Trees of Latvia: The Krīvs of Zemgale

Latvia loves trees. Dižkoki (great trees) are Latvia's largest trees, protected by law. Long ago, they were thought to be holy and signal the presence of god. Some of these ancient trees are still standing - like Zemgales krīvs (the sage of Zemgale), a 300-year-old oak that Latvian Radio visited starting off its "Greatest Trees of Latvia" column.

Latvian Radio visited the tree at Garoza in the Ozolnieki region, accompanied by nature protection expert Vita Caune of the Nature Conservation Agency.

The tree - originally two great oaks of which one collapsed, leaving a gaping hollow - was named by one Krišs Melderis in the 1930s. He thought that Zemgales krīvs was the last standing oak of a holy grove, though there's no confirmation as to whether that's true.

"It's known that from the early 20th century to the second world war there was a wooden dance floor by the oak. Open-air parties were held here, with musicians sitting in the tree," said Vita Caune.

"There's a big hollow on the side of it, where a grownup or several pupils can enter. The hollow came about as formerly the tree had two trunks, one of which broke about a hundred years ago," said Caune.

The tree is about 300 years old and has a diameter of 6.75m. As its bark on the inside of the hollow is the same as outside, it could be surmised that the tree grows on the inside in an attempt to stabilize itself, said Caune.

Great trees were first classified and counted by arborist Staņislavs Saliņš in the 1960s. He came up with the term dižkoks and in 1974 released a book documenting 626 great trees across Latvia.

Several well-known Latvians like poet Imants Ziedonis followed in his footsteps, starting the activist group "Liberators of the Great Trees" in 1976. Over the course of twenty years they made 198 expeditions, managing to reach every corner of Latvia’s national territory. 

Their efforts have been chronicled in the "We're close by" documentary, available with English subtitles on LSM.

Only an estimated one in five great trees have been registered and are thus protected by the authorities. There could be around 20,000 protected trees in Latvia.

The Nature Conservation Agency encourages everyone to help measuring and mapping the Latvia's great trees.

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