Nearly 140 years ago, a newspaper editor named J. Sterling Morton organized the first Arbor Day in Nebraska, inspiring residents around the state to plant up to 1 million trees, by one estimate.
But Morton was hardly the first tree-lover. Trees have played starring roles in literature, religious texts, songs, and myths since the beginning of recorded human history. Ancient Egyptians linked trees to particular gods. The willow symbolized Osiris; the sycamore represented Ra. In Greek mythology, Dryad nymphs embodied the spirits of the trees, protected the forests and lived in the leafy branches. The Tree of Life appears again and again in ancient Egyptian, Assyrian, Semitic, Baha’i, and Pagan faiths. The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest pieces of literature in the world, ascribes mythical characteristics to a cedar forest.
Today, the tree is a symbol of wisdom, evil, power, and mortality. Harry Potter grapples with the violent Whomping Willow and Dorothy is attacked by an angry apple tree in the Wizard of Oz. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents and James Cameron’s Tree of Souls are wise and beneficent. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Treeremains a favorite parable of aging.
In honor of all branches, canopies, and trunks, we’ve compiled a list of the most famous trees in the world. They’re the A-Listers of the forest.
Click to view a slide show of the most famous trees in the world.