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Meet the World’s Stoutest Tree – Discovering El Árbol del Tule

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » Ancient & Remarkable Trees » Meet the World’s Stoutest Tree – Discovering El Árbol del Tule

Nestled in the church grounds of Santa María del Tule in Oaxaca, Mexico, stands a natural wonder that draws both admiration and awe: El Árbol del Tule.

This majestic Montezuma cypress, also known by the Nahuatl name “ahuehuete” which translates to “old man of the water,” holds the title for the stoutest tree trunk on Earth.

With its massive girth and sprawling crown, it’s not just a tree; it’s a living piece of history.

School Kids Standing in Front of El Árbol del Tule
School children standing in front of El Árbol del Tule gives perspective to its massive girth – Image Credit: Wonders of Lyn

Imagine a tree so wide that it was once mistaken for several trees merged together.

DNA tests would later confirm that this behemoth is indeed a single tree.

Its trunk measures a staggering 42 meters in circumference—that’s over 137 feet!

El Árbol del Tule in Mexico

If you were to lay the tree down, its width would stretch across nearly half a football field.

Even more astonishing, back in 1982, the trunk was already 37.5 feet wide.

Despite its buttressed base which skews measurements, the tree’s true diameter is around 30.8 feet, surpassing that of the giant sequoia, the next contender for trunk size.

The height of El Árbol del Tule, though challenging to pinpoint due to its expansive crown, was last recorded at 116 feet by laser measurement in 2005.

This giant’s size is matched by its age, with estimates varying wildly from 1,200 to a mythical 6,000 years.

El Árbol del Tule in Oaxaca, Mexico

Scientific analysis places it at about 1,433 to 1,600 years old, aligning closely with local Zapotec legends that claim it was planted by Pechocha, a priest of the Aztec wind god Ehecatl, around 1,400 years ago.

Local lore isn’t the only enchantment surrounding this tree. It’s also known as the “Tree of Life,” not just for its longevity but for the menagerie of animal shapes that appear in its gnarled trunk.

These shapes are so vivid that local schoolchildren often guide tourists, pointing out the forms of jaguars, elephants, and other creatures etched by nature into the bark. You can see some of these shapes for yourself in the video below:

However, despite its grandeur, El Árbol del Tule faces threats from modern life.

The roots, which have sustained it through centuries, are now endangered by water shortages, pollution, and the relentless bustle of 8,000 cars passing daily on a nearby highway.

Each of these challenges tests the resilience of this silent giant.

El Árbol del Tule is more than just a tree, it is a living monument to the ages, a silent observer of the passage of time and the evolution of the world around it.

As it stands proudly in Oaxaca, it continues to mesmerize and inspire all who walk beneath its vast canopy, a reminder of nature’s capacity to awe and endure through the ages.

Digging Deeper

Location

El Árbol del Tule is situated in the church grounds of Santa María del Tule in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, just 9 kilometers east of the city of Oaxaca, on the road to Mitla.

Type of Tree

This natural monument is a Montezuma cypress, scientifically known as Taxodium mucronatum, and locally called “ahuehuete,” which means “old man of the water” in Nahuatl, referencing its preference for wet, swampy grounds.

Is the Árbol del Tule Still Alive?

Despite facing environmental stressors, El Árbol del Tule continues to thrive, holding the record for the world’s stoutest trunk among living trees.

Descendants

Although El Árbol del Tule itself is unique, it shares its species, Taxodium mucronatum, with many other cypress trees throughout Mexico, hinting at a rich genetic legacy.

Can You Visit It?

Visitors are welcome to explore the site of El Árbol del Tule, where local guides, often schoolchildren, illuminate the history and hidden shapes within its ancient bark.

Conservation

Ongoing conservation efforts are crucial for El Árbol del Tule, as it battles against the impacts of local traffic, pollution, and water shortages that threaten its survival.

Legacy

El Árbol del Tule’s legendary size and age have made it a symbol of endurance and natural history, capturing the imaginations of people around the world and embodying the spirit of the local Zapotec culture.

Want More?

Enthralled by El Árbol del Tule?

Discover the marvels of other unique trees around the world. Explore the hauntingly beautiful Sunken Forest, nestled beneath the waters of Kazakhstan’s Lake Kaindy.

Marvel at Methuselah, a venerable bristlecone pine that has withstood the test of time in California, and immerse yourself in the mystical ambiance of Jomon Sugi on Yakushima, a cedar that echoes ancient narratives.


Honor the Emancipation Oak, a symbol of freedom and history, and visit the legendary Lone Pine, that marks the battlefield of Gallipoli.

Each tree narrates a distinctive tale, deepening our appreciation of the planet’s rich and enduring natural heritage.

Sources – Wikipedia

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!