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Tolkien’s favourite tree to be cut down
The pinus nigra in its prime. Photo by Jim Linwood.
The pinus nigra in its prime.
Photo by Jim Linwood.

The Oxford Botanic Garden has announced that its large black pine (pinus nigra), one of Tolkien’s favourite trees, will be cut down for safety reasons.

Two large limbs fell from the tree last weekend, and Oxford City Council and Oxford University have been forced to make the very difficult decision that the tree will need to be cut down to avoid endangering the safety of its visitors and staff, and nearby structures.

Acting director of the Garden, Dr Alison Foster, has announced their intention to celebrate the tree and its connection with Tolkien.

The black pine was a highlight of many people’s visits to the Botanic Garden and we are very sad to lose such an iconic tree. We intend to propagate from this magnificent tree so that future generations will not miss out on this important link to Tolkien. We are considering using the wood from the black pine for an educational project along the lines of the One Oak project and hope to hold a celebratory event to commemorate the tree and its many associations in due course.

The Oxford Botanic Garden has been in contact with the Tolkien Society about what form the commemoration and educational project could take.

Dr Stuart Lee, editor of the A Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien and a lecturer at the University, commented on the significance of trees for Tolkien:

Tolkien hated the wanton destruction of trees for no reason but it sounds to me like this is for all the right reasons so whilst this is sad news, it is inevitable.

It is often said that the black pine inspired the ‘ents’ in Lord of the Rings, and it may be he liked the tree and saw something it in that inspired Treebeard, but in fact the ‘ents’ have many sources and ‘ent’ means giant in Old English, and Tolkien’s love of trees goes all the way back to his childhood.

Read the press release in full, where you can also see a picture of the tree in its current state with the two fallen large limbs.

Tolkien Society Chairman, Shaun Gunner, tweeted that he’s “sad to see the tree come down but I support the decision. Now for a fitting tribute!” He emphasised that “Tolkien would have been sad to see the tree come down. But he would appreciate treating it with dignity.”

UPDATE June 2021: Prince Charles has planted a tree grown from a seed of the pinus nigra at the Oxford Botanic Garden.

About the Author: Daniel Helen
Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society's digital operations, including this website.