Some of the world’s oldest trees are tucked away on untouched mountainsides, isolated lands, and private islands. And for 14 years, photographer Beth Moon traversed these farflung places to capture photographs of ancient trees before they died or got cut down.
Each trip took careful planning, according to Moon. Some trees’ foliage looked best during the rainy seasons while others looked best in the winter. Places like the Yemeni island of Socotra had strong monsoon winds for months, giving her just a narrow window of time to shoot the dragon blood tree that lives there. And that’s not to mention the work involved in figuring out the right hour and ideal light conditions to do a tree’s portrait justice.
Choosing trees for their unique size, age, folklore, or simply their mysterious beauty, Moon captured and compiled images of trees from across Asia, North America, Africa, and Europe into a book, Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time. She also tried to capture the natural and cultural history of the ancient trees, whose age can range from a few hundred to a few thousand years old. (“Ancient” trees are not only extremely old for their species but, according to the U.K. conservation charity National Trust, “have amazing character and beauty and [are] incredibly rich in wildlife.”)
Here are some of the awe-inspiring trees Moon features.
Yews of Wakehurst, taken in Ardingly, West Sussex, England in 1999: The tentacle-like roots ride over the cliff’s edge to find soil to sink into, and the drooping branches filter out daylight, according to Moon, giving the woods an eerie ambience.
Rilke’s Bayon, taken in Ta Prohm, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia in 2007: Of the species Tetrameles nudiflora, the tree can reach a height of 150 feet.
The Bowthrope Oak, taken in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England in 2002: With a circumference of 40 feet, this is one of the largest-girthed living oaks in Britain and one of the oldest living oak trees, at about 1,200 years old.
Avenue of the Baobabs, taken in Morondava, Madagascar in 2006: The trees rise to nearly 100 feet, and these ones are about 800 years old. They’re also a great source of food, fiber, dye, rope, and fuel and appropriately known as renala, meaning “mother of the forest” in Malagasy.
The Sentinels of St. Edwards, taken in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, England in 2005: Two yews frame the door of a church, which is said to be the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkein’s Doors of Moria in The Lord of the Rings.
The Baobabs of Kubu Island 3, taken in Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana in 2013: Able to grow with very little water, these trees give the surrounding space an eerie and surreal feel, according to Moon, who describes the baobabs as more like creatures than trees.