In Poland’s Crooked Forest, a Mystery With No Straight Answer

In Poland’s Krzywy Las, or Crooked Forest, the pine trees look like potbellied stick figures. On some 400 trees, the trunks buckle out 90 degrees, creating bark-covered bellies that drag just above the earth, oddly, all pointing in the same direction — north. No one knows for certain what caused this unusual stand of trees in a protected forest, just outside the town of Gryfino, Poland. The town was mostly destroyed during World War II, and the truth of the forest was lost with it. Strangely bent trees exist in other parts of the world, but not in such great numbers nor as neatly arranged as in Poland’s Crooked Forest. You can visit this little patch of land in northwest Poland any time, but the cusp of spring is the perfect chance to see the trees in winter’s bare-boned attire, without its bitter temperatures. The pine trees, thought to have been planted in the early 1930s, bend at the trunks, and some extend outward around three to nine feet before zipping back up into the air. The trees — around 50 feet high at their tallest — were probably damaged at an early age, causing them to permanently grow this way. But how? “As to an explanation, that is not so easy,” said William Remphrey, a retired plant scientist from the University of Manitoba, who discovered a genetic mutation causing a group of aspen trees in Canada to curve and droop consistently over development, resulting in gnarled, twirly, Cheeto-esque trees. If the cause for Poland’s crooked forest were genetic, he said, he would expect the curves to continue beyond the base, as they do in the aspens he studied. But given their smoothness, something environmental most likely caused these sweeping curves. It’s possible that a heavy snowfall covered the trees and continued to weigh them down through spring, when buds sprouted up and grew from the snow-covered trunk. But this wouldn’t explain the straight pines that surround this patch of bent ones. The prevailing hypothesis is that farmers manipulated the trees in the 1930s to use their bent wood for furniture or ship building, but that the war prevented them from following through. People do sculpt trees into furniture, knots or baskets, like the “circus trees” at Gilroy Gardens in California. And American Indians bent marker trees into symbols they used to navigate and communicate in the forest. But those trees are often found solo, and not necessarily in Europe. “Because there are so many crooked trees in this stand, I would proceed with caution concluding it being human-caused, even though that is a definite possibility” wrote Dr. Remphrey in an email. “What I found with the crooked aspen is that even after I was able to explain the crookedness with a scientific basis, many people did not want to believe it and held onto to their far-out theories.” There’s no explanation for why the trees point north either, but Dr. Remphrey speculates it’s coincidental. Believe what you want, but the best way to get there is to drive — you can take the autobahn from Berlin and arrive in just under two hours. Go in the morning when the sun shines through the trees for that extra mysterious feeling.

New York Times, 31 March 2017 ; ;