The Enigmatic Mobile Trees of Ecuador: Journeying up to 20 Meters Annually

It’s possible that the only tree on this planet that can move around is a type of palm tree.

The Socratea Exorrhiza, a type of tree found in a remote region of Ecuador, has the ability to move like the Ents from The Lord of the Rings. While they may not be capable of battling the forces of Isengard, these giant trees share some similarities with their fictional counterparts, apart from their size. Their intricate root system is believed to act as legs, allowing them to constantly move towards sunlight as the seasons change.

It is said that these walking trees can move up to 2-3 cm each day or around 20 meters per year. Although it may not seem like a lot, this is actually quite impressive for a tree.

The fascinating walking trees of Ecuador have been a popular topic among rainforest guides for a long time. According to the most commonly told story, the tree moves slowly in search of sunlight by growing new roots while its old ones die off. In 1980, John H. Bodley suggested that the tree’s stilted roots are what allows it to “walk” away from its point of germination. Whether this is true or not, the tree’s unique roots, which split from the trunk a few feet above the ground, definitely contribute to the illusion of it having legs. Visitors are often reminded of the creations of Tolkien when they encounter these mysterious trees.

Peter Vrsansky, a paleobiologist from the Slovak Academy of Sciences, has observed that as the soil erodes, trees adapt by growing long roots that find new, more solid ground, sometimes up to 20 meters away. This process allows the tree to relocate to a new location with better sunlight and more stable soil. As the roots settle in the new soil, the old roots slowly lift into the air, a process that can take a couple of years. Vrsansky made this observation during his work at the Upesco Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, which is about a day’s journey from Ecuador’s capital, Quito.

According to some scientists, the ability for a tree to “walk” is attributed to its stilted roots. However, there are others who disagree with this theory. Biologist Gerardo Avalos, director of the Center for Sustainable Development Studies in Atenas, Costa Rica, published a paper in 2005 stating that although Socratea Exorrhiza trees occasionally produce new roots, they remain firmly planted in one place. The fact that they sprout new roots does not necessarily mean that they use them for movement.

Aválos, in an interview with Live Science, disproves the myth of the walking palm and claims that the idea of a palm tree tracking canopy light changes by slowly moving over the forest floor is a myth perpetuated by tourist guides. The confusion surrounding this phenomenon ultimately comes down to the unique stilted root system of these trees in Ecuador, which starts near the bottom of their trunks and makes them appear more like upright, walking brooms than true trees. As the soil erodes around them, some of these atypical roots die off, leaving room for new roots to form.

The Socratea Exorrhiza tree has a unique root system that gives it the appearance of a walking broom. This distinct appearance has led tour guides to tell stories of the trees actually walking to add excitement to their lectures. However, there is no evidence of these trees actually walking as no time-lapse videos of them have been found. While no trees can actually walk, there are other plant species, such as the creeping Devil cactus, that can move from one place to another.

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