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 TénéréFelix 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 ForestDavid 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 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 GiantJ 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 cisko66, Wikimedia // CC BY 3.0

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.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

9 Unsung Heroes of the Underground Railroad

An illustration depicting fugitives along the Underground Railroad in Maryland, taken from William Still's 1872 book The Underground Railroad.
An illustration depicting fugitives along the Underground Railroad in Maryland, taken from William Still's 1872 book The Underground Railroad.
Philadelphia, Porter & Coates, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Considering that the massive network of hidden paths and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad stretched from the Deep South all the way to Canada, it makes sense that hundreds of people were involved in its operation. Some, like Harriet Tubman, were “conductors,” who led the rescue missions, while others—John Brown, for example—were “station masters,” hosting fugitives in their homes and arranging safe passage to freedom. Here are nine other valorous heroes who risked life and limb to help people on their way to liberty.

1. William Still

A sketch of William Still from Wilbur Henry Siebert and Albert Bushnell Hart's 1898 book The Underground Railroad From Slavery to Freedom.Macmillan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Born to formerly enslaved parents in New Jersey in 1821, William Still moved to Philadelphia at age 23 and took up the abolitionist mantle in more ways than one. He taught himself to read and write, got a job as a clerk for the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and advanced through the organization until he was named chairman of its new Vigilance Committee in the early 1850s. In that position, Still oversaw the region’s network of safe houses—his own house among them—and raised money to finance key rescue missions, including a few of Harriet Tubman’s.

It’s estimated that Still ferried about 800 people to freedom during his tenure; one of them was his brother Peter. But there’s another reason he’s often referred to as “the Father of the Underground Railroad.” Still documented the stories of more than 600 escapees and published them all in a groundbreaking volume called The Underground Railroad in 1872, making him the only Black person ever to write and self-publish a firsthand account of activity on the Underground Railroad. He hoped that the “extraordinary determination and endeavor” exhibited in the harrowing narratives would inspire Black Americans to continue the struggle for civil rights.

“The race must not forget the rock from whence they were hewn, nor the pit from whence they were digged,” he wrote in the introduction. “Like other races, this newly emancipated people will need all the knowledge of their past condition which they can get.”

2. John P. Parker

Parker's house in Ripley, Ohio.Nyttend, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When John P. Parker was 8 years old, a merchant separated him from his enslaved mother in Norfolk, Virginia, and sold him to a doctor in Mobile, Alabama. There, Parker apprenticed at an iron foundry—and learned to read and write, with the help of the doctor’s children. At age 18, he persuaded one of the doctor’s patients to purchase him and let him gradually buy back his freedom with his foundry earnings. The plan worked, and Parker left for Ripley, Ohio, where he built a house, started a family, and patented a few popular mechanical parts for tobacco machines during a successful career as a foundryman.

Through it all, Parker made regular excursions across the Ohio River to spirit fugitives from Kentucky back to Ripley’s safe houses (one belonged to John Rankin, a prominent white abolitionist who lived less than a mile from Parker). Parker’s rescue missions were especially dangerous, partially because bounty hunters looking for fugitives knew who he was, and partially because Parker himself was dauntless. Once, an enslaver suspected a married couple would attempt to escape, so he took their baby and put him to sleep in his room. Parker snuck into the room, carefully plucked the child from the bed—where the enslaver also lay sleeping—and dashed back through the house. The enslaver awoke and tore after him, firing his pistol, but Parker and the family managed to escape across the river.

Parker recounted these rescues to journalist Frank M. Gregg during a series of interviews in the 1880s, but the manuscript sat forgotten in Duke University’s archives until historian Stuart Seeley Sprague unearthed it and published it in 1996.

3. and 4. Harriet Bell Hayden and Lewis Hayden

A portrait of Lewis Hayden from William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper The Liberator.The Liberator, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Born enslaved in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1812, Lewis Hayden watched enslavers tear apart his family not once, but twice. First, his siblings were sold to a different enslaver; and later, his wife and son were bought by Kentucky senator Henry Clay [PDF] and sold somewhere in the Deep South. Hayden never saw them again. In the early 1840s, he married an enslaved woman named Harriet Bell, adopted her son, and soon began plotting their escape.

With the help of Calvin Fairbank, a minister, and Delia Webster, a teacher, the Haydens fled their enslaver’s estate and eventually arrived safely in Canada. By 1846, they had returned to the U.S. and settled in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, where they opened a clothing store. Before long, Lewis and Harriet had joined the Boston Vigilance Committee and turned their home into a boarding house, which became a highly trafficked stop on the Underground Railroad.

A drawing of Harriet Bell Hayden from her obituary in The Cleveland Gazette.The Cleveland Gazette, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Though slavery had been illegal in Massachusetts since 1783, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stated that enslaved people who had escaped to free states could still be found and returned to their enslavers in the South. The Haydens fearlessly protected hundreds of people from bounty hunters who tried to do just that. Ellen and William Craft, for example, had garnered widespread attention for their risky escape from slavery in Georgia, which involved Ellen impersonating a white man and William posing as her Black servant. When bounty hunters pursued them to the Haydens’ house, Lewis announced that he’d readily blow up the whole property with the two kegs of gunpowder he kept inside if they tried to kidnap the Crafts. The bounty hunters didn’t chance it, and left empty-handed.

Lewis also helped recruit Black soldiers for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry—one of the Union’s first all-Black military units—and was even elected to the Massachusetts General Assembly in 1873. When he died in 1889, Boston’s city council praised him as “one of the pioneers in the freeing of this country from the curse of slavery.” Harriet, who died in 1893, donated her entire estate to Harvard Medical School for the purpose of establishing a scholarship for Black students, which still exists today.

5. Henrietta Bowers Duterte

A photo of Henrietta Bowers Duterte with one of her children.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1852, Henrietta Bowers, a 35-year-old tailor, married a Haitian-American undertaker named Francis A. Duterte. They both came from well-respected Philadelphia families, and Francis’s mortuary was successful; in other words, it should have been a long, happy union. But by the end of that decade, Henrietta was alone: Her children had all died young, and Francis had also passed away suddenly. Instead of handing the mortuary business over to a man—which would have been expected at the time—Henrietta took it over and, in addition to running the mortuary, turned it into an especially clandestine stop on the Underground Railroad.

Not only did Henrietta use funeral processions as opportunities to help disguised fugitives slip unnoticed through the city, but she also sometimes smuggled them out of Philadelphia in actual coffins. The mortuary continued to be lucrative, and Henrietta funneled the profits into organizations that served Philadelphia’s Black community, like the First Colored Church and Stephen Smith’s Philadelphia Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons. In 1866, she helped arrange the Freedman’s Aid Society Fair to support formerly enslaved people in Tennessee.

6. David Ruggles

A political cartoon depicting a slave owner raging against Ruggles and two other abolitionists who had helped one of his servants escape.Edward Williams Clay, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

David Ruggles, born free in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1810, moved to New York City at age 17 and opened a grocery shop, which he staffed with emancipated Black Americans. Before long, Ruggles pivoted to lending and selling abolitionist books, pamphlets, and newspapers, too, making him the nation’s first Black bookstore owner. In 1835, Ruggles and other local abolitionists founded the New York Vigilance Committee, an interracial organization which, like the one in Philadelphia, helped people escape from slavery. Not only did he provide legal aid to Black Americans targeted by bounty hunters, but he also housed many fugitives in his own home on Lispenard Street.

One of these temporary guests was Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery and arrived in New York penniless and famished in 1838. He was rescued, he explained in his 1845 autobiography, “by the humane hand of Mr. David Ruggles, whose vigilance, kindness, and perseverance, I shall never forget.” Douglass wrote to his fiancée, Anna, who joined him within a few days, and Ruggles even arranged a marriage ceremony in the house. Soon after the wedding, Ruggles gave the couple $5 and booked their passage on a steamship to New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Throughout his years as an Underground Railroad station master, Ruggles distributed countless anti-slavery publications and advocated for “practical abolitionism,” or the idea that each person should actively take part in emancipating Black Americans. He wasn’t without enemies: twice his shop was burned down, and he was physically attacked on several occasions. By his late twenties, Ruggles’s health was failing, and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child encouraged him to come live with the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a self-sufficient community in Florence, Massachusetts, that championed equal rights for all. There, Ruggles regained some of his strength through hydrotherapy, and he eventually opened his own hydrotherapy hospital, where Douglass often visited him. When he died at age 39, it was Douglass who wrote his obituary.

7. and 8. Harriet Forten Purvis and Robert Purvis

A daguerroeotype of Robert Purvis from the 1840s.Boston Public Library, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Robert Purvis, the son of a white man and a free Black woman, was active in practically all facets of Philadelphia’s anti-slavery movement from the 1830s through the Civil War. He helped found and lead the Vigilant Association of Philadelphia and its Vigilance Committee, which offered boarding, clothing, medical attention, legal counsel, and northern passage to fugitives; and he also worked alongside prominent abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison to establish the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society a few years later.

Since women weren’t originally allowed to be members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Robert’s wife, Harriet Forten Purvis, joined Lucretia Mott and other activists in forming the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in December 1833. Harriet, like Mott, would go on to become a leader in the suffrage movement, too.

Robert and Harriet had both come from extremely successful and respected Philadelphia families, and they used their influence—and financial resources—to assist escapees in any way they could. Their house on Lombard Street became a well-traversed thoroughfare for fugitives heading north.

“He was President of the ‘Underground Railroad,’ and throughout that long period of peril his house was a well-known station where his horses and carriages and his personal attendance were ever at the service of the travelers upon that road,” read Robert's 1898 obituary in The New York Times.

A portrait of Harriet Forten Purvis circa 1874. ExplorePAhistory.com // Public Domain

The couple’s high-profile work sometimes made them a target for those who opposed the upward mobility of Black Americans. In August 1842, a parade celebrating the eighth anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indies devolved into violence when an Irish mob—resenting their own low position in society—attacked the revelers and began looting and setting fire to Black-owned buildings along the street. The rioters planned to progress to the Purvises' house, where Robert stood armed and waiting, but a Catholic priest reportedly diverted them.

After that, Robert and Harriet moved their family to a farmhouse in Byberry, a northeastern neighborhood of Philadelphia, and promptly turned their new estate into another station on the Underground Railroad. Robert approximated that between 1831 and 1861, he had helped emancipate about one person per day (though it’s possible that this calculation included his broader work with various anti-slavery organizations).

9. Samuel D. Burris

A sketch of Samuel D. Burris from William Still's book The Underground Railroad.Delaware Historical & Cultural Affairs, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Samuel D. Burris worked tirelessly during the 1840s to lead fugitives through his home state of Delaware and into Philadelphia, where he lived with his wife and children. Though Burris was a free man, he could be imprisoned and sold into slavery if caught helping fugitives in Delaware—and in 1847, he was.

Officials apprehended Burris when he was trying to smuggle a woman named Maria Matthews onto a steamship. Since they set his bail at $5000 (more than $157,000 today), he was forced to spend months in jail while awaiting trial. “They uphold and applaud those slave traffickers, and those inhuman and unmerciful leeches, in their soul-damning conduct, by making the colored people legal subjects for their bloody principles to feast on,” he wrote from his cell, in a letter that was later published in William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper The Liberator.

On November 2, 1847, Burris was convicted, fined $500, and sentenced to 10 more months in prison. After that, he’d be sold into slavery for 14 years. While Burris was serving his 10-month sentence, a group of Philadelphia abolitionists amassed $500 and sent a Quaker named Isaac Flint to pose as a trader and purchase Burris at the auction. Luckily, Flint ended up being the highest bidder (though according to William Still’s account in The Underground Railroad, luck had little to do with it: Flint savvily bought off a Baltimore trader who had tried to top his bid).

“[Burris] was not by any means aware of the fact that he had fallen into the hands of friends, but, on the contrary, evidently labored under the impression that his freedom was gone,” Still wrote. “The joyful news was whispered in the ear of Burris that all was right; that he had been bought with abolition gold to save him from going south.”

As Delaware State University historian Robin Krawitz told CNN, Burris continued helping fugitives after his release, and angry Delawarians actually petitioned the government to discipline him more severely. After officials enacted legislation that recommended public whipping as punishment for anyone caught a second time, Burris halted his operations in Delaware. Instead, he moved to San Francisco, where he raised funds to help newly freed people establish themselves.