The bleeding tree

We were walking the dog a few weeks ago when we chanced on a strange sight. A eucalypt had been damaged in several places, and as these trees often do there was now a thick, sticky sap running down its trunk.


Nothing very unusual there. In this species, the sap was a bright, transparent red:
Sap - 5 PDB_1971-001c
but this, while beautiful, was hardly remarkable.

What was strange was that, through some random combination of rain, sun and wind, the very sticky sap had partly liquified, run, and then dried in almost gossamer fine streamers of bright red that were wafting in the wind, and draped around the tree and the grass below. I took some photos, although at the time I hadn’t really thought about how unusual or unlikely this was. I’ve now passed the tree many times since, without ever again seeing these finely spun, blood red filaments, twisting in the breeze and glinting in the sun.

Some of the strands were so fine that it was difficult to photograph them, however here are some pictures that give you an idea.

Here are the strands caught in the dried grass beneath the tree:
Sap - 6 PDB_1991-001
Sap - 7 PDB_1968c

Here are some larger strands, hanging over the trunk…
Sap - 2 PDB_1972c2
Sap - 3 streamers PDB_1985-001
Sap - 4 streamers PDB_1987-001

…and here are some pictures of the very fine strands in the breeze – you have to look carefully to find them:

All in all it was an eldritch sight, and quite beautiful.

The very strong image that the tree was in fact bleeding reminded me that this idea, or metaphor, is very common in legends and fairy stories, so I did a quick search, and easily found the following:


The Fairy Tree

The Fairy Tree is usually a whitethorn (cartages monogzna) also referred to as a hawthorn or sceach in Irish. Tales of misfortune befalling those who damage the hawthorn in any way are legion. There are accounts whereby the tree started to bleed when branches were cut away, which was a warning of things to come. This may be a legacy from a time when certain, among them the hawthorn, were considered sacred. In the Crith Gablach, an eighth century Brehon legal poem it is stated:

A danger from which there is no escape

Is the penalty for felling

The noble sacred trees

you shall not cut sacred tree

Usually those who damaged the tree went from being healthy to sick, became paralysed, went mad or in the worst case died. Very often workmen were compelled by their foreman, usually someone not from the locality with little understanding of the piseog, to cut the tree or be fired and they would appeal to invisible forces that the misfortune befall he who ordered the destruction and those who carried it out.

The Bee and the Orange Tree
(A French Tale)

[…] Linda drew her Sword with much grace, and then striking the finest branch of the orange tree, she cried: “Come out then, terrible bees, come on. I defy you! Are you Valiant enough to defend what you love?” But what did Linda and those who were with her think when they heard a piteous “Alas!” followed by a deep sigh, proceeding from the trunk of the tree, and saw blood flowing from the branch that had been cut? What a wonder was this!


Edmund Spenser

[…] Redcrosse breaks a branch off of one tree and is shocked when blood drips forth from it, and a voice cries out in pain. The tree speaks and tells its story. It was once a man, named Fradubio, who had a beautiful lady named Fraelissa–now the tree next to him. One day, Fradubio happened to defeat a knight and win his lady (just as Redcrosse did)–and that lady turned out to be Duessa, an evil witch. Duessa turned Fraelissa into a tree, so that she could have Fradubio for herself.

Bleeding Heart Flower By Lisa Asanuma – a wonderful marriage of botany and fairy story

The Sticky, Sticky Pine – a Japanese children’s story, in which the tree bleeds sap, but also gold to reward kindness

The Juniper Tree – The Brothers Grimm.

…and I am sure there are many more, together with various religious metaphors as well. Having seen this tree, it’s easy to understand how such an idea is quite compelling.


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