One of J.R.R. Tolkien’s favourite trees is in the process of being removed from Oxford’s Botanic Gardens, several weeks after two limbs fell from the 215 year old black pine.

The pinus nigra had become one of the Garden’s most popular tourist attractions after its iconic twisting branches are said to resemble the ‘ents’ in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings novels. 

However, branches fell from the tree in late July and, after a consultation with City Council and University experts, it was agreed that the tree needed to be cut down for safety reasons.  

One month on, Oxford Botanic Gardens have nearly finished the process of bringing the tree down, with only the main trunk remaining.

It is thought that the tree was planted in 1799 from a seed from Austria, collected by the Third Sherardian Professor of Botany, John Sibthorp. 

As Dr Stephen Harris of Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences explained, “The pine having to be cut down means that we have the opportunity to date the tree precisely and determine whether Sibthorp is likely to have been involved. The particular subspecies of Black Pine represented by the tree has also been a point of controversy – we should now be able to settle this controversy as well.”

The garden has remained open throughout the process, with the area surrounding the tree being cordoned off. 

The Chairman of the Tolkien society, Shaun Gunner, told Cherwell, “The Tolkien Society is incredibly sad to hear that one of Tolkien’s favoured trees, the pinus nigra, has had to come down following the loss of two limbs. Tolkien was known to be very fond of this tree – naming it ‘Laocoon’ – and the last known photograph of Tolkien was taken by his grandson in front of the tree in August 1973. 

“One of the saddest moments in The Lord of the Rings is when Sam sees the destruction of the Party Tree and I am sure that Tolkien would be similarly sad to hear of its fate. That said, we support the Oxford Botanic Garden’s decision to bring the tree down and we hope to work with them in creating a fitting tribute to such a a much-loved tree.”

It is hoped that the connection between Tolkien and the garden is not lost with the tree’s removal. Dr Alison Foster, acting director of the Garden, said, “The black pine was a highlight of many people’s visits to the Botanic Garden and we are very sad to lose such an iconic tree. We intend to propagate from this magnificent tree so that future generations will not miss out on this important link to Tolkien. 

“We are considering using the wood from the black pine for an educational project along the lines of the One Oak project and hope to hold a celebratory event to commemorate the tree and its many associations in due course.”

Worcester fresher Jeroen Rijks is one of many new students disappointed not to be able to see the famous black pine. He told Cherwell, “As a die-hard Tolkien fan, I was really looking forward to coming to Oxford and experiencing Tolkien’s inspiration first-hand. It’s upsetting to miss out on seeing the famous tree that Treebeard was based on.”

The tree is one of the most famous cases of Oxford landmarks inspiring the work of writers who studied there, alongside the iconic lamppost on St Mary’s Passage and Merton College’s stone table which are said to have influenced Tolkien’s friend and fellow student, C. S. Lewis. 


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