Hemp oak is Latvia's contender in 'Eurovision for trees'

There are more than 13,000 specially designated 'dižkoki' or large, ancient trees in Latvia, and one of them – with the name of 'Kaņepju ozols' or  'Hemp oak' – has the chance to become the European Tree of the Year this year. 

Voting takes place until February 22 on the website www.treeoftheyear.org to decide which will be Europe's pre-eminent dryad in 2024. 

As things currently stand the Polish 'Heart of the Garden' is currently in the lead with 21,808 votes, followed by 'The Weeping Beech of Bayeux' from France with 13,753 votes and the 'Thousand-year-old Olive Tree of Luras' from Italy with 8,812 in third place.

The European Tree of the Year contest originated in 2011. It was inspired by a Tree of the Year contest, which has been organized in the Czech Republic for many years. The European round is a finale consisting of the winners of the national rounds.

Every year in February, the online voting for the European Tree of the Year is organized by Environmental Partnership Association (EPA). The first European voting was organized in 2011. Since then the number of countries involved in the contest has risen from 5 to 16. 

Latvia is taking part for the third time. It is like a "tree Eurovision" Ilze Ozola, a representative of the competition in Latvia, told LTV's 'Vides fakti' (Nature Facts) show.

To qualify for the main contest, first, the trees are submitted to the Latvian competition. Not only big trees can participate in the competition, but the main thing is that there must be a story that makes the particular tree special.

"In Latvia, we apply for several trees, which could be the most special, the most beautiful and with the most interesting story. And then we choose one in a vote, which will then travel [figuratively speaking] to the European competition," said Ozola, whose name incidentally means 'Oak'.

This year the Latvian contenders included the Kāzu oak, Maizes mājas pine, Rūķīšu crab apple, Pandu walnut, Kuņņu oak, Alciema spruce, Clock pine, Kartupeļu dumpja pine, as well as Kaņepu oak.

The Hemp oak is by far the largest representative from Latvia so far – its circumference is almost 10 meters. This big tree is located in Jērceni parish of Valmiera municipality. Its lightning-split trunk has a large cavity with three entrances. The parish is proud of its oak tree, and people gather around it to celebrate festive events, and ersatz coffee is made from its acorns.

There is some debate about its age, with some sources saying around 450 years but others as much as 800 years.

To see all the contenders and learn about more of Europe's finest specimens, visit https://www.treeoftheyear.org/

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