Britain is home to some of the most majestic trees on Earth, many of them having spread their roots for centuries.
So when a contest comes along that aims to crown one of them as the fairest of them all, you might imagine the competition would be tight.
The thing is, the trees don't care so much about all the pageantry. It's people who cast the votes. And trees, which can literally be the pillars of a community, mean a lot to people.
In that spirit, the Woodland Trust, one of the biggest conservation charities in the United Kingdom, has unveiled its shortlist for England's Tree of the Year.
"Trees across the country are constantly under threat of felling due to inappropriate developments," Adam Cormack, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust, tells The Guardian. "The competition is all about helping to raise the profile of trees in order to offer them better protection."
The trees don't have to boast towering dimensions or trace a lineage spanning millennia. They might, in fact, simply tell a story. Last year's winner, for example, was a beech tree grafted into the shape of the letter "N."
That would stand for Nellie. And the man who shaped it back in the early 20th century, a miner named Vic Stead. He used the tree to successfully woo his love. It worked, and the tree has since been named Nellie's Tree.
Whoa, Nellie. (Photo: Christine Johnstone [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons)
Britain, for all its storied trees, isn't alone in honoring them. Europe has its own Tree of the Year contest also aimed at highlighting their towering importance. (In fact, the winners of England's contest and others in the U.K. will go on to represent the U.K. in the European contest.)
And so, without further ado, here are a few of the contenders for Britain's Tree of the Year, including the Kingley Vale Great Yew mentioned at top:
The Allerton Oak, Liverpool
The Allerton Oak has been bending an ear to the affairs of humans for a very long time. In fact, the Liverpool icon may have been the centerpiece of a local court more than 1,000 years ago. The ancient oak even bears the scars of getting a little too close to the world of men. Some believe the large crack running down its side is a wound it sustained when a ship carrying gunpowder exploded three miles away.
Check out a video of this ultimate survivor above.
The Dragon Tree of Brightstone
Then there's a tree that would seem as at home in Middle Earth as it does on the Isle of Wight: the Dragon Tree of Brighstone. Its limbs are so vast, one of them actually serves a bridge over the brook below. The tree's epic — and downright strange — proportions may actually stem from disaster. Experts suggest at one point, it was toppled by a storm. But being the Dragon Tree and all, its branches found a way to re-root. And hence, it rose again.
Or, if you prefer to stick with the Tolkien-esque narrative, some people claim the tree was once an actual dragon.
Isle of Wight resident Sarah Louise Dawber knows the legend all too well.
"A knight, Sir Tarquin, who was in the Crusades, pierced the dragon with his lance and the dragon shriveled up and changed into an oak tree," she explains to MNN. "Children from the local village play there 'til this very day."
The Fallen Tree, Richmond Park
But when it comes to trees rising from the dead, it's hard to top the Fallen Tree in London's Richmond Park. According to the Woodland Trust, this mighty oak was blown over in a storm — and yet it "flourished despite its unusual position.
"Now its branches all grow from one side of the trunk, reaching upwards as if each one was a small tree."
Dignity, poise, even a dash of romance — all of these trees have them in spades.
If you happen to know any of them — and perhaps think one is particularly worthy of the crown — you can cast your vote through the Woodland Trust website here. The voting closes on Sept. 27.