Have you ever read a novel and wished that something fictional from it existed in the real world? Well, if you’re a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and were fascinated by the Ents, you may be in luck, as Ecuador has recently discovered that a certain type of tree seems to be “walking” as much as 65 feet a year!
Now, these walking trees in Ecuador aren’t as sophisticated as Tolkien’s Ents, so don’t get nervous about them starting any wars, but there is definitely something to look at here. I’m a Florida native, so I got excited when I heard that these traveling trees were a type of palm tree. However, it’s only a very particular type of tree prevalent in the country that seems to have grown feet. The Socratea exorrhiza is the species of palm tree that is moving around and it’s for a very good reason.
It turns out these walking trees are basically trying to find better ground. When its roots don’t like the soil that they’re in, they grow new roots, and they move over to new soil that is more suitable for its growth. It seems like these trees can be picky, too, as they are moving not inches or centimeters per year, but feet!
The way these trees walk isn’t as simple as you might think. There are actually a few different theories as to how these walking trees move. There is Karl Gruber’s theory that we already mentioned, which is that the tree tries out different areas of the forest until it finds a suitable spot. However, another scientist, Gerardo Avalos, explained that simply because the tree is growing new roots doesn’t mean it’s actually moving. Avalos is confident the tree stays in one spot. In fact, he calls the whole idea of actual walking trees a myth that only benefits tour guides who now have an interesting “fact” to blab to tourists about. It seems the tree’s complex root system is what is causing all of this debate.
This particular species of palm tree has a different system of roots than most trees. Most trees’ roots are contained solely under the soil, not easily observed by the human eye. These walking trees, however, have a root system that begins near the bottom of its trunk, so we can observe it easier. Since we can see the root system better, we notice when the roots die. So, when new roots sprout up in a different location, it looks like the tree is walking.
Unfortunately, it seems that walking trees are just objects of fiction. There are no videos showing these trees putting on some sandals and strolling around and no scientific evidence points toward it. In the meantime, grab a Venus flytrap and we’ll call it even.