What is a Forest Without Trees?

Three Kings trees

A trio of trees in Sao Paulo known as the Three Kings

Photo credit: James E. Davis / luzdelux

Forests have borne witness to the best and worst of humanity, providing shelter for first kisses and warring troops, games of hide-and-seek and terrible crimes. Towering and sturdy or dainty and lithe, trees not only provide the very air we breathe but are perhaps the world’s most omniscient listeners. It’s no wonder that humans have created songs, folktales, visual artwork, religious beliefs, and many other tributes to these beautiful living things. Although conventional wisdom warns us not to miss the forest for the trees, we’d like to take a moment to honor a few of the more famous trees in the world.

Maya World Tree

In ancient times, the Maya believed that the ceiba tree (also known as the world tree or kapok tree) stood at the center of the earth. It can grow up to 200 feet tall and can be found in many lands, from Mexico to the Amazon to West Africa. Some varieties of the ceiba tree are characterized by spines or conical thorns, giving the tree a menacing appearance.

top of ceiba tree at Tikal National Park

A ceiba tree at Tikal National Park in Guatemala

Money Tree (Pachira Aquatica)

Parents are notorious for saying that “money does not grow on trees.” Well, in the case of the money tree house plant…that phrase still holds true. Unfortunately, the money tree does not sprout currency. However, according to legend, the plant’s lushness and preponderance of leaves are supposed to directly correlate to the owner’s financial well-being. In its natural habit in the wetlands of Central and South America, the pachira aquatica can grow up to 60 feet tall. As a houseplant, its growth is dependent upon the size of the pot. Plant and prosper.

Money trees in Costa Rica

Money trees in Costa Rica

Photo credit: Leonora Enkling

The Tree of Hope

During the 1920s and 1930s, a stretch of Seventh Avenue in Harlem was lined with theaters and nightclubs. An elm tree sprouted there and entertainers took to rubbing the tree for luck. It got the nickname the Tree of Hope. When the tree was chopped down in 1934 to widen the street, a portion of it was placed at the Apollo Theater. Today, contestants at the venue’s Amateur Night rub the Tree of Hope before taking the stage in front of the Apollo’s notoriously tough crowd. Famous entertainers like Lauryn Hill, Luther Vandross, and Dave Chappelle all lost the competition in the early stages of their now-legendary careers.

The Tree of Hope

The Tree of Hope at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Photo credit: The Apollo Theater

Peento Tree (Peaches of Immortality)

In Chinese mythology, peaches from the peento tree are known as peaches of immortality. Legend has it that goddess Xiwangmu had 3,600 peento trees on her estate in the hills of Western China. Anyone who ate the peento peach from her trees was given eternal life. The catch? The enchanted fruit was said to ripen every 3,000th; 6,000th; and 9,000th year, and Xiawangmu was not one to dole out her treasure. Today, mere mortals can enjoy the sweet juiciness of peento peaches without worrying about getting on the bad side of a goddess.

Peento Tree

Peento peaches are also known as donut peaches.

Photo credit: Plant Fora

Acacia Tree (aka the Africa tree)

If you’ve read a book set on the continent of Africa over the past couple decades, there’s a good chance that an acacia tree was on the cover. A perceptive reader of the Africa is a Country blog tweeted an image of 36 book covers featuring the tree. While the acacia tree is lovely, one tree cannot represent an entire continent. The biodiversity of African countries is tremendous, and the Rainforest Alliance is proud to do work in several of them, including Kenya and Ghana.

Acacia Tree

Books on Africa featuring the acacia tree.

Photo credit: Twitter


Burning Peruvian forest - photo by Mohsin Kazmi

Forests are falling at an alarming rate.

Each minute, 85 acres are destroyed.