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Ever Seen A Bent Tree? There's An Ancient, Hidden Meaning Behind Them

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UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

If you like to go for a walk in the woods now and again, you might recognize these distinctive "bent" trees. Maybe you've even wondered how they're made.

It turns out there's a surprisingly long history behind these impressive "trail trees" that most people never learn about.

Blue Oak Native Landscapes

Bent trees can form naturally - for example if they're struck by another falling tree, or damaged by weather. But many researchers believe that some trees were bent intentionally, hundreds of years ago.

Dennis Downes

Throughout the United States, researchers and Native American communities have identified special "trail trees." They say these distinctive bent trees were used as road markers for Native tribes before the arrival of Europeans.

As expert Dennis Downes explains, “Having the knowledge of these trail trees could mean the difference between life and death, between eating and starving, between crossing the river correctly or incorrectly.”

Trail trees have been identified in dozens of states, and if you know what to look for, you can follow them yourself.

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