The tree at the bottom of the world—and the wind-blasted trek to find it

Where on this warming planet, you ask, is the southernmost tree? Look no further: National Geographic sent a team to hunt it down.

Searching for Earth’s southernmost tree, scientists traverse windswept Isla Hornos. They sometimes had to walk on top of thick trees and shrubs, moving gingerly to avoid sliding into steep ravines.

Seven trees sprout on a hillside near the southern tip of South America, above the treacherous swirl of spray where the Pacific Ocean meets the Atlantic.

It’s not an impressive bunch—just a tangle of gnarled limbs and silver bark hidden by reedy grass. A few are dead. None reaches higher than my thigh. The living bend and curl their way a dozen feet across the ground, like soldiers clawing through battlefield mud. Furious winds have driven the trunks completely horizontal.

It’s hard to square these scraggly specimens with the exceptional lengths we’ve gone to in order to find them. We’ve flown across oceans; chugged 32 hours by ferry; motored 10 hours more on a wooden charter boat captained by a sailor who confessed mid-journey that he’d never navigated this deadly stretch of sea. Only then did we reach our destination—Isla Hornos, the island where Cape Horn is located, the last land in Tierra del Fuego. There we hiked through gales that knocked us down, slipped on penguin guano, and vanished to our armpits in thickets of barberry.

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