and despair. It was thought that these had perhaps been carved into the trunk by the Native peoples of the area, although no one knows why. Even creepier are the rumors that the deaf children of the nearby school for the deaf often reported that they could actually hear the tree speaking to them and calling out to them, which led to its nickname “The Listening Tree.” The enigmatic pine is no longer around, having been removed after being struck by lightning, so all that remain are the sinister old rumors. Curiously, a purportedly haunted pet cemetery replete with phantom dogs and horses lies not far away, and is said to have been the inspiration for Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary.
Another supposedly intensely haunted tree, indeed apparently one of the most haunted in the world, lies across the ocean over in London, England. Located in the City of Westminster, central London, right next to the iconic Buckingham Palace is London’s Green Park, which is one of London’s sprawling Royal Parks. Famous for being the only one of the Royal Parks to have no large bodies of water, no buildings, and no playgrounds, Green Park is surrounded by its fair share of lore.
Before becoming the charming little spot it is today, Green Park is said to have once been mostly a swamp, and was a burial ground for lepers who had died at the nearby St. James hospital. It was also long considered a fairly remote area on the outskirts of London until well into the 18th century, known for being a hunting ground for various nefarious elements of society such as thieves and highwaymen, as well as for being a dueling ground. It is perhaps this air of death and dark history that has given rise to the rumor that it is often claimed that no flowers grow on the park’s grounds, although another rumor for why this is is that Catherine, wife to Charles II had allegedly found him picking flowers for his mistress and consequently ordered all flowers removed from the grounds. There is also the often reported sense of an inexplicable melancholy and sadness hanging over the park, with writer Peter Underwood writing in his book Haunted London that Green Park held a certain “stillness, an air of expectancy, and a sensation of sadness.”
Adding to the spookiness and legends here, somewhere out amongst the sprawling greenery of this historical park is said to stand an enigmatic and sinister tree that has come to be called rather fittingly “The Tree of Death.” The list of strange paranormal phenomena linked to the tree is long. Park groundskeepers have reported that the tree emits various grunts, growls, groans, and a “low, cunning laugh.” Various voices, both male and female, are also said to issue forth from the strange tree, and it is said that birds refuse to perch upon it. Ghosts are often purportedly seen in the vicinity of the tree, flitting about in the shadows cast by its branches. One is an indistinct shadowy black figure that is frequently seen lurking around the tree, and there is also a man in evening clothes and dancing shoes, as well as the entity of a “crazed eyed old man” trying to cut his throat with a razor.
The Tree of Death is said to be shunned and avoided by not only wildlife, but also the park’s homeless denizens. It purportedly emanates a field of profound depression and crushing despondency, which is said to draw people to it for the purpose of committing suicide. Those who have been near the tree have reported having sudden, unbidden suicidal thoughts and have found themselves spiraling into an inexplicable despondency in its vicinity that they are unable to explain. Although it is unverified, a great many people have reportedly come here to commit suicide in a variety of ways, including hanging themselves from the branches. To touch the tree directly is said to invite great misfortune, and those who vandalize the tree in any way are said to be beset with a potent curse.
Amazingly, The Tree of Death is not the only cursed tree said to be found in Green Park. Another tree is said to be the haunt of an apparition said to have the body of an old hag and a face described as being like a mix of pig and wolf, which can apparently cause great swells of irrational terror. One such tale is that one homeless man who found himself under the tree and died from sheer fright when he was confronted by a “repulsive woman” with the mouth of a wolf and “pale, hate-filled eyes.” This particular tree is notorious for instilling within women a profound hatred of men when they are in its vicinity, and the tree is said to only kill men. Yet another cursed tree in the park is one in which a fiddler is said to have hanged himself in the early 1900s after someone stole his instrument as he took a nap there, and to this day the tree is reported as producing the faint, ghostly sounds of a fiddle.
Other trees are not cursed, but rather seem to be blessed or otherwise infused with some benevolent magical energy that has propelled them into legend. Sequestered away within the walls of a remote monastery in the mountains of Tibet is one such legendary tree known for its great magical power. Kumbum Monastery, also known as the “Little Tower Temple” and the “Hermitage of a Hundred Thousand Buddhas,” sits perched at in the foothills of sweeping, majestic peaks in the region of Amdo, and was originally erected in 1583 by the Third Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Sonam Gyatso, with the ambitious goal of making it the largest monastic college in Eastern Tibet. The location of this monastery was chosen because of a very peculiar tree which sat at the bottom of the hill and was long steeped in tales of magic and mysticism.
The tree in question is a sandalwood tree, and has been called by many names, including the “Golden Tree,” “The Mantra Tree,” “The Tree of Great Merit,” and “The Tree of Ten Thousand Images.” Its origins are laced with legend and myth, with one story telling of how Je Tsongkhapa, who was the root guru of the First Dalai Lama and founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, was born in the spot where the tree stands. Legend has it that when Tsongkhapa was born in 1357, the blood from the afterbirth spilled upon the ground and it is from this spot that the wondrous sandalwood tree would sprout. The leaves of the tree were said to be imprinted with various mystical letters, symbols, and even images of the Buddha’s face, and an intoxicating, “transporting” fragrance was said to emanate from it. The tree was said to have remarkable powers, such as the power to heal and the ability to grant visions. It was said that no other such tree existed, and that its seeds would not produce another. All of these features made the tree an extremely popular place to which to make pilgrimages, and it did not take long for it to become one of the most sacred spots in the region, highly revered throughout Tibet and Mongolia.
For centuries the mystical tree remained a deeply holy place that nevertheless remained a secret to the outside world, yet in the 1800s its presence began to come to the attention of outsiders. One such outsider to lay eyes upon the tree was a Lazarist priest by the name of Abbe M. Huc, who had heard of it in 1845 while travelling through the rugged wilderness from Peking to Lhasa. Huc was said to be quite rational minded, and was very skeptical of the stories he was hearing of this wondrous, magical tree at Kumbum monastery, even doubting whether any tree even existed there at all. He dismissed it as mere legend, and decided that he had to investigate for himself. He made the trek to Kumbum along with fellow priest Joseph Gabet, fully prepared to debunk it all as mere myth, so it was to their utmost surprise that they did indeed find a holy tree within a square, walled-in enclosure below the monastery itself. More amazing yet was that under scrutiny it allegedly proved to be just as mysterious and fantastical as they had been told. Huc would describe the tree in his journal Travels in Tartary, Thibet and China During the Years 1844-5-6 thus:
Yes, this tree does exist, and we had heard of it too often during our journey not to feel somewhat eager to visit it. At the foot of the mountain on which the Lamasery stands, and not far from the principal Buddhist temple, is a great square enclosure, formed by brick walls. Upon entering this we were able to examine at leisure the marvelous tree, some of the branches of which had already manifested themselves above the wall.
Our eyes were first directed with eamest curiosity to the leaves, and we were filled with an absolute consternation of astonishment at finding that, in point of fact, there were upon each of the leaves well-formed Thibetan characters, all of a green color, some darker, some lighter than the leaf itself. Our first impression was a suspicion of fraud on the part of the Lamas; but after a minute examination of every detail, we could not discover the least deception. The characters all appeared to us portions of the leaf itself, equally with its veins and nerves. The position was not the same in all; in one leaf they would be at the top of the leaf; in another, in the middle; in a third, at the base, or at the side.,’the younger leaves represented the characters only in a partial state of formation. The bark of the tree and its branches, which resemble that of the plane tree, are also covered with these characters. When you remove a piece of old bark, the young bark under it exhibits the indistinct outlines of characters in a germinating state, and, what is very singular, these new characters are not infrequently different from those which they replace.
The tree of the Ten thousand Images seemed to us of great age. Its trunk, which three men could scarcely embrace with outstretched arms, is not more than eight feet high; the branches, instead of shooting up, spread out in the shape of a plume of feathers and are extremely bushy; few of them are dead. The leaves are always green, and the wood, which is of a reddish tint, has an exquisite odour something like cinnamon. The Lamas informed us that in summer towards the eighth moon, the tree produces huge red flowers of an extremely beautiful character.
We examined everything with the closest attention, in order to detect some case of trickery, but we could discern nothing of the sort, and the perspiration absolutely trickled down our faces under the influence of the sensations which this most amazing spectacle created. More profound intellects than ours may, perhaps, be able to supply a satisfactory explanation of the mysteries of this singular tree; but as to us, we altogether give it up. Our readers may smile at our ignorance; but we care not, so that the sincerity and truth of our statement be not suspected . . . . The Lamas informed us that. . nowhere else exists another such tree; that many attempts have been made in various Lamaseries of Tartary and Thibet to propagate it by seedlings and cuttings, but that all these attempts have been fruitless.
A perhaps not as widely known but nonetheless legendary tree is what has come to be called “The Tree of Life.” Out in the badlands of the Arabian desert, within the country of Bahrain, lie vast stretches of barren, arid sand and dunes, yet defiantly standing among this lifeless, otherworldly landscape is one speck of green amid the endless stretches of yellow and brown. Here in this land of oppressive heat and the relentless battering the sun and frequent scouring sandstorms this one, lone tree has somehow managed to flourish in an array of green leaves in a place where no other plant life is anywhere to be seen, and where there is no known water source. The Tree of Life is a Prosopis cineraria which is estimated as being around 400 years old and lies not far from Jebel Dukhan, and just how it manages to survive in this inhospitable wasteland has baffled for years. It simply should not be here, yet here it is.
Theories on how the tenacious tree has managed to bloom against the sparse, bleak expanses of sand with no water source anywhere in sight are varied. One idea proposed by scientists is that it is somehow linked in to an underwater stream lying a full 2 miles away, but no evidence of this has been found as of yet. Another theory is that the tree is somehow wicking moisture from the air or even from the sand itself, but if this is possible then why aren’t there more of these tress around? This one tree is the only splash of color or life for miles around. More far out notions hold that The Tree of Life is standing in the actual location of the Biblical Garden of Eden or that it is rejuvenated and breathed life by some as yet unknown force. Just what is keeping this tree alive where no such tree should exist? So far, no one knows, and the tree has become a popular tourist attraction, with droves of visitors venturing out over this moonscape of a region to view this odd sight.
It is obvious that for many trees are more than just part of the scenery. They have been worshipped and indeed even feared for centuries by people from all over the world. In the cases we have seen here are there forces at work beyond what the reality we know of? Is it all legend and myth? No matter what one thinks, these sorts of accounts certainly makes one think, and puts trees in a light that suggests they are perhaps not always merely a pretty part of the scenery.