Bicycle-Eating Tree

Status: Real
image The bicycle-eating tree is probably familiar to most residents of Washington, since it's located on Vashon Island, Washington (and won a 1994 contest to select the most unusual places or events in the Washington-Oregon area), but it's new to me. Apparently someone, decades ago, left their bicycle leaning against the tree, and as the tree kept growing it enveloped the bike and now lifts it seven feet off the ground. I think it's amazing that a) the tree actually grew around the bike instead of pushing it over, and that b) in all that time no one ever moved the bike. The bicycle-eating tree has been featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and also inspired a children's book by Berkeley Breathed, Red Ranger Came Calling. Breathed used to live on Vashon Island. (via CaliforniaTeacherGuy)


Posted on Sat Jul 01, 2006


I'll go out on a limb here:

I don't believe it. The spokes are still shiney. I'd suspect someone hammered a couple of bike parts into a tree. Sort of like the witch/tree collision you see around Halloween.

What kind of tree is it? I thought primary growth (the height) only happens at the ends of tree branches--so why would the bike be lifted up by the bark/trunk?
Posted by JoeDaJuggler  on  Sat Jul 01, 2006  at  01:26 PM
I'd suspect the bike wasn't leaning against the tree. Rather, the tree was probably threaded through the center of the bike frame.
Posted by dcl  on  Sat Jul 01, 2006  at  01:44 PM
Here's another shot of it--apparently older (the bike is more complete).
I guess the apparent "shininess" in the photo above is an optical illusion.
Posted by JoeDaJuggler  on  Sat Jul 01, 2006  at  01:47 PM
JoeDaJuggler, I have a tendency to question the reality of the situation regarding how high off the ground the bicycle is, based on the same point you make about the primary growth of a tree. Let's also keep in mind the age of the tree to be that large, versus the age of the bicylce, leaves one to ponder whether both could have existed at the same time to create such an oddity, or is this just a hoax that has stood the test of time for awhile. Anybody out there know which species of tree that is, and the YR, MAKE, MODEL of the bike??? With those four pieces of info this one could be proven for certain...
Posted by Christopher  on  Sun Jul 02, 2006  at  06:52 AM
If I remember this tree correctly from when I was younger, the way that the tree grew around the bike was this: the bike was placed in the fork of a young tree. Thus, it couldn't fall over, the only way for the tree to keep growing would be to grow around it. And before you say anything, yes, tree branches or trunks can split or fork and then grow back together again. It seems weird to me, too, but I've seen enough individual tree branches that have grown together in my botany classes that I'm pretty sure.
Posted by Vryce  on  Sun Jul 02, 2006  at  05:55 PM
I can attest that is is real, I've been to Vashon and have actually seen it. It still had the front wheel when I saw it 10 years ago...
Posted by Wally  on  Sun Jul 02, 2006  at  11:40 PM
I embedded a pulley wheel into a willow tree just for fun and to see how long it took to be encased. I got the idea from a magazine photo where religious icons nailed to trees were being enveloped by the trees and looked really eerie.
Posted by Louise  on  Sun Jul 02, 2006  at  11:59 PM
I remembering my botany professor deriding similar stories, noting that trees just don't grow this way. If they did, there would be lots of fence wires, blaze marks and carved initials higher than any person would put them. Tree growth might have embedded the bike but it probably not have lifted it so high off the ground.
Posted by Fred Dawson  on  Mon Jul 03, 2006  at  07:28 PM
The tree in our backyard grew around the stake that it was originally tied to. You can now see only about the top foot of it (of a 6-odd foot piece of rebar). I have seen other trees grow around poles and wires that were being used to train them into shapes. I think this is a moderately common occurence (neglectful gardeners, persistent trees).

But if I recall correctly from Botany classes the tree wouldn't raise the object into the air unless the object was inserted very close to the top of the tree (the apical meristem) as that is where growth continues from. If it is stuck in the side it may be grown around but I don't believe that it could be lifted vertically to that degree. But that's just what I think. No guarantees, I'm not digging out reference books, it's summer.
Posted by Anne  on  Mon Jul 03, 2006  at  09:55 PM
As some others have suggested, a tree can grow around and engulf a solid object, but it would not raise it high off the ground. Trees add height from the top, not from the bottom or middle.

Or, as a childhood riddle I remember goes:
"You carve your initials and your sweetheart's into a tree trunk four feet above the ground. Ten years go by, and the tree grows fifteen feet taller. How high are your initials now?" (Answer = four feet.)

If you've ever seen a tree where someone carved something in the bark years ago (especially if they carved the date, which I've seen occasionally), you will recognize that this is true.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Tue Jul 04, 2006  at  09:21 AM
So, in other words, somebody must have put that bike about seven feet up in the tree before the tree grew around it.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Tue Jul 04, 2006  at  09:23 AM
In my home town there was a tree that started growing in the branches of another tree and the larger tree grew around it
Posted by tim  on  Tue Jul 04, 2006  at  01:34 PM
"Real" in a sense that there's a bicycle embedded in a tree trunk--OK, I'll buy that. But the tree did NOT grow around a bicycle leaning against it and raise it up off the ground. That part is NOT real.
Posted by JoeDaJuggler  on  Tue Jul 04, 2006  at  09:32 PM
Tim there is a rain forest tree known as the "strangler fig" that normally uses this modus operandi. It starts out growing as a vine supported by an older tree, then eventually engulfs the host tree and replaces it.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Wed Jul 05, 2006  at  10:17 AM
The bike was placed in the fork of the fir tree a long time ago. Jody Boyman took this picture
Someone stole the handlebars and fount tire a few years ago.
Posted by Richard Reames  on  Sat Jul 08, 2006  at  07:48 PM
In Rotorua, New Zealand, there is a buried village which was distroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. Somebody shortly afterwards retrieved a sewing machine from the ashes and hung it on a tree, I guess to pick up later. That sewing machine is still there, and well above people's heads. You certainly can't reach it.
Posted by Lianne  on  Sun Jul 09, 2006  at  12:56 AM
Trees grow from the top not the base. the bike could grow into a tree but it would stay on the ground, the way tree's grow into fences. the fences don't lift off the ground
Posted by Amanda  on  Mon Sep 18, 2006  at  11:47 PM
Yup, so basically this is fake unless the bike was placed seven feet up the tree. Because of basic biology, there is no possible way the bike was lifted...unless this is some kind of strange tree that grows from the bottom up.
Posted by Alicia  on  Sun Apr 29, 2007  at  04:51 PM
I think it is totally real... check out this photos of trees eating other various metal objects:
Posted by Matt  on  Thu May 24, 2007  at  12:37 PM
Or MAYBE it was a sapling when it was placed in the fork, thus the top of the tree was quite near the ground.
Posted by Guy  on  Sat May 26, 2007  at  10:56 AM
Wow, many of you people must not have lived near trees long enough to see a tree grow from sapling to full-grown. Along one back section of our farm, there's an old fence that's lifted up in sections from where silver maples have grown through it. It's only in some sections where the fence is loose and broken off the posts that it's raised a good 3-4 feet and embedded in the tree. Where the fence is still connected, the trees (and shrubs) have just grown around the fence without lifting it although there is more tension in the fence in these areas.

So if that bike had a small tree grow up around it, then it's entirely possible, even probably. If we say that bike is from the 1940's, which it certainly can be as it looks similar to the 1940's bicycle in his photo (extreme left), then I don't see what the fuss is about. You don't think a tree can get that big in 60 some odd years?
Posted by testsicles  on  Fri Jul 13, 2007  at  09:03 AM
Here's another bicycle eating tree,
Posted by testsicles  on  Fri Jul 13, 2007  at  09:10 AM
I was born on Vashon in 1983, and both my parents are from the Island as well. I've watched that tree grow around that bike for years. I remember when the tree was still slightly "V-ed" on either side of the bike, I remember when there was a wheel still on it, and when it was only about 4 feet off the ground. It is pretty well hidden. You really have to know how to find it. It's off the main highway on Vashon just off the Sound Foods parking lot. You have to walk a little way back on this very overgrown trail. When I first saw it, it was really obvious that it was just propped up in the V of the tree. You could almost have still dug it out. Honestly, I've watched the tree just grow up around it. Not too much of a mystery I'm afraid.
Posted by Alyssa  on  Tue Jul 17, 2007  at  11:42 AM
While everyone seems to be correct about the primary growth, one has to consider that the bike is in a fork of the tree, where the side pressures from the secondary growth are angled as such to be able to "push" the bike upwards. Also, the growth of the root system is being discounted. In unsettled soil or wet climates, the growth of the root system could possibly elevate the visible portions of the tree. Combine that with the possibility that the ground around the tree has sunken and/or eroded, and there is a good chance that the bicycle was indeed simple placed in the fork of a tree and left to its fate. There is a tree on Thackery street in Pittsburgh that has grown around a very old parking rail. There are other rails next to it, all in similar condition, yet the rail inside the tree is markedly bent in the middle, as if upward pressure had been applied. It may have been possible for the rail/bike to be in such a position that the pressure from the combination of primary/secondary growth was such that the rail/bike was lifted, rather than encapsulated; much like a surfer is pushed forward rather than flung into the air.
Posted by Alex  on  Tue Aug 14, 2007  at  08:04 AM
Consider this:
If the bike was placed in the fork of a young tree the lifting can be explained very well.
Inevitably the branches become thicker and the
gap between them will move upwards.
Imagine placing a hard object within scissors and pressing: the object will be forced outwards. Growth from the base is not necessary.
Posted by Wilfried  on  Sat Oct 13, 2007  at  12:43 PM
Check out the famous Brig o'turk "metal eating tree" in Scotland. Not only a bicycle left by a young man who went to war and didn't return, but hundreds of metal objects over the years from an old blacksmith shop. I think they also lay claim
to the famous Red Rider story.
Posted by donna  on  Sun Oct 14, 2007  at  09:44 AM
Sorry, Maybe I should have said Red Ranger story
on my comment
Posted by donna  on  Sun Oct 14, 2007  at  09:47 AM
That's a crazy story. I remember seeing this years ago now, I always thought that it was pretty cool.

What made me think of this was seeing a picture of a tree with a piece of metal, what looked like possibly a shopping cart, poking out of it. I can only assume that the shopping cart was actually embedded into the tree, rather than the tree naturally growing around it, as is apparent with this bicycle.
Posted by Charles Lumia  on  Wed May 28, 2008  at  10:48 PM
Give this bike 50 years and let's see how it turns out--

Posted by Pablo  on  Sun Aug 03, 2008  at  08:23 PM
Isn't vashon island where K2's headquarters are? I'd be surprised if this wasn't some sort of stunt put on my K2 to bring some media hype.
Posted by Momentum Sports  on  Mon Sep 22, 2008  at  11:05 AM
Yes, K2 used to be on the island, but they left because of the price to getting to and from the island. They still own some buildings there. Anyway, it wasn't K2 that put it there. It's buried way back the the bushes in some woods not near the old headquarters. It was just some guy that put the bike up in the fork of a tree. I watched it grow up that way (being from Vashon). Its that simple!
Posted by Alyssa  on  Wed Sep 24, 2008  at  04:14 PM
If you go to disney land in florida there is a lawm mower in fort wilderness that a tree grew right thru the middle and it is still on the ground,
Posted by GENE KELLY  on  Sun Nov 30, 2008  at  05:05 PM
There's a tree like that in my back garden, along the railway line... There's also a tree that's grow from a crack in between two blocks on part of the bridge, and as it's got bigger has made that part of the bridge wall collapse... These things happen, I don't know why you'd think they were hoaxes =/.
Posted by Alice  on  Mon Feb 16, 2009  at  04:27 PM
It's become a kind of art to put things in a tree...
Posted by Julia  on  Tue Mar 31, 2009  at  02:55 PM
Trees grow from the top up so even if the tree did grow around the bike it isn't possible that it lifted it 7ft up in the air.... biology 101... learn ur stuff! Lol 😛
Posted by Z  on  Thu Apr 08, 2010  at  05:28 PM
dads old he put the bike there in elementry school he graduated high school in 63 it can happen and I believe!
Posted by Adair  on  Sat Nov 20, 2010  at  09:30 PM
The tree is believed to have belonged to Claire Hartvigsson (her married name, her husband also grew up on Vashon) by her twin brother, Bud. He was a real prankster. These families settled on Vashon in the early days of Washington and more than a few generations of Norwegians were born and raised there. Bud never would admit he had done it, but he chewed the end of his cigar and snickered when people tried to get him to admit it. Both of them are long gone now, but I know Claire's daughter and the family has always called it "Claire's bicycle".
Posted by Wendy Sutich  on  Mon Dec 06, 2010  at  09:54 PM
I should think that anyone who still insists that this is a hoax should be prepared to call Alyssa a liar.
Since I have seen far crazier things I'm content to believe it.
Rules about tree growth can't possibly apply to all trees evenly any more than rules about human nature apply to people evenly.
Posted by johnweeks  on  Mon Sep 05, 2011  at  11:06 AM
Can't tell you how the bike got there, I suspect I tossed it because I didn't care for the bike. It was donated to my family, me, when I was about 8 years old after our house burned down taking my dad's life in the fire. It was an old bike when I got it, had hard rubber tires and handle bars that were skinny like the old tricycle tires. This was about 1954 or 1955, when my mom bought a house on the other side of the intersection of what became Sound Foods, about 100 yards, maybe 150 yards from that tree. Us neighbor hood kids would play down there, it was a swampy area that had frogs and tadpoles to catch. We would also climb alder saplings and play Tarzan by swinging down to the ground from them. The tree is either a Douglas fir, or a hemlock. Back then it probably was not over 10 feet tall as nothing down there was very tall. At any rate the bike was "not cool" in the eyes of a little kid, with its hard tires and skinny handle bars, 20 inch wheels or so, and I hated it. How it got in the tree I don't know for sure, but I do know it is my bike. I moved from Vashon in 1991. In the late 90's my sister was over visiting my mom on Vashon from New Jersey so I showed up to see her, she had heard about the "Bike Tree" and suggest we go see it. Until then I did not know anything about it. She said it was down in the woods behind Sound Foods. We went down to look. and the first thing out of my mouth was "That's my bike!!!". Don't know how many of those they made, guessing pre WWII, but I can bet that you couldn't find another one like that on Vashon Island, let alone within 100 yards of my mom's place (she still owns the house there). You can see the interview the local paper, The Vashon Maury Beachcomber did with her about it, although she had the reason I hated the bike mixed up with the next one I got, a blue girls bike.
Posted by Don Puz  on  Sun Feb 26, 2012  at  11:01 AM
This is no hoax people! I was born on Vashon and lived there until I was six. One of the most vivd memories I have of the island is the bike in the tree. It is such a major landmark to the people of the island that they have taken care of it. When some vandals removed one of the wheels, the people of the island put it back. (The photo seen here is after the vandals removed the wheel I have more recent photos of it with the wheel back I wish I could post) This tree is something special. It's home especially for me. I went back this last summer and it was still there just higher up. It's something I can always count on and I think for anyone who has seen the bike in the tree it is something special you commit to memory. It's as real as you and me. It is grown into the tree and it is amazing. If you ever get the chance to see it you should.
Posted by Bethanie  on  Sun Feb 26, 2012  at  11:15 PM
Objects, overgrown by a tree actually isn't that extraordinary.
You can find examples all over the world. I even saw it myself on different sunday walks. But of course, the bike is an amazing and stunning example for that quality.

I love trees. They are just great, aren't they. And aways show us our own perishability, don't they?
Just try a search on a search engine, e.g.:

greetings from germany
Posted by Norina  on  Tue Feb 28, 2012  at  06:19 AM
A friend of my brother's sent him a picture of this (the Vashon Island bike) that had "Harley Davidson" name and logo and "Granite State" printed above the picture and then told the tale that a young man had chained it there when he left for WW I and when he never returned, the tree engulfed it. Sounds like the tale that has "grown up" around the "iron tree" or "metal-eating tree" in Brig O'Turk, Scotland as noted in comments above. I think there is probably a way for a tree to grow around a bicycle, but I am interested about the story of the young person who went off to war and never returned. If that has been verified somehow, I would be interested in some links to that source. Otherwise that tale ought to be clearly labeled a fiction. -- Thanks, Jay Powell, San Diego, CA
Posted by Jay Powell  on  Wed Feb 29, 2012  at  02:08 PM
for Mr Fred Dawson in Beltsville, MD - his Botany Professor needs to broaden his horizons. The world of botany is miraculous, may I say especially in our North-West. Every day brings more surprises, raining 9 months a year does interesting things. This tree and bike story is just a small example. See an older picture of the same at - Its real and notice, its a girls bike. the story on the "www" of some boy leaving it to go to WWI, was invented.
Posted by John Martin  on  Tue Apr 17, 2012  at  08:16 AM
I've seen many signs eaten by trees, if fact a co-worker brought in a photo of one she just took. I know I've seen a photo of a tree growing around a motorcycle so here is a cool like:
Posted by Patrick  on  Thu May 24, 2012  at  06:46 AM
I was told many stories about this bike from my great grandmother when I was a young boy. She grew up on Vashon Island before moving to Maryland. Apparently back in 1914 a young man left his bike chained, not simply just leaning, to this tree and left to become a soldier during WWI. Unfortunately, the young man had died while fighting for his country and his family decided to leave the bike there as a memorial to him. Over the decades the tree grew around the bike and as it was still growing in height lifted it off the ground. I have seen trees grow around objects many many times, whether it is a post, pipes and other metal bars and the most common thing I have seen a tree grow around is barbed wire.

*** I know some may say this so I will clear it up before that happens. I did say that this young man left it there when leaving to become a soldier in 1914. Now I realize that America didn't enter the war at that time, I just said that was when he apparently left home to join the military. In fact America was neutral at that time and were simply preparing in case we indeed had no choice but to enter WWI. I believe that it actually wasn't until April 6, 1917, two days after Pres. Woodrow Wilson delivered his war address to Congress, when we declared war on Germany and entered into WWI. ***

Posted by Dave  on  Mon May 28, 2012  at  07:55 PM
i guess he decided the chain his bike 7' above the ground (which would be above a "boys reach") cause trees do not grow up out of the ground. they grow from the top and get wider at the base. if this story had any truth to it the bike would still be at ground level. lol. cool pic though.
Posted by Matthew  on  Mon Oct 08, 2012  at  04:12 AM
Actually, a tree engulfing a bicycle is entirely possible. In my youth, in Salem, Oregon, there was the site of an old motel located on a slight rise, where Winding Way joins Commercial Street. There was a grove of old douglas fir trees on the rise, and one of them had engulfed a tin "Western Union Telegraph" sign. About half the sign poked out of the tree truck, and it was imbedded several inches in the wood. The gent who commented about the bike not being lifted by the tree is true, also. Trees grow outward, but only upward from the top. A spike driven five feet up in the trunk of a tree will remain five feet up, forever. The fact that the bicycle was seven feet up only means that it was placed there. Can you not imagine why this happened? It was likely that some bullies took some poor kid's bicycle from him and hung it out of reach in the tree.
Closer to home, there is a similar feature. Along the grade of the abandoned Klamath Lake Railroad, near the border between Jackson and Klamath County, there is a barbed wire fence where the barbed wire was nailed to young oak trees instead of posts. In the hundred years since, the trees have engulfed the wire, which is now engulfed about half way through the tree trunk. There is a scar in the bark where each strand of wire was engulfed, which gives the appearance of a mouth that has swallowed the wire. It's really bizarre, but I didn't take a picture of it when I last saw it.
Posted by Scott Gavin  on  Fri Nov 23, 2012  at  09:29 AM
Reminds me of the old saying, "A woman needs a man, like a tree needs a bicycle". This tree wanted a bicycle when it was just a sapling. Poor tree didn't understand that trees don't ride bikes - but someday, someone may make riding helmets to fit trees. Either way - if you spend much time in forests, as some of us do - you will encounter trees that have grown up around various items such as fences, and old trucks. There are at least two old phone lines that grow through a couple of large hemlocks, in Fort Worden. As for the Vashon tree - it is obvious that the thick branch that crushed the bicycle seat against the tree trunk, had at one time, grown under the bike seat, eventually lifting the bike, and crowding the seat.
Posted by Mark  on  Fri Sep 27, 2013  at  09:18 PM
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