15 of the World’s Most Famous Trees

The Ashbrittle church and its ancient yew tree
The Ashbrittle church and its ancient yew tree
Nick Chipchase, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 2.0

With their imposing size and universal symbolism, trees are the celebrities of the plant world. But some trees can boast special A-list status, whether for their massive measurements, the number of years they’ve got under their belt (and inside their trunks), or their place in history. Below, some trees worth rolling out the red carpet for.

1. The Ashbrittle Yew

A sprawling, seven-trunked yew in the remote village of Ashbrittle is thought to be one of Britain's oldest living things. Experts say the tree, which grows in the St. John the Baptist churchyard, is 3500 to 4000 years old—meaning it was already mature when Stonehenge was built. The yew has long been beloved by locals, and some believe a pre-Christian chief may be buried beneath the mound on which it stands. Recent news reports have raised concerns the tree might be sick or dying, but according to one expert, the yew is just going through a rough patch, and will likely outlive us all.

2. General Sherman

The General Sherman Tree in California's Sequoia National Park is the largest tree, by volume, anywhere in the world. Measurements taken in 1975 marked its volume at slightly over 52,500 cubic feet, or more than half the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. At about 275 feet high and 100 feet wide, Sherman's no slouch in the height or width department either, but at an estimated 2000 years old, it's not particularly ancient for a sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum can live to 3000 years and beyond). Named for Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, it's one of several trees in the park with monikers in honor of American military and political luminaries—neighbors include trees named General Grant, Washington, Lincoln, and Robert E. Lee.

3. Tree of Ténéré

The remains of the Tree of Ténéré
The remains of the Tree of Ténéré
Felix Krohn, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 4.0

Once located 250 miles from any other tree, the Tree of Ténéré (named for the area of Niger where it grew) is thought to have been the world’s most isolated tree for much of the 20th century. A landmark on caravan routes through the region, it was sacred for locals, who admired the graceful acacia’s ability to survive in the middle of the desert. That is, until an allegedly drunk Libyan truck driver slammed into it in 1973. Its remains are now interred in a mausoleum at the Niger National Museum in Niamey, and a lonely metal sculpture stands in its place.

4. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

Said to be a branch of the sacred fig tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment, the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BCE by the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. The sacred city of Anuradhapura, with its beautiful complex of palaces and monasteries, then sprung up around the tree. The Ficus religiosa is said to be the oldest tree with a known planting date, and is one of the most sacred sites for Sri Lankan Buddhists, as well as Buddhists around the world. Meanwhile, a sacred fig at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, is also said to be a direct descendant of the Buddha’s original tree.

5. Major Oak

The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest
The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest
David Jones, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

No less a figure than Robin Hood is said to have taken shelter inside the hollow trunk of the massive Major Oak, which stands in the heart of Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England. Estimated at 800 to 1000 years old, the oak (Quercus robur) is about 33 feet around, with branches that spread up to 92 feet. In 2014, it was crowned “England’s Tree of the Year” in a public vote administered by the Woodland Trust. The tree's name comes from Major Hayman Rooke, an antiquarian who included the tree in a popular book about the oaks of Sherwood Forest published in 1790. The oak became known as “The Major's Oak,” and then simply “The Major Oak.” It has also been referred to as The Cockpen Tree, a name that dates to its days in the mid-18th century when its hollow trunk was used to pen cockerels for cock fighting.

6. Anne Frank's Tree

In the two years Anne Frank spent hiding during World War II, the white horse chestnut outside her window—one of the oldest in Amsterdam—became a focus of her longing for freedom. Over the years the tree developed health problems, and was scheduled to be cut down in 2007, but neighbors and supporters rallied around it and created a foundation to provide for its care (including the creation of iron support structures meant to keep it from falling down). However, in August 2010, the tree blew down in a storm, breaking off and knocking over its iron supports. Fortunately, saplings germinated from the tree's chestnuts had already been created, and have since been planted at sites around the world.

7. Hyperion

Hyperion is the world’s tallest known living tree, towering almost 380 feet above Redwood National and State Parks in California. The coast redwood was discovered in 2006 by a pair of amateur naturalists, who gave it its name. Its precise location is kept a secret to protect the tree. The area used to be home to thousands of redwoods of Hyperion’s size, before logging felled most of them; it’s said the tree would be even taller it not for woodpecker damage at the top.

8. 9/11 Survivor Tree

Survivor Tree at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Survivor Tree at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When this Callery pear tree was pulled from the rubble after 9/11, it looked dead, its trunk charred and its upper branches shattered. Only one of its branches was alive. But the NYC Parks Department took a chance on the tree, and after lots of dedicated care at a Bronx nursery, it recovered. In 2010, the so-called “Survivor Tree” was planted at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. An elm tree that survived the 1995 Oklahoma City's bombing is also known as the “Survivor Tree”; other notable trees that have survived disasters include a bonsai that survived Hiroshima and was later given to the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. and a pine tree that survived the 2011 tsunami in Japan with the help of a metal skeleton.

9. Hangman’s Elm

An elm tree in New York City's Washington Square Park is thought to be the oldest living tree in Manhattan, but it suffers from a dark reputation: It’s known as the “Hangman’s Elm” because of its supposed association with public hangings during and after the Revolutionary War. Traitors were supposedly hung from its branches at the corner of Waverly Place and MacDougal Street, and a visiting Marquis de Lafayette is said to have witnessed the hanging of 20 highwaymen there in 1824. But there is only one verified hanging nearby: a woman named Rose Butler, convicted of arson and hanged in 1820. Historians, however, have disputed the tree’s association with hanging.

10. Methuselah

The almost 5000-year-old Methuselah, a bristlecone pine growing in California’s White Mountains, was long thought to be the oldest non-clonal tree in the world. In 2012, it was superseded by another bristlecone pine in the same area, although the latter tree lacks a colorful nickname, and research is still being done to determine that tree's precise age. As with other very old trees, its location is kept a secret to protect it.

11. Old Tjikko

Old Tjikko is a Norway spruce found, perhaps confusingly, in Sweden in 2004. Its root system has been growing for 9550 years, although the visible part of the tree is far younger. Unlike Methuselah and other bristlecone pines, the Norway spruce has the ability to clone itself—meaning that after one stem dies, another one springs from the same root system. The researcher who found it, Leif Kullman, named it for his dog. At the time of its discovery it was said to be the oldest tree in the world, although Pando (see below) has since claimed that title.

12. The Trembling Giant, or Pando

A fall photo of Pando, or the Trembling Giant
A fall photo of Pando, or the Trembling Giant
J Zapell, Wikimedia // Public Domain

A Utah grove of quaking aspens known as the Trembling Giant, or Pando, is considered one of the world's oldest trees. Because the trees are genetically identical and share a single root system, researchers consider them a single clone rather than separate individuals. Although the precise age of the grove is unclear, it's thought to date to the end of the last Ice Age—about 11,700 years ago. At 107 acres, Pando is also considered one the world's biggest organisms.

13. El Arbol Del Tule

Thought to be the stoutest tree in the world, this Montezuma bald cypress in El Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico, is about 120 feet around. According to researchers Zsolt Debreczy and Istvan Racz [PDF], its branches extend the length of two tennis courts, and it reportedly takes 17 people holding hands with arms outstretched to encompass its girth. There has been some controversy over whether the tree is truly one organism or several, although DNA analysis has proved the former.

14. Thimmamma Marrimanu

This 200-year-old Banyan tree in Andhra Pradesh, India, has branches that extend over five acres, and has been mentioned in some sources as the world’s biggest tree. According to a local legend, childless couples who worship at its base will conceive the following year.

15. The Hardy Tree

The Hardy Tree in London’s St. Pancras churchyard
The Hardy Tree in London’s St. Pancras churchyard

While it might not pack the same historical punch as some of the other trees on this list, the Hardy Tree in London’s St. Pancras churchyard makes for a pretty amazing picture. The tree is named for Victorian novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, who worked as an apprentice architect before becoming a full-time writer. In the 1860s, one of Hardy’s duties included rearranging the St. Pancras churchyard burials ahead of a railway expansion that was set to cut right through the graves. Hardy moved the tombstones to the base of a nearby ash tree, whose roots have now grown in among them. He didn’t exactly relish the task, and it’s thought that an early poem of his, “The Levelled Churchyard,” was inspired by the event. Key lines include:

O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!
We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
'I know not which I am!’

A version of this story first ran in 2015.

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EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

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10 Secrets of Ice Cream Truck Drivers

asiafoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus
asiafoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Ever since Good Humor founder Harry Burt dispatched the first jingling ice cream trucks in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920, kids and adults alike have had a primal reaction to the sight of a vehicle equipped with a cold, sugary payload. Today, ice cream trucks spend May through October hoping to entice customers into making an impulse beat-the-heat purchase. To get a better idea of what goes into making ice cream a portable business, Mental Floss spoke with several proprietors for their take on everything from ideal weather conditions to police encounters. Here’s the inside scoop.

1. IT CAN GET TOO HOT FOR BUSINESS.

The most common misconception about the ice cream truck business? That soaring temperatures mean soaring profits. According to Jim Malin, owner of Jim’s Ice Cream Truck in Fairfield, Connecticut, record highs can mean decreased profits. “When it’s really hot, like 90 or 100 degrees out, sales go way down,” Malin says. “People aren’t outside. They’re indoors with air conditioning.” And like a lot of trucks, Malin’s isn’t equipped with air conditioning. “I’m suffering and sales are suffering." The ideal temperature? "A 75-degree day is perfect.”

2. THEY DON’T JUST WANDER NEIGHBORHOODS ANYMORE.

An ice cream truck sits parked in a public spot
Chunky Dunks

The days of driving a few miles an hour down a residential street hoping for a hungry clientele have fallen by the wayside. Many vendors, including Malin, make up half or more of their business by arranging for scheduled stops at events like weddings, employee picnics, or school functions. “We do birthday parties, church festivals, sometimes block parties,” he says. Customers can pay in advance, meaning that all guests have to do is order from the menu.

3. SOME OF THEM DRIVE A MINIBUS INSTEAD OF A TRUCK.

For sheer ice cream horsepower, nothing beats a minibus. Laci Byerly, owner of Doodlebop’s Ice Cream Emporium in Jacksonville, Florida, uses an airport-style shuttle for her inventory. “Instead of one or two freezers, we can fit three,” she says. More importantly, the extra space means she doesn’t have to spend the day hunched over. “We can stand straight up.”

4. THEY HAVE A SECRET STASH OF ICE CREAM TO GIVE AWAY TO SPECIAL CUSTOMERS.

A picture of an ice cream truck menu.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The goal of any truck is to sell enough ice cream to justify the time and expense of operation, so freebies don’t make much sense—unless the truck happens to have some damaged goods. Malin says that it’s common for some pre-packaged bars to be broken inside wrappers, rendering them unattractive for sale. He sets these bars aside for kids who know the score. “I put them in a little box for kids who come up and ask if I have damaged ice cream,” he says. “Certain kids know I have it, and I’m happy to give it to them.”

5. THEY’RE CREATING CUSTOM ICE CREAM MENUS.

An ice cream nacho platter is shown
Chunky Dunks

While pre-packaged Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches remain perennial sellers, a number of trucks are mixing up business by offering one-of-a-kind treats. At the Chunky Dunks truck in Madison, Mississippi, owner Will Lamkin serves up Ice Cream Nachos, a signature dish that outsells anything made by Nestle. “It’s cinnamon sugar chips with your choice of ice cream,” he says. “You get whipped cream, too. And for the ‘cheese,’ it’s a caramel-chocolate sauce.” The nachos work because they’re “streetable,” Lamkin’s label for something people can carry while walking. “The next seven or eight people in line see it, and then everyone’s ordering it.”

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS PLAY THE ICONIC JINGLE.

Before most people see an ice cream truck, they hear that familiar tinny tune. While some operators still rely on it for its familiarity, Malin and others prefer more modern tracks. “Normally we play ‘80s rock,” he says. “Or whatever we feel like playing that day. We rock it out.”

7. POP CULTURE CHARACTERS ARE SOME OF THEIR BEST SELLERS.

A Captain America ice cream treat
Doodlebop's

While adult customers tend to favor ice cream treats they remember from their youth, kids who don’t really recognize nostalgia tend to like items emblazoned with the likenesses and trademarks of licensed characters currently occupying their TV screens and local theaters. “Characters are the most popular with kids,” Byerly says. “SpongeBob, Minions, and Captain America.”

8. THEY KEEP DOG FOOD HANDY.

At Doodlebop’s, Byerly has a strategy for luring customers with pets: She keeps dog treats on hand. “The dog will sometimes get to us before the owner does,” she says. “If the dog comes up to the truck, he’ll get a Milkbone.” That often leads to a human companion purchasing a treat for themselves.

9. SOMETIMES RIVALS WILL CALL THE COPS.

Though there have been stories of rogue ice cream vendors aggressively competing for neighborhood space over the years, Malin says that he’s never experienced any kind of out-and-out turf war. Ice cream truck drivers tend to be a little more passive-aggressive than that. “I have a business permit for Fairfield, so that’s typically where I’m driving,” he says. “But sometimes I might go out of town for an event. Once, a driver pulled up to me and asked if I had a permit. I said ‘No, I’m just here for an hour,’ and he said, ‘OK, I’m calling the cops.’ They try and get the police to get you out [of town].” Fortunately, police typically don’t write up drivers for the infraction.

10. SOME LUCKY CUSTOMERS HAVE AN APP FOR HOME DELIVERY.

An ice cream truck driver.
George Rose/Getty Images

Technology has influenced everything, and ice cream trucks are no exception. Malin uses an app that allows customers to request that he make a special delivery. "People can request I pull up right outside their home," he says. If their parents are home, there’s one additional perk: "I accept credit cards."

This article originally ran in 2018.