Many people will have heard of the infamous swastika made up of larches that revealed itself every autumn in a forest outside Berlin. The trees, which turned yellow at the end of the year, stood out against the otherwise evergreen pine forest. The 60 sq yd Nazi symbol was only discovered after the fall of the Berlin Wall when the new German unified government ordered aerial surveys of state-owned land. While it may certainly be the most notorious, the German swastika plantation certainly isn’t the first time man has manipulated living trees for his own, often crude, purposes.
Visitors to the Castelluccio region of Italy are usually surprised to see a strangely familiar shape looming from one of the mountains that enclose the vibrant valley. Planted by some unknown patriot, a small forest in the shape of Italy has established itself on the otherwise meadowed mountainside.
Although a small dose of nationalism can be expected from most rural folk, the plantations found along the rest of the mountain range – one in the shape of North America, one resembling Africa and another Australia – are perhaps more suited to a Benetton advert than the sedate Umbrian countryside.
Over in Kyrgyzstan, a mountain in Tash-Bashat, near the edge of the Himalayas, is also the unfortunate home to a living swastika. At more than 600 feet wide, the fir tree plantation is at least 60 years old. Rumoured to have been planted by German prisoners of war, the actual truth of the design is shrouded in mystery.
Nationalism also spawned another, less offensive forest design. Situated on the chalky South Downs that separate the UK city of Brighton from its northerly neighbours stands a plantation in the shape of a huge ‘V’ – planted to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1887. When planted, it consisted of 3060 trees costing 12 pounds, 10 shillings and four pence.