What living things provide housing for the birds, food for the hungry and shade for the overheated? The answer is trees, of course, but they’re not all pines and pin oaks. Once you’ve seen these five peculiar anomalies, you’ll realize that there’s more to trees than what you’ll find in the park.

Maidenhair Tree (Gingko biloba)

Gingko Biloba

This amazing tree, one of the oldest in the world, dates back to the days of the dinosaur. Scientists believe that the hoariest specimens of this remarkably long-lived variety are more than 2,500 years old. The maidenhair tree is native to China, and the delicate appearance of its leaves belies their medicinal properties. Many researchers believe that ginkgo extract benefits dementia sufferers and Alzheimer’s patients while enhancing concentration and memory in everyone else. Others appreciate the ability of gingko extract to improve circulation, cure headaches and alleviate sexual dysfunction. For a prehistoric plant, that’s not too shabby.

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Boojum Tree (Idria columnaria)

Boojum Tree

If you thought the ginkgo was unusual, you haven’t seen this one yet. With its long, skinny trunk and spindly branches, the boojum tree bears an uncanny resemblance to a hairy pole or pitchfork. A native ofCalifornia‘s Baja peninsula, this unusual anomaly can grow to more than 50 feet tall, but it gets there at a snail’s pace. Any specimen alive today that has reached that lofty height probably started its life in the early 16th century. Although the boojum provides no known medicinal benefit, its roots do contain 23 varieties of fungus that aid it in absorbing nutrients from the desert soil.

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Kapok Tree (Ceiba pendantra)


Kapok Tree

Nearly everyone has heard of kapok. It provides insulation to mattresses and life jackets around the world, but few people can identify its source. This silky, cotton-like fiber comes from the fruit of the kapok tree, and its production is only one of the plant’s many talents. The kapok tree’s leaves, bark and resin all boast specific medicinal properties that many find useful in treating such diverse ailments as fever, asthma and dysentery. For those wanting a cure in a hurry, this tree provides its healing substances at warp speed, growing at a rate of 13 feet per year until it tops out at over 20 stories tall.

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Pencil Tree (Euphorbia tirucalli)

Euphorbia tirucalli L.

What you don’t know about this one could kill you. Unless you’re a rhinoceros, the milky, rubbery fluid that flows inside the pencil tree’s succulent branches could blister and blind you or, if you drink it, hasten your early demise. What’s poison to some, however, is beneficial to others. Many folks in tropical regions will deliberately plant a row of pencil trees to create a living fence, knowing that most animals will be too smart to go near it. Others use the deadly juice for killing termites and ants. The pencil tree does make an unusual addition to the landscape, but anyone who plants it must take care to keep his hands away from the sap.

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Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari)

Dragon's Blood Tree

The dragon’s blood tree, a native of the Indian Ocean‘s Socotra archipelago, bears an uncanny resemblance to an evergreen umbrella. However, this tree’s main claim to fame is the dark red resin that flows through its veins. Natives prize this substance for its ability to add some color to anything from cloth to varnish, and they find its medicinal properties useful for healing wounds, bringing down fevers and curing diarrhea. Unfortunately, due to overly enthusiastic harvesting and the gradual shrinkage of its native habitat, the dragon tree could soon become as scarce as the creature from which it takes its name.

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Written By: Donald Alvord at Bonsai Tree Gardener


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