Thursday, January 12, 2017

Things that grow on trees in folktales

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

In an Apache folktale Coyote tricks people into believing that they can get rich from a money tree. Obviously, money doesn't grow on trees, not even in folktales...

... but pretty much everything else does. And by everything else, I mean:

In the Hungarian folktale aptly titled The Bacon Tree, a king has a magic tree that... grows a side of bacon every day. Sadly, the bacon is stolen every night, and anyone who tries to guard it magically falls asleep. The rest of the story is pretty much the same as any other "rescuing maidens from the underworld" tale, but the bacon is definitely worth the mention.

In the Akamba folktale The king's daughter lost her hair, a princess loses her hair as punishment for her vanity. Luckily, there is a magic tree at the end of the world that grows all kinds of hair - someone just has to go and find it, and bring some of its seeds back so that the princess can grow her own.

Sure, birds live on trees... but every once in a while they also grow on trees. In an Egyptian folktale a man travels to an island with all kinds of wondrous trees; some bear fruit that look like human heads suspended by the hair (coconuts?), and some have fruit that are green birds suspended by their feet (fruit bats?). Some fruits cry or laugh.

In the Hawaiian legend of Ke-Ao-Mele-Mele, or Golden Cloud, there is a three called Makalei that bears fish. (While the Motif Index mark this as a "fish-bearing tree", from the actual texts it seems like the tree attracted fish, it didn't grown them... But I'm going to leave it on the list anyway, because it's a beautiful story.)
In a Chaco legend from South America there is a yuchan tree (Chorisia insignis) that is full of fish that people can shoot. Trickster shoots the biggest fish out of greed, and the tree breaks open, flooding the world.

Jewel trees are actually surprisingly common in folklore. In the famous tale of Aladdin, the protagonist finds a garden of jewel-bearing trees in the cave long before he finds the magic lamp. The Epic of Gilgamesh similarly mentions gardens of jewel trees in the Underworld.
In a tale from Sri Lanka called The Miser and the Mountain of Gold, a greedy man is brought by a Djinn into a forest of trees that have branches of gold, and fruits of rubies, diamonds, emeralds, and other precious stones.

In the Himalayan tale of Ami Dori, a virtuous girl is chased into suicide by her own family's cruel gossip. From her grave grows a tree of beads and necklaces, proving her innocence and providing the first merchant goods in the world.

In some versions of the Nepali folktale Dhon Cholecha, a girl is befriended by a two-headed ewe. The girl's evil stepmother slaughters the ewe, but from its buried bones grows a tree of cakes. The poor girl survives by eating the cakes from the tree.

By the way, the Thompson motif number for "Extraordinary tree" is F811. Knock yourselves out!


  1. Magical trees can be super cool. I want the bacon tree!

  2. Fascinating, as always! Thanks for sharing your research!

  3. Really an entertaining article. Thanks.

  4. Wow, what a variety of magical trees!

  5. Fishes and cakes speak to me the most :) But will keep the notes about the whole variety.
    Thank you Zalka!