Atop a small, rolling hill in Italy’s vast forests in Abruzzo, sits a big, stocky tree—the Pontone beech tree. This beech, however, is deceiving: It is not one but up to seven coexisting beech trees fused together through their bark, forming a broad, bulging base. Its thick, tentacle-like branches reach nearly 70 feet into the sky; its dense network of roots weaves in and out of the soil, entangled with those of countless more young beeches that surround it.
“This is the ‘mother beech tree’,” says Romano Visci, a ranger for the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise. “It provides the seeds for other beech trees to grow.”
For centuries, beech trees in this part of the forest have