Foreign holidays may still feel a remote possibility for most people, but if you’re dreaming of travelling to a place full of interesting and exotic trees, Epcot has a surprising amount to offer.

DISNEY makes use of trees throughout all of its parks at Walt Disney World (WDW) in Florida, but their creative deployment at the Epcot theme park merits further investigation.

Opened in 1982 as Epcot Center, this park, at over 300 acres in size, is twice the size of the Magic Kingdom Park. It is, in Disney terminology, “dedicated to the celebration of human achievements specifically through innovations and international culture”.

Epcot has two areas for visitors to see this at first hand, namely Future World and World Showcase. It attracts over 13 million visitors each year and is in the top 10 of the most visited theme parks in the world. Future World contains the Land Pavilion and within this is a ride called Living with the Land. This takes visitors on a 15-minute journey explaining how agriculture has and is evolving because of new technologies and the need to become environmentally friendly. It also demonstrates how trees are playing a part in this process.

Forestry Journal: Gardens, streams, koi fish, and trees greet visitors at the land of Japan in the World Showcase.Gardens, streams, koi fish, and trees greet visitors at the land of Japan in the World Showcase.

World Showcase, on the other hand, is a celebration of the cultures and cuisines of 11 different countries from around the world through a series of themed lands and pavilions. These lands are arranged around a large central man-made lake. The lands are not directly run by the countries they represent, but in most cases they do have citizens from these countries working in them.

While each land has architecture and streets to represent the country – as well as attractions, shops and restaurants – they also have trees, which are native to or representative of the countries.

However, there is one tree species that is common throughout Epcot and that is the camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora).

These large evergreen trees, both in height and with their overhanging canopies, certainly are distinctive and offer shade as well as adding to the colour and vibrancy of the park. This species, native to China and Japan, both of which have their own lands at Epcot, is widely planted throughout the world as an ornamental tree. Its use at Epcot is in keeping with this. The fact that its leaves give off a distinctive smell of cinnamon adds to its attraction.

Forestry Journal: Natchez crape myrtle trees (Lagerstroemia x ‘Natchez’) are used to create an ‘allee’ of trees in France.Natchez crape myrtle trees (Lagerstroemia x ‘Natchez’) are used to create an ‘allee’ of trees in France.

The United Kingdom Land has native tree species such as hawthorns and oaks, but also has quite a few American sycamores (Plantus occidentalis) growing there as well. The Disney teams in other European lands at Epcot, as well as in the neighbouring land of Canada, also use this tree species. Given that this tree is native to North America and that it has a European counterpart, its use fits in very well with these lands. Once again, it is a large tree species, which is used to provide shade as well as for the ornamental value it offers.

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As well as these trees, Canada perhaps not surprisingly has a number of redwoods including dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), to offer a real connection to Canada for visitors. There are also two recently added and striking totem poles, which have been carved to represent the cultural story of the eagle and killer whale in First Nation legends. Totem poles have always been part of WDW, but not always at Epcot.

Forestry Journal: Morocco at the World Showcase.Morocco at the World Showcase.

The first were made from fibreglass, but by 1998, Disney had decided they should be carved from trees. Artist David Boxley was commissioned and carved a pole from a 30 ft cedar log, which was shipped to Epcot from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Boxley worked for two months in view of Disney staff members and park visitors, before the final carve, telling the ancient legend of a raven stealing the light from the sky chief, was unveiled.

Boxley returned in 2017 to install a further two totem poles. The eagle totem pole tells the story of a boy freeing a trapped eagle, which returns years later with food when the boy’s village is starving. The other pole, known as the whale totem pole, recounts the story of a ceremonial feast celebrated by the Nagunaks.

The nearby Mexico Pavilion has been designed to reflect two of the most well-known landscapes of the country; desert and jungle. Many different varieties of palm trees are on display, including Mexican fan (Washingtonia robusta), with others including the Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla Moraceae) and silver trumpet (Tabebuia aurea). The Disney horticultural team deliberately makes the trees look irregular and unmaintained to help visitors feel that they are close to a real Mexican jungle.

Forestry Journal: Papaya tree growing in the Tropics Greenhouse.Papaya tree growing in the Tropics Greenhouse.

There are two real trees of note here. The first is a silk floss (Chorisia speciosa Malvaceae), which grows near the steps to the left of the temple. Visitors see this tree in the spring full of colourful blossoms, while in the other seasons fruit hangs from its branches. This tree species is native to South America and looks completely at home in the Mexico land at Epcot.

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The second tree here is a 250-year-old yucca tree (Yucca brevifolia) which grows next to the Cantina de San Angel. This tree was transplanted from the Chihuahuan Desert on the Texas and Mexico border, helping to represent the arid desert landscape of Mexico. The overall use of trees, along with the buildings and the entertainers there, including a mariachi band, leaves visitors feeling that they really have travelled through the country.

Forestry Journal: A weeping willow (Salix babylonica) tree, which grows next to the Nine Dragons Restaurant at the China Pavilion, helps to tell the story of the importance of the silk worm to the Chinese silk industry.A weeping willow (Salix babylonica) tree, which grows next to the Nine Dragons Restaurant at the China Pavilion, helps to tell the story of the importance of the silk worm to the Chinese silk industry.

Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora Lauraceae) trees line the route that leads to Norway, which is the next land. The challenge for the Disney planners, when deciding which trees to use in this area of Epcot, was that native Norwegian trees would not survive the Florida heat, so they used trees such as birch, maples and sycamores to help landscape the area.

If Norway is noticeable for its buildings having sod roofs, which are fairly typical in the country, China, its neighbouring land, has been designed to display beautiful gardens and lotus pools. To the left of the Nine Dragons Restaurant is an old and impressive weeping willow (Salix babylonica), which actually comes from an estate in New Jersey. The was selected by Disney to offer beauty with its attractive foliage, as well as to help explain the story of the Chinese silk industry.

There are other trees that are native to China. These include some tallow trees (Triadica sebifera), which offer a wonderful array of colour, particularly during the autumn season. There is also runner bamboo and other bamboo varieties, which are synonymous with Asia and used both as a building and food material. Camellias in both bush and small tree forms help to add to the colour across the various parts of the land.

Forestry Journal: In Germany, trees are used to offer shade to visitors.In Germany, trees are used to offer shade to visitors.

At the German Pavilion, trees are used more to offer shade for people taking a rest as they pass through on the many strategically placed benches. While walking on towards Italy, the colour of terracotta pots and familiar-looking Italian buildings greet visitors. Perhaps not surprisingly, Disney has used olive trees to add to the Italian look of this part of Epcot. Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens cupressaceae) also adds grace and structure as people pass through.

The American Adventure is the host land in the World Showcase and it contains an animatronics display of the history of the USA. Two Southern live oaks (Quercus virginiana) grow tall and proud outside the entrance. Such trees are seen as an iconic marker of the ‘Old South’ of America and fit perfectly in with the American Adventure building which is designed in a colonial style. During the festive season, a Christmas tree can also be found here.

Japan is certainly one of the more picturesque lands in the World Showcase, with a massive red tori gate at its entrance and a replica of a 7th century Horyuji temple. This land has gardens, streams and ponds full of water lilies and koi fish, with Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana) and sago palm (Cycas revoluta), plus copious amounts of bamboo. Here, the Buddhist teachings of meditation and contemplation come to the fore as visitors wander around.

The last two lands in the World Showcase are Morocco, where there are not so many trees to be found. However, in France, Natchez crape myrtle trees (Lagerstroemia x ‘Natchez’) are used to create an ‘allee’ of trees, which in Paris would probably be Linden (Malvaceae) trees but in Florida, the crape myrtle thrives in the climate. This species is also used in Le Notre Garden area, where nearly 1,000 different shrubs grow, once more substituting for the trees that would be found in France – this time lilac trees.

Forestry Journal: In the United Kingdom at Epcot a variety of trees are used including hawthorns, oaks and American sycamores (Plantus occidentalis).In the United Kingdom at Epcot a variety of trees are used including hawthorns, oaks and American sycamores (Plantus occidentalis).

Having experienced the trees of the World Showcase, a visit to the Land Pavilion at Future World is well worth making. Taking a ride on the Living with the Land ride gives an insight into new technologies that are being used to make agriculture, including the growing of trees, more efficient and environmentally friendly. The ride transports people to a tropical rain forest, a desert, and the American Prairie, showing how humans interact with nature.

The second part of the ride leads into a greenhouse tour, showing how plants, including trees, can be grown in many varied and different conditions. The Living Laboratory has five different areas, including the Tropics Greenhouse, where banana, cacao, date palm, pineapple and papaya trees amongst others are grown to show visitors about how crops from these trees can be enhanced and developed.

Demonstrations continue in the Temperate Greenhouse, where nine-pound lemons have been grown, and in the String Greenhouse, where vertical growing techniques are employed to shape and structure plants and trees. Here there is an heirloom tomato tree, which is a Guinness World Record breaker. This tree produced over 32,000 tomatoes in one 16-month period, making it, at the time, the largest and most productive tomato plant in the world.

Currently there are actually two heirloom tomato trees, which have been grown at Epcot from seed that was brought to America from Beijing, China. These trees take around a year and a half to grow to full size on the various trestles in the greenhouse but they start growing fruit around six months after planting. It is not unusual to get an annual harvest of some 14,000 tomatoes, which are each the size of a golf ball.

These tomatoes, along with much of the other fruits and plants grown in Land Pavilion, are used in the restaurants of WDW. Each year, well over 30 tonnes of fruit and vegetables are grown and used.

Finally, only Disney could have growing in the greenhouses of the Land of the Living ride a giant Mickey-shaped pepper tree to add both interest and fun to the serious message that this ride and area of Epcot offers visitors.

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