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On a recent hike at the Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, Massachusetts, my husband came across this tree.

The trunk is twisted in a spiral/curly fashion. It was in a forest of many other trees, but this was the only one that looked like that.

What is the name of the tree? Is that just the way it grows, or an indication of something wrong with it?

curly tree at Audubon

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    Related: biology.stackexchange.com/questions/37481/… – Karen Aug 15 '17 at 18:07
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    @Karen: That answer on Biology SE is wrong. That tree is clearly a lodgepole pine, common in Yosemite. They grow with spiral grain. This is even alluded to by its scientific name, Pinus contorta. I'm surprised nobody on Biology SE knew such a basic fact. – Olin Lathrop Sep 7 '17 at 11:57
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    I also love that tree. I used to know several willows which had clearly been trained in that shape. (Village front garden locations.) – Willeke Apr 6 '18 at 17:19
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I suspect that tree grew with something else twined around it. That something else has meanwhile died or been removed. Bittersweet is a likely candidate for what might have wound around the tree earlier in its life. There is more information on bittersweet in this question.

I can't tell exactly what type of tree it is without seeing the leaves. However, it is a hardwood. The leaves we can see appear to be maple, but it's hard to tell, and they don't look like they are from the tree in question.

  • Is it possible that it was planted with some form of a protective wrap that was never removed. Like a spiral wrap that stretched as the tree grew and the material broke down over time? – Dirty Aug 15 '17 at 19:30
  • Or maybe there was a second tree or second trunk of the same tree, since removed. In any scenario, I absolutely suspect this answer is right, it looks just like other plants I've seen growing around poles and such. – Monster Aug 15 '17 at 20:06
  • In east Texas, "strangler vine" will do that to a variety of trees. – blacksmith37 Aug 18 '17 at 22:04
  • Hi Olin. Today I showed this picture to a naturalist who confirmed your theory about the bittersweet, which he said can be extremely strong and is prevalent in Massachusetts. He wasn't really able to tell the exact species either, but I was more concerned with the fascinating shape. Thanks for your help. – Sue Sep 7 '17 at 3:30
  • Not sure myself, but the leaves on what looks like an epicormic shoot off the trunk would suggest a maple. – Enjoy nature Apr 9 '18 at 14:58

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