Panama’s El Valle de Anton – The Valley of Square Trees

A few miles north of the Panama Canal Zone lies the Valley of Square Trees, a unique tourist attraction where trees of the cottonwood family have rectangular trunks.

Unique in the entire world, this group of square-shaped cottonwood trees grows in a valley created from the ashes of a giant volcano – El Valle de Anton. Featuring hard-right angles, the trunks of the square trees have baffled tourists and scientists alike for several years. Experts from the University of Florida took saplings of the mysterious trees to see if they retain the same characteristics in a different environment, and concluded that their square shape must have something to do with conditions unique to the valley in which they grow. Evidence that the cause of this bizarre phenomenon is deep-seated is indicated by the fact that their tree rings, which represent its growth, are also square.

Located on the second largest inhabited dormant volcano in the world, the Valley of Square Trees is one of Panama’s most controversial tourist attractions, for the simple reason that many people just don’t believe that there is anything special about the place. Many don’t find the trees all that square to begin with, and those who do, well, they don’t think there’s anything special about them.

You see most of the “arboles quadrados” in El Valle de Anton are Quararibea asterolepis, a species native to Central and South America known for the unusual shape of its trunk. Instead of the usual cylindrical shape of the trunk, this tree apparently has a more flanged, almost square shape.

As far as tourists are concerned, some like the myth of the square trees and this unique volcanic crater they grow in, but some are convinced that the square shape of some trees is perfectly natural, considering their species.

“The square trees are mostly in one’s imagination as they become round as they grow taller. Luckily there was a sign on one of the two we saw as I wouldn’t have known it otherwise,” one visitor wrote.

“I had been here about 60 years ago, and there were more square trees, but it was still a good visit. We saw some young tress along the trail, and quite a few about 2/3s of the way with signs,” someone else chimed in. “They have rounded corners, but after all they are trees. One was absolutely spectacular, with all four sides about the same size (about 12 inches).”

Whether or not there is something magical about the Valley of Square Trees or it’s just a clever marketing ploy to draw tourists into the country, El Valle de Anton remains one of the most intriguing places on the planet.