I was recently on a property in north central Austin, when I was introduced (by the local homeowner) to a remarkable tree phenomenon I have never been exposed to before.

As a local arborist who has been practicing since 1993, I though I was aware of most tree related phenomena, at least in the United States. I am surprised to say that I was unaware of these native American “Indian Sign Trees”.

The reason I had never been aware of their existence is because there are very few of them in left in the US. Some of the tribes that made them have been gone from the areas the trees are in for over 100 years or more.

Native Americans throughout the country bent and marked trees to specific shapes and even made knots on the trunks in some cases. This was done to mark areas, generally springs or water sources close to trails.

This is a remarkable example of a rare Indian sign tree that is actually bent into a loop! Most trees are bent into a type of zig-zag formation, which must be significantly easier! When the trees are younger, leather thongs were used to tie the young saplings into unnatural shapes. As the trees age and the wood hardens, the trees then retain their shapes as new wood is formed, making the deformations permanent.

It’s good to now that a few of these trees are still in the Austin area. If anyone has any other pictures they have take of these amazing local trees, please send them to [email protected] and I’ll post the pictures on this site. Thanks!

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