Árbol del TuleSanta María del Tule is a small town and church 10km (6 miles) east of Oaxaca on highway 190 toward Tehuantepec which would probably have a very minor role in history and guidebooks were it not the home of the immense Árbol del Tule tree, an ahuehuete or sabino (Taxodium mucronatum), a Moctezuma cypress akin to the bald cypress, that stands in a 17th century churchyard just off the main road.

Árbol del TuleThis immense tree, the largest-girthed in the world — 35.8 meters or 117.6 feet at 5 feet above the ground — is however not not the tallest or most massive according to the Guinness Book of Records. It is now over 42 meters (138 feet) high and weighs over 636 tons. It is officially reckoned about 2000 years old, but estimates of its age range from 1400 years to as high as 6000 years, but based on observations of the species' typical growth rate — the diameter of the trunk in centimeters is about half the age of a tree in years — one botanist concluded that the tree is between 1400 and 1600 years old. On the other side of the church, is its little child, big enough to be considered a giant in its own right anywhere else in the world except here.

Known among the Aztecs as an ahuehuete, or graybeard of the swamp, Árbol del Tule, or tree of the reed, was surrounded by a humid cattail-filled wetland at the fall of the Aztec empire. Today the swamp has given way to village, and nearby Oaxaca's 500,000 residents have drained the tree's water table to its lowest level ever. Now a private foundation waters and takes care of it, with the admission fee helping support this effort. It is now protected by a wrought-iron railing to lessen foot traffic and vandalism, and the lawn around it is irrigated. However, a fringe of dried, skeletal branches rattle against the trunk, and El Tule may be going the way of other giant Mexican cypresses like El Sargento, a treasure of Mexico City's Chapultepec Park which succumbed to smog and a taxed water table in the 1970s.


Santa María del Tule


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