Tree-mendous! Voting underway to find Poland’s best tree, based on looks, history and significance to culture
Voting is underway to find Poland’s “tree of the year”, with this year’s candidates including a ‘magic’ cherry tree, an oak planted by a war returnee, and a 450-year-old chestnut tree.
Seeking to promote respect for nature, the competition was founded in 2003 to spotlight those trees that have become embedded in the culture and history of their wider community.
“We are not looking for the oldest, tallest, thickest, rarest or most beautiful trees,” say the organizers, “but rather the most loved trees – trees with a story, trees that have the ability to stimulate the imagination and unite people.”
Won last year by a linden found towering over a picturesque roadside chapel in Dulcza Wielka in R, this year has seen 16 trees shortlisted from a rollcall of nearly 150 nominees.
“The finalists selected by the jury are heroes of our time and heroes of Poland’s fight to safeguard nature,” continue the organizers, Klub Gaja. “Included in these are trees that have been severely mutilated by saws yet have survived as well as trees that have been threatened by logging.
“Trees cannot speak, but thanks to this competition we can hear about them and learn how they have been protected by their communities.”
With public voting running throughout the month of June, two frontrunners have emerged as early favourites to clinch the prestigious title.
Currently lying in second with just short of 1,300 votes, the so-called Dunin oak has become almost symbolic of nature’s stubborn pride. Located in the Białowieża region, the 400-year-old oak has continued for years stood stoically on its own after other surrounding oaks were felled, and despite losing one of its principal branches, the gnarled veteran has come to be viewed as an emblem of strength and solitude.
Weathered in its appearance, yet also bewitching in its haunting beauty, its arcane charm has not been lost on the arts world and the mighty oak has been featured in films such as Pamięć domu and Nazywam się Sara as well as on the cover of Hoyraky’s album Scenariusz.
Drawing flocks of photographers and painters, more recent years have seen nearby villagers uniting to save the 13-metre tree as it battles against the vicissitudes of time.
As things stand, the competition appears to be a two-horse race between the Dunin oak and the current leader, a chestnut tree in Tarnowskie Góry.
Reputed to be 450-years-old, the chestnut has long played an active part in the lives of residents with the local housewives often collecting the fallen chestnuts to utilize in traditional recipes.
Thought to have been planted using seeds brought over from Italy by parish priests, the 28-metre tall tree has also proved a popular attraction thanks to the hollow inside its trunk.
Lagging behind on the leaderboard, but no less spectacular, other notable entrants number a cypress in Kórnik planted by Count Tytus Działyński in around 1845 as part of his campaign to create Central Europe’s largest collection of woody plants.
According to legend, for years women looking for love have headed to this tree to see visions of their ideal husband.
Equally notable is an oak in Lublin, planted in 1946 by Lucjan Ważny after he returned from the war and now recognized as one of the city’s finest environmental treasures. On the topic of war, another oak – this one in Śladów – is credited with saving an entire village from destruction after stemming the progress of a fire caused by a Nazi bomb.
Now home to tawny owls, squirrels, woodpeckers, starlings and sparrows, traces of the fire can still be discerned on parts of the trunk.
Intriguing as this story is, it is a wild cherry tree in Cieńków that arguably has the most alluring story of them all. Nicknamed “the magic tree”, those that kiss or embrace under the branches of this century-old tree will forever be lucky in love.