A Field Guide to 15 Trees Native to the Literary Landscape

Posted on April 26, 2024

by Eric P

Usually, to explore and investigate the diverse varieties of trees native to the local environment, you would have to go to a fair amount of trouble: standing up, putting on shoes, going outside. It’s a whole thing.

But as usual, the library has your back. Instead of doing that, you can celebrate Arbor Day by surveying a mind-boggling array of some of the most prominent tree species in literature via book pages and e-reader screens. You don’t have to put on a jacket or change out of your pajamas. And you definitely won’t have to deal with gross stuff like dirt and mud and leaves and worms and sunlight and fresh air. Plus, some of these trees have faces and voices and grudges and neuroses. Try finding stuff like that in your National Geographic field guide!

Birnam Wood in Macbeth 

Iambis ambulatorius 

eBook   |   eAudio   |   hoopla   |   hoopla audio   |   Book on CD   |   Playaway

Slow-growing with broad elliptic leaves and pale gray bark, these trees are valued for their practical uses in shipbuilding and undermining prophecies. The specimen’s virtues (shade, longevity) are counterbalanced by its tendency to just pick up and walk, like, around. Designated an invasive species by naturalists in Dunsinane.

The horse-chestnut tree in Jane Eyre 

Rochesterus badsign 

eBook   |   eAudio   |   hoopla   |   hoopla audio   |   Spanish

Large tree with a domed crown of stout branches. Its silhouette and white flowers make it a popular romantic backdrop for marriage proposals, while its propensity to attract devastating lightning bolts make it a popular harbinger of marriage disasters.

The fighting trees in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Resentmentico projectilia 

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Deciduous fruit-bearers with glowering bark and bad attitudes, identified by their simple leaves and killer aim. Take care not to overwater or tick them off.

“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

Famous rhymedcoupletus 

eBook   |   hoopla

A perennial favorite, hardy and adaptable, this one’s a common sight firmly planted in English classrooms and poetry anthologies nationwide. Its bark is characterized by rigidly striated meter and it secretes a relentless rhyme pattern that can, for some, be an irritant.

The dead tree in The Waste Land

Desolato modernisticus 

hoopla   |   hoopla audio   |   Book on CD

A gnarled and broken specimen known for its extreme deadness and seasonally blooming portents of gloom. During the cruelest month its stanzas may ooze allusions of varying opacity. Cultivated for its complete and utter lack of shade, shelter, comfort, or whimsy. Sprouts readily in bleakness and academic theses.

The Bodhi tree in Siddhartha

Ficus epiphanus 

eBook   |   eAudio   |   hoopla   |   hoopla audio   |   German

A fruit-bearing tree with smooth white bark and deep-rooted spirituality. Passersby are to be wary of falling figs and accidental enlightenment.

The tree of heaven in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Indomitabilia metaphoricus 

eBook   |   eAudio   |   hoopla   |   hoopla audio   |   Book on CD   |   Large Print 

A hardy, leafy specimen that thrives in concrete and in the absence of light, water, or nutrients. Derives all the sustenance it needs from readily available natural resources of Brooklyn (asphalt, rubbish, hipster beard clippings).  No green thumb required here: a would-be cultivator needs only access to a fire escape and a high tolerance for literary symbolism.

The tree in Waiting for Godot

Vaudevillus anticlimactica 

eAudio   |   hoopla   |   hoopla audio

Spindly and usually found in isolation, this tree’s thorny limbs are notably too fragile to dangle a person from, but plenty sturdy enough to support any number of literary interpretations. It’s deciduous, but be patient; the typical horticulturist will have to wait at least two acts for it to bloom. Probably longer.

Treebeard in The Two Towers

Hrummus hroomus 

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About 14 feet tall with a stout trunk, twiggy beard and deep resonant voice, this venerable specimen is popular among arborists who speak Elvish or complain about the differences between books and their movie adaptations. It thrives most readily in the rich and fictional soil of Middle Earth’s Gap of Rohan. When well-cared for, the tree is known for its uncommonly long lifespan – even longer, typically, than six director’s cuts laid end-to-end.

The hemlock tree in My Side of the Mountain

Sanctuarius hidingplace 

eBook   |   eAudio

Massive with pendulous branches and a vast hollow at its heart, this shade-tolerant evergreen is also a spacious one-bedroom studio, combining old world charm with old-growth dampness, plus a lush forest view. A cozy nook perfect for entertaining neighboring birds of prey. Call agent to arrange a showing.

The Giving Tree

Benevolus doormatica 

eBook   |   hoopla

A domesticated fruit-bearing tree with simple leaves and a chronic lack of boundaries. Deciduous, pomaceous, self-sacrificing, will thrive in nutrient-rich soil nearly indefinitely or until some dude decides he needs to build a boat or something.

The chestnut tree in One Hundred Years of Solitude 

Gabrielgarcia symbolica

eAudio   |   Spanish eBook   |   Book on CD 

Characterized by its voluminous production of nuts and of metaphorical implications about life and death, this fast-growing member of the beech family can typically be identified by careful inspection of its burred fruit, broad leaves, and that old guy speaking Latin who’s tied permanently to its trunk.

The crabapple tree in Bridge to Terabithia 

Portal imaginarica

eBook   |   eAudio   |   hoopla   |   hoopla audio   |   Book on CD   |   Braille

Usually found in rural Virginia’s dry gullies, this tree is popular especially for the way swinging from its branches creates a pretend entrance to a pretend kingdom in a magical universe. Not the most convenient means of transit, and it’s gotta be hard on the bark, but it’s useful if you don’t have a looking-glass or a wardrobe handy.

The Wishtree

Protagonistus binarium

eBook   |   eAudio   |   Book on CD

Shares many characteristics with the red oak – spirally arranged leaves, long lifespan, both male and female flowers on the same specimen – but it’s distinguished by its ability to receive and grant wishes, not to mention its capacity to narrate a first-person literary novel: an exceedingly rare trait in slow-growing hardwoods. Thrives in diverse biomes; languishes in environments of bigoted vandalism.

The trees in The Overstory

Fancyprize environmentalica

eBook   |   eAudio

A diverse population of tree communities, capable of blossoming multiple storylines and linked by cross-species storytelling, literary good intentions, and their distinctive Pulitzer Prize.

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