Of all the things Iceland is famous for, its trees are not among them. Most Icelandic trees are shivering, skinny little things, with branches close to the trunk, and not too tall. Basically, they’re trying as hard as possible not to be pulled out of the ground by the gale-force winds of winter.
But the Icelandic Gardener’s Association keeps an eye out year-round for particularly unusual or impressive specimens. This year, the winner of Iceland’s best tree is an unusual 11.98m rowan tree that grows at the historic site of Sandfell Oræfi, on the edge of the Vatnajökull glacier.
Planted in 1923, the tree stands near the ruins of the former settlement of Sandfell, visible from the southern ring-road, forming a sort of natural memorial. It’s an unusual sight — Iceland has few prominent broad-branched deciduous trees of this type and height — and it’s especially curious because it stands near one of the most famously storm-battered parts of Iceland’s coastline.
I’ve passed it a few times while driving around the coastline, and remember it well. Here’s a blog entry about the spot from 2014.
“This silver tree looked so alien in the generally treeless and mossy landscape of Iceland. Its branches were widespread and silver, looking at first like a low, blurry cloud against the mountainside. There was something magnetic and magical about this site, which turned out to be a sacred place where a church stood many years before. All that remains of the church is an engraved foundation stone, but the tree still flourishes, against the elements and against the odds.”