In this beauty contest, the older, the better

The Prague Post

Centuries-old trees are top contenders vying for green glamour title

Do you have a favorite tree? Now is the time to do something nice for it, as tree-huggers and other nature lovers have the opportunity to participate in the Tree of the Year competition sponsored by the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation’s (Nadace Partnerství) Tree of Life Programme.

“The contest should draw attention to the value of trees for the environment and make people interested in the environment they live in, motivate them to care for and preserve it,” explains Pavlína Binková, spokewoman for the Tree of Life Programme. “The larger aim of the competition is also to encourage civic pride toward trees in the Czech Republic.”

The first Tree of the Year contest was held in 2002. Anyone can nominate a tree for entry in the competition; Binková says this year’s nominations came from schools, municipalities, civic organizations, fire brigades and even a local football team.

The 109 nominated trees were whittled down to 12 finalists by a jury of 15, a mix of people knowledgeable about trees and well-known personalities to help publicize the competition. The illustrious bunch includes a landscape architect, an arborist and a representative from Bensov, the proud location of last year’s Tree of the Year. But the public chooses the final winner.

It’s not easy to make it to the final round. Binková says the tree must have a good story and an affinity with its surroundings and the local community. A photogenic tree is a good candidate; the age, size and health of the tree are also factors. The jury tries to choose finalists from around the country to maximize interest in the competition.

No college scholarships or new cars for these winners. Instead, the tree is treated to a health check-up by a professional arborist. If it doesn’t need any doctoring, the community will receive new trees instead. And sometimes professionals will volunteer to help out the runner-up trees.

This year’s winner will be announced at a Concert for Trees Oct. 17 featuring the Czech band Jablkoc and violinist Jaroslav Svecený. The contestants are a varied bunch.

In Lidice, the village destroyed by the Nazis in 1942, all the trees and bushes were removed so no one would ever know a town existed there. One little tree survived, the Lidice Pear. Many other trees are witnesses to history. A 13-meter tall beech tree in Vysocina is supposedly the tree under which Jan Žižka, the 15th-century commander and leader of the Hussite movement, rested in 1422 while hiding from King Sigismund’s troops. An oak tree in Stráž nad Nisou was originally planted in 1905 by the town’s German inhabitants. After World War II, many of these citizens were forcibly removed from the Sudeten region, with the tree a silent observer.

The senior contender is a lime tree in Klokocov. Believed to be 1,000 years old, it boasts a trunk 9 meters in diameter. There’s another lime tree in the competition that dates back to the time of Charles IV. Planted by a Jesuit priest in the south Bohemian village of Címov, it’s been hit by lightning and lost some of its branches. But, miraculously, it keeps on living.

So far, according to Binková, this year’s competition has attracted about 4,000 voters and the campaign has already raised 100,000 Kc. Last year, the competition garnered more than 60,000 votes and 550 trees were planted with the 220,000 Kc that was raised.

The poet Joyce Kilmer famously wrote, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” But now you can help one Czech tree receive the fame and fortune it has been growing toward its whole long life.