An ancient tree in Poland named the Oak Józef is the 2017 winner of the European Tree of the Year award.

The competition, started in 2011 as a way to highlight the significance of old trees, this year featured candidates from 16 countries and the participation of hundreds of thousands of people. The final vote in particular was a hard-fought campaign, with the Oak Józef narrowly beating out the beloved 500-year-old Brimmon Oak located in Wales.

The 500-year-old Brimmon Oak tree in Wales narrowly lost the Oak Józef by a count of 17,597 votes to 16,203. The 500-year-old Brimmon Oak in Wales narrowly lost to the Oak Józef by a count of 17,597 votes to 16,203. (Photo: TreeoftheYear.org)

Ironically, the United Kingdom, which has a seemingly unending list of beautiful ancient trees, has never won the top prize.

As for the Oak Józef, this majestic English oak has been a symbol of pride in Poland for generations; even currency from the early 20th century bears its image.

The Oak Józef has printed on a Polish 100 złoty bill from 1934. The Oak Józef is printed on a Polish 100 złoty bill from 1934. (Photo: World Banknotes and Coins)

According to historians, the tree also served as a shelter for two Jewish brothers hiding from the Nazis during World War II.

"The hideout was shown to the brothers by Rozalia Proszak," said Jakub Pawłowski of the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa. "The hollow in which they hid was huge. People say it had two levels, the lower was used as a hideout and the upper – as a lookout. Both brothers survived the occupation but their fate after the war is unknown."

The hollow inside of the Oak Józef offered protection to Jews hiding from Nazis during WWII. The hollow inside of the Oak Józef offered protection to Jews hiding from Nazis during WWII. (Photo: TreeoftheYear.org)

Rounding out the top five were an 800-year-old lime tree in the Czech Republic, a 300-year-old rain tree in France, and a several-hundred-year-old sycamore in England made famous in the film "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."

You can see a few more images of some of the finalists below.

The Sycamore Gap tree made famous by the 1991 film 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' starring Kevin Costner. The Sycamore Gap tree was made famous by the 1991 film 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' starring Kevin Costner. (Photo: John Millar/National Trust)

An 800-year-old Lime tree in the Czech Republic comes with an unusual blessing: Any couple who makes love under its branches will be blessed with an everlasting love. An 800-year-old lime tree in the Czech Republic comes with an unusual blessing: Any couple who makes love under its branches will be bestowed with everlasting love. (Photo: TreeoftheYear.org)

This Rain tree in France, named the 'Céron park saman,' is estimated to be 300-years-old and was planted to shelter crops such as coffee and cacao from inclement weather. This rain tree in France, named the 'Céron park saman,' is estimated to be 300 years old and was planted to shelter crops such as coffee and cacao from inclement weather. (Photo: Jean-Baptiste Barret/Treeoftheyear.org)

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.