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In Disney

Disney’s Animal Kingdom: The Tree of Life

Have you ever taken the time to look at the Tree of Life? I don't mean to point it out as you walk into Disney's Animal Kingdom. Or to snap a picture in front of it. But to really explore it?

If not, it's worth a bit of time. It's really quite wonderful.

The Tree of Life is a 145-foot tall structure that serves as the centerpiece and icon of Disney's Animal Kingdom. It's meant to be a baobab tree – massive trees found in Madagascar and parts of mainland Africa, India, and Australia. They hold incredible amounts of water and, due to their shape and the fact that they are without leaves much of the year, look like a regular tree was uprooted and stuck back into the earth upside down.

If your family's library is anything like mine, you might also know baobabs from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. My older son was obsessed with this book years ago and for that reason still gets excited every time he sees a baobab on Kilimanjaro Safaris.

The Tree of Life was present at the opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom on April 22, 1998. Its trunk and surrounding “root system” is covered in approximately 325 animal species – both extinct and not. Imagineer lore says that it sprouted from a single seed planted by a tiny ant with the wish that it would one day grow to provide shelter to all of the animals in the land – from A (ants) to Z (zebras). Take a look along the paths around the tree. If you peer into the right knothole, you just might find that very special ant.

Also included among the animals is a carving of David Greybeard, the famous chimp studied by Jane Goodall. Greybeard was added late in construction when Goodall asked if any chimpanzees were included on the tree and…oops…they were not.

Its core is a refitted oil platform. (Talk about creative upcycling!) Its branches are covered in more than 103,000 leaves made of a material called kynar. Each was individually placed. They are 5 shades of green and actually blow in the wind.

The interior base houses the theater for the park's It's Tough to be a Bug attraction, which has more than 400 seats. A plaque inside tells the story of Goodall's chimp, Greybeard.

I know we all tend to be running from one place to another when we're in the parks. Especially if you're here on vacation with a limited amount of time, it's so easy to run past Discovery Island and the other parts of the park that overlook the Tree. But if you can find a moment to explore it, it really is something that the entire family can make memories exploring together.

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Have you spent any time exploring the details of this icon in Disney's Animal Kingdom?

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