The Krzywy Las, or Crooked Forest, is a forest in Poland where 400 pine trees have grown with mysteriously curved trunks.
Located near the town of Gryfino, the tree trunks in this forest have grown with a 90-degree turn. The largest reaching approximately 50 ft tall, they curve just above the forest floor to form a shape that resembles the letter J and they each point in the same direction – north. Researchers are baffled as to how the trees have grown into these identically curved shapes.
Estimated to have been planted sometime in the early 1930s, Gryfino was invaded and destroyed during World War II. The residents of the area were forced to abandon the town, including those who had planted and knew the secrets of the forest.
Associate professor of plant science and landscape architecture at the University of Maryland, Gary Coleman, has an idea regarding the science behind what may have caused the trunks to grow in such a unique way.
“It looks, to me, like a classic gravity response,” Coleman says. “Whenever the stem is horizontal to gravity, the plant has a mechanism through which it can reorient itself.”
He estimates that the trees had been laid on their sides at some point in their early lives, explaining that he came across some trees in the Rocky Mountains that had grown horizontally because of a small but strong storm. “As you can see, the horizontal moment only occurs for a certain amount of time. It looks like it probably occurred when they were fairly young seedlings or maybe small trees, just a few feet tall,” he explains.
The crooked tree shape may be explained by a similarly strong but localized storm. While trees can’t physically move due to changes in the environment, they can exhibit other responses. “They have a lot of different mechanisms in which they can sense environmental cues and adjust their growth to respond to these environmental factors,” Coleman says.
A retired plant scientist from the University of Manitoba, William Remphrey, previously discovered a genetic mutation causing a group of aspen trees in Canada to curve and droop consistently over development. He believes that, if the explanation for the crooked forest were genetic in origin, the curves would continue beyond the base as they did with the aspens he studied.
Some have theorized that the curves were caused by a heavy snowfall that covered the trees and continued to weigh them down through spring, but this wouldn’t explain the straight pines that surround this patch of bent ones. Another hypothesis is that farmers manipulated the trees in the 1930s to use the bent shape for wood furniture or ship building, before being driven away by the war.
“Because there are so many crooked trees in this stand, I would proceed with caution concluding it being human-caused, even though that is a definite possibility,” wrote Dr. Remphrey in an email. “What I found with the crooked aspen is that even after I was able to explain the crookedness with a scientific basis, many people did not want to believe it and held onto to their far-out theories.”
The only explanation we can glean from the crooked forest is that, after somehow ending up in a horizontal position, the trunks began growing so that they were parallel to gravity. Trees contain starch grains within their cells which naturally cause this reorientation as they’re heavy and pulled down in the cell by gravity. The cause of those mysterious curves, however, will likely never be known.