Plant science in...

Plant science in enchanted forests

For millennia, woodlands and forests have featured heavily in mythology and folklore. Their dense, dark formation, with dappled sunlight and misty mystique have provided the backdrop for stories, from Shakespeare to the Brothers Grimm. Whether they offer sanctuary, danger or adventure, once the protagonist steps foot within a forest, you know you’re in for a wild ride. From breathing forest floors to bizarrely shaped trees, in today’s post, we’ll explore some real-life, fantasy forests that feel like the stuff of legends.

Crooked trees

In forests associated with dark magic, gruesome, winding trees are often found to grow, but do these strangely shaped trees exist in real-life? In West Pomerania, Poland, a grove of crooked trees can be found. Appropriately named The Crooked Forest (or ‘Krzywy Las‘ in Polish), the grove consists of 400 pine trees, that were planted in the 1930s. The trees all have an unusual J-shape, where their trunk immediately bends at 90 degrees and runs along the ground, before curving back on themselves. Scientists estimate that the trees were around 10 years old when they were bent into this unusual shape, but what sort of force of process could have caused this?

In my Plant Science in Space post, I discuss gravitropism; a process by which plants grow upwards in response to gravity. This process could be an important factor in producing trees of this shape. If something flattened the trees enough to cause them to grow along the ground, perhaps they then grew upright following this. Suggestions for forces that could have flattened the juvenile trees include heavy snowfall, tank invasions during World War II and, most likely, a man-made object placed on the tree to force it into this position. The resulting shape of the trunk could then be used for ship building. Unfortunately, because the local town was reestablished in the 1970s following the war, no one can be certain of the forests history. Alternative theories include aliens and witchcraft, but I’ll leave it to you to research those!

Breathing earth

Giant, mythical creatures are often associated with enchanted forests. Trolls, ogres and huge spiders to name a few. Watching the video above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that some or all of these might be real. In the video, the forest floor can be seen rising and falling, as if a giant creature slumbers beneath. This video, and others like it, are seen circulating Twitter every now and again, and people love to speculate as to which mythical creature could possible be real from it. I’ve seen references to Morla, the turtle from The Neverending Story, Diglett from Pokémon, and Godzilla. The clue to the real cause of this phenomenon is actually in the sounds featured in the video.

The harsh, deep tones you can hear whipping the microphone give you an idea of how strong the winds must be in that forest. It is this same wind that is causing the breathing motion of the forest floor. Trees create incredibly complex root systems that anchor them into the soil. This network of roots keeps them firmly planted during extreme winds. However, if their connections with the soil around them is disturbed, they are free to move beneath the surface. The winds in this video are not strong enough to uproot the trees, but they are close. What you can see is the winds pulling at the tops of the trees, causing the roots beneath the soil to heave and pull the floor up and down.

Real enchantment

Enchanted forests are often seen as dark and dangerous, but there are many stories where the protagonist finds refuge with the metropolis of trees. There is something beautiful and awe-inspiring about a seemingly endless horizon of canopy, and it’s easy to see why many find comfort in forests. Where some see the threat of vastness and the unknown, others see escape and comfort. This comfort and awe goes beyond fairy tales and mythology, and is embedded deep within the human psyche.

Studies have shown that being in the presence of forests can have many health benefits. One study compared the effects of viewing urban and forested landscapes, and found that groups exposed to forested landscapes had lower blood pressure, lower heart rates and better, more vigorous moods [1]. In fact, green has historically been seen, across cultures, as the colour of life, harmony, peace and relaxation [2]. Light coming down to the forest floor is tinted green by the tree canopy, producing a calming environment. The cause of our perception of green being natural or nurtured is hotly debated in psychology, but it only takes me a minute to enter the leafy green light of a forest to feel the calming effects within myself.

Like so much in folklore and mythology, stories of protagonists entering the big, bad woods are based on real human experience. That’s why they remain so visceral after all these years. Enchanted forests have amazed and inspired us for generations, but they don’t only exist in our books and on our TVs. There’s a little magic in your local forests and woodlands too.

Image credits

Enchanted forest: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Crooked forest: Rzuwig / CC BY-SA

Woman in forest: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay


[1] Physiological and psychological effects of viewing urban forest landscapes assessed by multiple measures.

[2] Colour psychology and colour therapy: Caveat emptor


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