Awards season is one of the most exciting times of the year—the outfits! The glamour! The winners! But what happens when the award goes to… a tree? Well, not a whole lot happens. The show is more of a ceremony about what the winning tree has been through to earn its title.

Winning the European Tree of the Year award doesn’t just take bark, it takes bite. And these trees know exactly what it means to bite—even though they don’t have teeth.

This year’s winner, in particular, has a remarkable story to tell…

The village of Wiśniowa is southeastern Poland is home to a very special tree named Oak Józef. It’s not just any old tree, however: it’s the winner of the 2017 European Tree of the Year award, which pays homage to the continent’s ancient trees. And while this is undoubtedly a beautiful oak, its beauty goes much deeper than its bark…

tree1Rafał Godek / European Tree Of The Year 2017

At 650 years old, Oak Józef has seen its fair share of war-torn peril… and it’s also saved lives. During World War II, a pair of Jewish brothers used Oak Józef’s hollow interior to successfully escape the Nazis.

tree2Rafał Godek / European Tree Of The Year 2017

The Hymi brothers had escaped either from a forced labor camp or the Frysztak ghetto, and they sought refuge in Oak Józef’s hollowed-out interior. The brothers used the bottom half of the hollow for hiding and the top part as a lookout.

tree3Rafał Godek / European Tree Of The Year 2017

Mysteriously, no one knows what happened to the brothers after the war—except that they survived the Nazi occupation. And it was all because of Oak Józef.

tree4Rafał Godek / European Tree Of The Year 2017

Today, Oak Józef is widely admired by its many visitors, who have used the huge tree as a subject in paintings, photographs, and other artworks.

tree5Rafał Godek / European Tree Of The Year 2017

Oak Józef is so popular—and symbolic of the country—that its likeness is printed on Polish 100 złoty bills. Oak Józef’s history is, indeed, unique and irreplaceable.


Oak Józef narrowly beat the Brimmon Oak, located in Wales. The Brimmon lost the title by just 1,394 votes. It received 16,203 ballots, while Oak Józef had 17,597.

tree7Tracey Williams, Mervyn Jones, Rob McBride / European Tree Of The Year 2017

The Brimmon Oak has its own heartwarming story: it was actually set to be torn down to make way for the construction of a bypass. The tree’s caretaker teamed up with activists and successfully overturned the plans with 5,000 signatures.

tree8Tracey Williams, Mervyn Jones, Rob McBride / European Tree Of The Year 2017

The Brimmon Oak is 500 years old, and it’s been under the stewardship of the same family for generations. The family even has photographs from 1901 of a wedding that took place under the tree.

tree9Tracey Williams, Mervyn Jones, Rob McBride / European Tree Of The Year 2017

A lime tree in Lipka, Czech Republic, came in third place with around 14,800 votes. It sits by a road that connects the 13th century Lipka manor to the cemetery where the tree’s first caretakers, the Kustoš family, are buried.


It is said that anyone who makes love underneath the lime tree will have everlasting love. The tree has been around for so long that this old legend could be true!


One thing is certain: these trees were in for a tough competition. Each one is special and beautiful in its own way!

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