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What is a Wishing Tree?

For hundreds of years, all around the world, people have offered up their wishes to Mother Nature in the form of a wishing tree. They are beautiful, diverse & fascinating-- come have a look for yourself as we take a little break from biology to explore the social science of trees in this week's #treesciencetuesday.

Coins hammered into the side of a fallen tree symbolize people's wishes

Arguably the most shockingly beautiful style of the wishing tree is made by hammering coins into the bark of a tree. Popular in the UK and quite abundant in Scotland, they are usually a fallen oak, ash, or sycamore, rather than a living tree. These trees have thought to bring good health to the wishers. According to beliefs that date back to the beginning of the 18th century, wedging a coin in its bark would allow the tree to assume the illness of the wisher. And likewise, if someone were to remove a coin, they would become ill.

In Hindu mythology, the banyan tree is called kalpavriksha, which means "wish-fulfilling tree". Often called the tree of life, it is said to represent eternal life because of its ever expanding branches.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, there is a tree called the Walleechu that gained noteable fame from Charles Darwin's visit in 1832. Local inhabitants would bring offerings to the wishing tree and hang them from the many threads dangling from its branches. Anything from spirits and cigars to sacrificial cow bones were brought to the tree.

Thai folklore suggests that hanging long lengths of colored silk from trees, logs, beams and the keels of wooden boats will bring good luck by honoring the spirits that inhabit the Ta-khain tree. In recent times, this seems to be used primarily to get a leg up on the competition when playing the lottery.

In modern tradition, we still see a variety of wishing trees.

Japan holds an annual summer festival called Tanabata. It is a celebration of the stars, as they

transverse the globe and share their love for eachother. Celebrants focus their emotions on love and good thoughts for the future. Long, narrow strips of colorful paper known as tanzaku are hung in bamboo trees in hopes to grow their dreams straight to the heavens.

Modern takes on ancient tradition can be found in the US. Most notably, Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood is home to our very own wishing tree. Seattle Times writes, "Jane Hamel, owner of the house where the tree is located, started it when she set paper and markers out in November 2014. Now there are thousands of wishes hanging." It lives at the corner of 21st Ave E and Galer St. Stop by and leave your wish among the leaves!

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