Roadside attractions offer a lot of “-est.” The biggest yo-yo. The largest brick. The loneliest highway. But if you want to see the best of the “-est,” nothing gives you more for your money — or miles — than trees.
So, in honor of Arbor Day, here are 7 incredible North American trees you need to see at least once during your lifetime.
7 Mind-Blowing Trees to Add to Your Bucket List
1. The oldest tree in the world, California
High in the White Mountains of eastern California stands a grove of bristlecone pine trees called the Forest of the Ancients. And somewhere hidden within that grove is Methuselah, generally considered to be the world’s oldest continually standing (single) tree at 4,849 years old.
That’s nearly 50 centuries old! Meaning it’s shared the planet with the ancient Egyptians and, well, us. Quite a feat. While the exact location of Methuselah is kept secret to protect it from vandals, you can see other bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park in Nevada.
2. The biggest tree in the world, California
Somewhat amazingly, the biggest (single) tree in the world can also be found in the Golden State. General Sherman, located in central California’s Sequoia National Park, is an astounding 274.9 feet tall. To put it into perspective, that’s somewhere between the Leaning Tower of Pisa (186 feet) and Big Ben (315 feet).
But more than just tall, this giant sequoia is also 102.6 feet around, making it the largest tree in the world by volume. A big deal now, General Sherman’s rise to fame was by no means meteoric. In fact, experts estimate the General to be more than 2,000 years old — a kid by bristlecone pine standards, but still old enough to see a few millennium come and go.
3. The heaviest tree in the world, Utah
Now, here’s where things get really crazy. Methuselah is the world’s oldest tree. General Sherman’s the world’s largest tree. But Pando, a quaking aspen in the middle of Utah, is both older and bigger. In fact, WAY older and WAY bigger. How?
Pando, or the Trembling Giant as it’s known, is composed of about 47,000 stems connected to a single underground root system. Though these stems look like individual trees, they’re actually 47,000 clones. (Mind blown?)
This massive quaking aspen colony spans 107 acres and is estimated to weigh over 6,600 tons, making it the heaviest “tree” in the world. By far. And if that’s not enough to knock your socks off, try this: the Trembling Giant is thought to be 80,000 years old.
4. The widest tree in the world (maybe), Mexico
Most of us wouldn’t want the distinction of being the widest anything (let alone the thickest), but this tree in Mexico wears it well. The Tule Tree, or El Árbol del Tule as it’s known locally, is a Montezuma cypress tree that’s actually wider around at 119 feet than it is tall at 116 feet. (For those of you keeping notes, that’s wider around than General Sherman.)
To put it in perspective, if you wanted to hug this big beauty, you’d need no fewer than 50 of your closest friends just to get arms all the way around its great trunk. Though it’s not been proven definitively, it’s generally believed to be the widest, thickest tree in the world.
5. The oldest tree east of the Mississippi, South Carolina
Why is “east of the Mississippi” significant? Possibly because of the weather. With an annual barrage of hurricanes and tornadoes, it takes more than a little gumption for any tree to stand its ground.
But the Angel Oak Tree on John’s Island near Charleston has done just that. In fact, it’s estimated to have stood its ground for 400 to 500 years. (Some think even longer.)
At 65 feet tall and 28 feet around, its gothic-looking branches spread out over an area of 17,000 square feet. That’s a whole lot of well-needed shade from the South Carolina sun.
6. The most flamboyant tree in the world, Brazil
There’s no actual science involved in this one, but look! I dare you to find a more flamboyant tree anywhere. Not only is this tree called a Flamboyant Tree (or Flame Tree), but true to its native land, it’s bright, beautiful, and ready to party.
7. The best dressed tree in the world, Nevada
There’s no actual science involved here either. But no story about road trips or trees would be complete without mentioning the Shoe Tree in middle-of-nowhere, Nevada.
While it’s unclear who threw the first pair of shoes into the branches of a cottonwood tree on Highway 50 (or why), the trend quickly caught on. And though this particular tree was cut down by vandals in 2011, the Shoe Tree as a concept has taken root and given seed to many more. You can now spot Shoe Trees from California to Michigan to Arkansas. Because why not.
Long live trees
Whether the oldest or tallest or grandest, trees of all varieties and in all corners of the continent add magic, mystery, and more than a little wonder to our world. So the next time you find yourself fine-tuning your bucket list, remember to add these amazing trees to it.