‘Guardian of the Flooded Village’: centuries-old Czech pine voted European Tree of the Year

Photo: Ladislav Stalmach, CC BY-SA 4.0

A lonely 350-year-old Czech tree of the Scots pine variety – defiantly rooted on the rocky headland of a dam overlooking a village flooded in the 1950s to build it – has been voted European Tree of the Year.

For the first time in the 10-year history of the European Tree of the Year poll, top honours have gone to a Czech contender, entered under the heading “Guardian of the Flooded Village”.

Scots pines (or Pinus sylvestris in Latin) are bog standard. They are among the most widely spread coniferous trees globally, and found throughout all of Eurasia.

So how did this Czech specimen best (with 47,226 votes) the “Gingko from Daruvar”, Croatia (with 28,060 votes), the “Lonely Poplar” from the Russian republic of Kalmykia (with 27,411 votes) and scores of others?

Chudobín pine,  photo: Ladislav Stalmach,  CC BY-SA 4.0
What makes this Czech pine tree special is its majestic setting, the folktale legend around it, and the fact it survived the 1955 flooding of the Vysočina valley, which consumed the village of Chudobín to make way for the Vír Dam / reservoir.

The story behind the ‘Guardian of the Flooded Village’ is recounted in a short promotional video submitted to the European Tree of the Year organisers ahead of a continent-wide vote:

“Ever since the times of the Empress Maria Theresa, our pine has risen high above the village of Chudobín, sharing the joys and sorrows of its inhabitants.

“Over the centuries, it has grown in size, becoming a dominant feature in the valley landscape. Local people soon began to associate it with their legends; and, thanks to its majestic position on a sharp rock overlooking the river, it quickly came to be seen as the guardian of the valley.

“After the needs of human progress called for the extinction of the village of Chudobín, only our pine remained above the blue surface of the reservoir. An outstanding ‘Guardian of the Flooded Village’.”

Local legend has it that the Devil himself sits beneath that lonely Scots pine, playing fiendishly discordant tunes on a violin. To the untrained ear, it sounds a bit like wind howling through the forested valley.