The Valley of Square Trees

May 7, 2016 1 comments

Inside the flat wide caldera of the dormant volcano of El Valle, in Panama, is a town that goes by the same name. Here, in the foothills of Cerro Gaital behind Hotel Campestre, are a group of trees that have grown with square trunks. Even the tree rings are square. The trunk is square at the base but then becomes round as it moves upward, taking on the look of a normal tree.

How rectilinear the tree trunks are depends on who you ask. Popular websites report that the trees have “hard right angles”, but reviewers on Trip Advisor don’t think so.


Photo credit: Asturias76/

2703cindy wrote on Trip Advisor.

The square trees are not so square as you might expect.

This view is shared by many. One woman from Langley, Canada wrote:

The square trees were very underwhelming, but the walk through the jungle was beautiful.

Another visitor from Honolulu wrote:

The square trees are mostly in ones imagination as they become round as they grow taller. Luckily there was a sign on one of the two we saw as I wouldn't have known it otherwise.

But others attest to the site’s attraction. According to one Canadian visitor,

They are actually square, with the biggest trees exceeding 60 feet

Another reviewer from Oregon wrote:

I had been here about 60 years ago, and there were more square trees, but it was still a good visit. We saw some young tress along the trail, and quite a few about 2/3s of the way with signs. They have rounded corners, but after all they are trees. One was absolutely spectacular, with all four sides about the same size (about 12 inches).

What causes the tree trunks to take the shape of a square? Some articles would have you believe that there is something mysterious going on in The Valley of Square Trees. One website reports that the University of Florida conducted research on the trees and attempted to grow them outside of the “valley” to see whether they retain their square shapes. The researchers allegedly discovered that the trees are shaped by local conditions, suggesting that the researchers were unable to grow square trunks. But these reports are unsubstantiated. There is no evidence that such studies even took place.

The real answer is Quararibea asterolepis. The Quararibea asterolepis is a timber tree native to the South American countries of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. According to J. Lawrence Dew and Jean P. Boubli, it is Panama’s fifth most common canopy tree.

According to Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the trunk of this tree has an unusual form, that is not cylindrical, but rather flanged, sometimes taking nearly a square shape in cross-section.

These are the trees that grow in the Valley of Square Trees. There are even signs in the grove identifying the species. So it’s not really a mystery.


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  1. Some of the old timers up in Tennessee grow square watermelons, pumpkins, maybe trees. Put them in a square box to grow. Take away the box when they are square. It is only magic when you don't know.


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