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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: The Oxford Times has posted video of the moment the tree collapsed, along with a timelapse video of the tree’s felling.

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.

  • AL Keel

    So very, very sad. Namárië dear old friend.

  • Thomaz Brasil

    it is a shame really, I know there are safety issues but it is sad.
    as a professional woodturner who believes the tree itself lives longer through objects made from it, I would love to have some of its timber to turn and make a small celebrative platter or bowl.

  • Neil Anderson

    What a fantastic photo that is of the tree up above. If you follow the link in the above article, the Botanic Gardens has a pic of thetree in its current state, which is very much worse.

    • Thanks, Neil. I’ve added a note to the picture, and a comment at the bottom of the post that the tree in its current state can be seen on the Garden’s website.

  • Few years ago we collected its conifer cones in the Botanical Garden, Oxford. And in Poland we had planted their seeds. Now we have 7 little offspring of Tolkien’s Pine Tree in few parts of my country. One of them, named “Arcastar” is under my care 1,5 kms from my house.

    Some pictures can be found here:

    What Arcastar is like today you can see on the picture below.

    • yewtree

      Great news Ryszard.

      I have some photos of the tree. It is sad to lose it.

  • evrenkagan_istanbul

    How could it be because of safety issue? How can a tree make safety issue? Is it killing or being cause of killing people or hurting people? Is there only cut down solution to solve the problem that is’nt announced what it is?!! is really a Tolkien fan site! You just confirm the inevitability of this murder!! I protest everyone who support or keep quite in front of this open murder!

    • AL Keel

      Well said. My chin hit the floor when I read this. It’s a national disgrace. No,a WORLD disgrace. I’d suggest Peter Jackson plough some of his multi millions into puchasing the Garden and turning it into the Tolkien Arboretum. This is nothing short of sacrilege. I’ve a mind to chain myself to it before the vandalising orcs and their chainsaws turn up.

    • Sally Kennett

      It’s in a public garden, and if it fell or dropped one of its large branches onto a visitor it could very easily injure or kill them. No one at the Botanical Garden is going to be taking the decision to remove the tree lightly, or without considering other options.

      • evrenkagan_istanbul

        There should always be a way to let the tree live. As Akif Malatyali says: Can’t the visiting area be arranged so that people are cleared from the trees debris radius? We have to let it live, visitors don’t have to touch it, it can’t be a reason to remove it at all.

        • Sally Kennett

          No, the kind of tree it is, and the space it is planted in simply doesn’t make that possible. It wouldn’t be dropping branches if it wasn’t already in a bad way – this isn’t a case of killing a healthy tree, but putting a dying one out of its misery.

          • evrenkagan_istanbul

            Cutting it down is not a solution to let him ok.It is just getting rid of it.If someone is not okay and in misery i’ll help him until my all capabilities’ done. In order to let live is the only way for all living things until it is done.

          • M.Akif Malatyalı

            It is a shame on the part of a ‘Botanic Garden’ to have the black pine dropping branches and rotting inside. Sure the trees have a certain lifespan regardless of the care taken, but how can such a famous and visited tree not be properly cabled and braced? Botanic Garden plays the role of the crocodile with streaming tears but they sure have a lot of responsibility on this matter. And how dare they so easily and so surely claim the only solution is to cut it all down? Are we living in he stone age? Is this a third world country with limited means? Shall we murder old people who have had to amputate a leg because of diabetes? And why are you so pro cutting down the tree and not making sure all other more humane scenarios are exhausted before that bitter end?

          • Sally Kennett

            If there had been any indication that the tree was likely to be dropping branches before it actually happened, I can guarantee you that steps would have been taken – in the current legal climate, a public body like the Botanic Gardens would never knowingly have taken any risk with a member of the public being injured. If you watch the video, it took just 5 minutes between the first signs of danger and the branch falling.

            I’m really not sure why you think you know better than local tree experts, who have both experience and knowledge of the actual condition of the tree and the surrounding area. But in the end, the decision has to be made based on the facts and the need to protect members of the public from injury or death.

            It’s a great shame that the tree has come to the end of its life, and I will grieve its passing. But would you really like to be the person who was responsible for trying to keep the tree going, and in the process a child was killed or badly injured? That’s the choice the owners were faced with, and I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to make it.

          • M.Akif Malatyalı

            The step to take after the beaches have fallen is to fence the area off and bring in professional arbonists to properly cable and brace the remaining branches so that the tree is secure to live on without endangering the visitors. It is a big garden and a fenced of Tolkien’s Tree is a price the fans of the Professor is willing to pay. How can you justify the atrocious decision to CUT DOWN such an important legacy of ‘The Author of the Century’ without even attempting to take these necessary and easy precautions?

          • Sally Kennett

            Two things:

            One, you obviously don’t know the area – as several people who know the gardens well have already pointed out, it is simply not possible to fence off a large enough space around the tree to protect the public. The gardens as a whole are not small, but they are divided into several smaller spaces, and one of the paths runs more or less under the tree.

            Two, the Botanic Gardens don’t just exist for Tolkien fans. The fact that the people who run them have been kind enough to acknowledge our connection with this particular tree doesn’t alter the fact that it is only one part of their whole responsibilities. Other visitors shouldn’t be deprived of the chance to see the whole garden.

            I have no problem at all with justifying the decision – the local experts have made the choice based on their experience and knowledge of the situation, and their responsibilities to the public and the gardens as a whole. I’ve not seen anyone commenting on the issue who is in a better position than they are to know what the best course of action to take is.

          • M.Akif Malatyalı

            The Botanic Gardens exist to protect those trees. Not to condemn a 215 year old tree to slaughter at the first sign of illness. If they had properly inspected and cared for the aging tree maybe the two branches would have been braced and cabled months ago preventing all this hassle to begin with.

            Let us cut down trees with falling branches to the ground without bothering to take measure to mend the situation. Let us euthanise old people if they break a leg or two and start to be too much of a burden on their relative claiming to put them out of their misery. Better yet let’s kill of the retarded people all together to insure following generations turn out without those genetic defects.

            Although my examples may seem exaggerated they are all reflections on the arrogance of men and their desire to shape the world according to his selfish desires. The gardens could easily spend the money, time and intellect at their disposal if they saw a 215 year old tree with a particular connection to millions of fans worldwide as a life worth saving. But they arrogantly ‘choose’ to not take any measures to let it live, but so easily jump to the decision to cut it down and people feel relieved thinking the decision was made by ‘experts’ or seeds are collected from the tree to be planted elsewhere.

            Wait 215 more years and we will see another garden deciding to cut down the offspring of ‘Tolkien’s Tree’ with just as ridiculous reasons as these and people will try to justify the actions of these butchers taking comfort in authority or petty condolences.

            Tolkien’s words…
            “Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate.”
            “In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies.”

            If you are so comfortable justifying the actions of those who are curiously soo anxious to finish this matter go ahead and justify all you want. I choose to be the advocate of the trees against all it’s enemies.

            And frankly I’m ashamed to have to fight against the slaughter of Tolkien’s favourite tree on a webpage dedicated to the Professor himself where only a few have risen their voice to defend the Professor’s legacy. What a disgrace this is…

          • Sally Kennett

            I really, really think you are missing the point of the Professor’s defence of healthy, thriving trees against people who would cut them down merely because they were in the way, when you choose to confuse it with this decision about a tree that has lived a long, productive life and is now dying, because it’s time for it to go.

            Death was the Gift of Eru to Men (and other mortal things) after all. If you want to continue to compare it with the death of human beings, you might want to remember a useful commandment.
            “Thou shalt not kill, nor shouldst thou strive officiously to keep alive.”

            In the end, I think that calling the choice to act in full knowledge of the facts to protect the gardens and the public a “ridiculous” one shows that you really don’t understand the situation.

          • M.Akif Malatyalı

            Now who is the tree expert here? You didn’t need to take the word of the local ‘experts’ when you with your expertise have condemned the tree to death even tough the press release from the Botanic Gardens themselves don’t attribute any illness or death to Tolkien’s Tree.

            Let us not stray away from the real point I have been making the last few comments which have not been responded to.

            I do not claim the condition of the tree is top notch.

            I do not claim it does not have safety risks.

            I do not claim the gardens should drop all responsibility to the rest of public and just work all year to please Tolkien fans.

            I do not claim we should sacrifice world peace if it means we have a chance to see this tree for a few months more.

            But I do claim this is a rash, improperly explained and justified, drastic measure without any attempt by the Botanic Garden or the City Council to exhaust possible scenarios to make it work for the Tree to be preserved in the Garden.

            I also claim that the silence of the Tolkien Society and and as a former chairman of Tolkien Society your attempts to justify the Garden’s decision to straight away cut Tolkien’s Tree down and to belittle the attempts of those who speak against this insanity is a disgrace.

            Not much need to further this discussion. I have clearly seen there is no tolerance here against any attempt to fight against the unnecessary slaughter of Professor Tolkien’s favourite tree.

            I will look into Mordor for some Orcs who may possibly have more sympathy against the trees of Isengard than I have experienced here.

            Again, such a shame…

          • Sally Kennett

            The fact is that you don’t know that – you’ve just decided that the tree could be saved, even though the experts on the spot, who have the full facts, have made it clear that it couldn’t be. You claim that they haven’t considered any other possibilities, but you have absolutely no way of knowing that, you just assumed it.

            I think it’s pretty disgraceful to jump to the worst possible conclusion like that, in advance or absence of the facts.

            In the end, we’re never going to agree on this, and nothing we say here is really going to make any difference – but as myself, nothing to do with the TS, I find it hard to let such uninformed statements stand, without pointing out the facts of the situation.

      • M.Akif Malatyalı

        This is no different than the Danish zoo that killed off one of it’s healthy giraffes to and 4 lions for as ridiculous reasons as branches falling on peoples heads. This I believe is exactly what Mr. Tolkien had warned us about. Humans claiming their reign on animal and plant alike. How dare you try to justify the murder of healthy rare animals and 215 year old tree that is put under your care for stupid reasons like they would have died anyway or what if the branch fell on people. How dare you? This is a prime example of how Saruman and Sauron sees the people, animals and especially the trees of Middle-Earth. Anything that doesn’t bend to our puny will is to be put down. Is that it? Why is every precaution not taken for safety of the surrounding area, every measure applied so that visitors are out off the harms way, every support humanly possible for the preservation and long life of what is one of the rare specimens of life connected to the author of the century? Is this not a project worthy of a National Geography documentary? Why are people so silent and accepting of this atrocity? How can we let a life so loved by our beloved Professor to be taken away and so openly cut down for such ridiculous reason?

        In the lost poem of Professor Tolkien that was recently discovered he himself says what needs to be said:

        “I look East, and West,
        And I look North and South,
        And I do not see a Sauron,
        But I see very many descendants of Saruman!”

        Saruman’s Orcs are at work here that much is evident and the free peoples of Middle-Earth are turning a blind eye to this slaughter.

        I’m ashamed…

  • M.Akif Malatyalı

    Can’t the visiting area be arranged so that people are cleared from the trees debris radius? How dare @OBGHA so easily claim that the only solution is to cut down the tree? And how come all those that claim to love Tolkien are so silent. This is a sad day for anyone who loves the professor.

    • AL Keel

      Totally agreed. Surely it can be fenced off.

      • Guardian of The Tree

        I totally agree with you and there is also different methods to save the Tree can easily be found .

    • Guest

      I fear such a set of large limbs lost would open the inside to rot by fungi that feed on dead wood. The tree would last a while no doubt, but its days would be numbered.
      That might be another reason they are considering this action, but I’m only guessing.

      • M.Akif Malatyalı

        In this day and age I’m sure there are various methods used by professional arborists to prevent those kind of problems. Even if that was the case don’t we owe it the Professor to use any means necessary and sweat it out with his favourite tree till the very end. How can the first response of a ‘Botanic Garden’ be just palin old cut down of a 215 year old tree. The arrogance of these people!

  • AL Keel

    I know you’d feel as angry, saddened and disappointed as I am Professor.

  • Emirhan Emre

    The problem is, it seems everyone accepted that to cut down is the only way. We see lots of preserved trees everywhere in the world in many different ways. Surrounding with the fences, strengthen the branches with some kind of supporting materials could be a solution

  • Kemal

    if you try to cut this tree, we will start to #OccupyOxfordBotanicGarden

  • I hate to see old trees die but it seems to me they could try saving part of it by creating a plug from one of the branches and growing that into a new tree.

  • Guest

    I have started a petition on All those who don’t want to see ‘Tolkien’s Tree’ cut down, please take moment to sign it here:

    • TroelsForchhammer

      I will encourage people to NOT sign this foolish petition!

      The decision is made by people who not only care at least as much for trees as did Tolkien, but who also have considerably greater knowledge of the specific tree and the specific situation than anyone else. This decision has not been made lightly, but by experts in full possession of all relevant facts and knowledge, and we should support their decision, sad though it is.

      We should rather be thankful that the Oxford Botanic Garden chooses to go out of its way to discuss the matter with the Tolkien Society.

  • Kat Squire

    Such a sad thing to have to happen but it looks as though the tree has become very dangerous. Does anyone know if they are planning to make anything with the wood from the tree? I would be very proud to own a set of coasters or similar made from the tree, with the proceeds going to The Tolkien Society.

  • yewtree

    They are saving the seeds from the tree.

    It’s a bit like when the White Tree of Gondor died, and then Aragorn found a seedling high up on the mountainside of Gondor.