In western Poland, the strange shape of a grove of 100 pine trees have left locals and environmentalists guessing.
At first glance, the trees appear as bark-covered question marks turned on their heads. The grove of roughly 100 trees, the tallest reaching around 50ft, is a surreal sight: their trunks jolt sharply after leaving the ground, bending out in a dramatic arc before straightening up again. The strange shape of the grove of pine trees on the northwestern edge of Poland has earned it the title "The Crooked Forest." Their bulges all point toward the same direction – north. And no one is quite sure why.
The forest lies not far from the Polish town of Gryfino, close to the German border. It is an area that, at the time the trees are believed to have been planted, in the early 1930s, still belonged to the German province of Pomerania.
Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain the Crooked Forest. Some say that in their infancy, the trees were buried under a severe snowstorm which altered their normal growth. Others have said that the trees are affected by a local gravitational pull.
The most popular explanation is that their growth was deliberately manipulated by local farmers trying to create naturally curved wood for shipbuilding or furniture making. That the trees return to their normal shape could be explained by this process being interrupted by World War II.
Tree shaping is a common practice that can be achieved through a variety of techniques and there are examples of it through history and across the world. Living root bridges can be found in the Meghalaya region in northeastern India: the bridges are handmade by guiding the aerial roots of rubber fig trees across streams and rivers, tending to them until they are strong enough to carry the weight of a person. In America, Native Indians in the past have intentionally shaped hardwood trees to help them navigate the forests.
Tree shaping can also be used to create pieces of art. In California, visitors to the Tree Circus, which showcases the work of Swedish American farmer Axel Erlandson, can see intricate and creative examples of the practice; trees that are woven together into a lattice formation; trees trunks that suddenly splinter into geometric shapes or loop around each other elegantly like ribbons.
In the Crooked Forest, the strange trunks of the trees seem to bend to a wind that spectators cannot feel. While there is no consensus over its origins or purpose, what is clear is that what has been left behind is, for visitors, a beautiful and intriguing sight.
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