Estonia is represented by the Reigi beech tree at the 2023 European Tree of the Year competition; the red beech tree grows in the garden of Reigi Church in the island of Hiiumaa.
The aim of the European Tree of the Year competition is to highlight trees that play an important role as a carrier of cultural heritage and a community connector. More than the size, age or beauty of the selected trees, the focus of the competition is on the emotional side that connects people to a particular tree.
The Reigi beech tree was submitted to the annual competition by the Estonian Nature Fund. “Reigi’s beech is well known in Hiiumaa, both because of its special red colour and its cultural history,” Pille Ligi, a representative of the fund, said in a statement.
Many cultural references
Due to its location in the church garden, the tree has many cultural and historical points of contact.
“Reigi’s Teacher”, a novel written in 1926 by Finnish-Estonian writer Aino Kallas, was based on the tragic love story of Reigi’s first pastor’s wife and assistant teacher. The Pihla tavern that was located on the other side of the church, provided material for the scenes in Gustav Ernesaks’s opera “Shore of Storms” and is also a setting in Herman Sergo’s novel “Näkimadalad” (“Hiiu Shoal”). In 1993, Estonian writer Tõnu Õnnepalu published his novel “Piiririik” (“Border State”) that was written on the upper floor of the Reigi’s rectory.
The Reigi’s beech tree was planted 119 years ago by Richard Georg von Hirschhausen, the pastor of the Reigi’s Church, on the birth of his son Theodor. “It is a red-leaved form of common beech, which generally grows little in Estonia. The tree is in very good condition,” the nature fund noted.
According to fund, the natural areas of the beech do not extend to Estonia, but the warming climate conditions may make the beech a common tree in the country’s forests in the future.
Estonia participates in the selection of the European Tree of the Year for the sixth time – in 2015, an oak tree growing in the middle of Orissaare’s football pitch in the island of Saaremaa won the competition.
All trees participating in the European Tree of the Year 2023 competition will be announced and pan-European voting will begin in February 2023, with the winner announced in March.
Hiiumaa is the second largest island in Estonia and is part of the West Estonian archipelago, in the Baltic Sea. The island is located 22 kilometres (14 miles) from the Estonian mainland and is home to about 10,000 people.