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La Jolla’s ‘Lorax’ Tree Has Fallen

The Monterey cypress believed to have partially inspired Dr. Seuss’s 1971 classic enviromental tale toppled last week for unknown reasons

(City of San Diego)
smithsonian.com

In what may be seen as an ominous omen of our times, the tree that is believed to have inspired the truffula trees in Dr. Seuss’ eco-classic children’s book, The Lorax, toppled over in La Jolla, California.

The tree, a lone Monterey cypress keeping watch over the water’s edge at Ellen Browning Scripps Park, fell over for an unknown reason last week, reports Michelle Lou at CNN. It’s believed the cypress was 80 to 100 years old, a few decades shy of its average 150-year lifespan.

Looking at images of the tree, it’s easy to understand why it’s been associated with Seuss, the pen name of author and illustrator Theodor Geisel. A sinuous trunk rises up to a lopsided, pointy crown of pine branches that looks as if it were sketched into existence by Seuss himself.

After World War II, Seuss moved to La Jolla and lived in an observation tower overlooking the coast. He would have easily been able to spot the lone tree along the seaside.

While there’s no record of whether Geisel ever used this specific tree as inspiration, locals and City of La Jolla referred to the fallen cypress at “The Lorax Tree,” Jennifer Billock at Smithsonian.com reports.

Whether or not this particular tree directly appeared in his work, Darrell Smith at The Sacramento Bee reports that Seuss was upset by coastal development and things like billboards popping up around La Jolla, where he lived for 40 years. It’s likely that development pressure in the area helped inspire 1971’s The Lorax.

In the book, a boy visits a mysterious man named the Once-ler, who lives in dilapidated house on the edge of polluted, clearcut valley. The Once-ler, a personification of extractive industries and greed, tells the story of how he began cutting down the once plentiful, multi-colored truffula trees to make a gimmicky garment called a Thneed. Slowly but surely, as the useless Thneed gains popularity, he begins to cut down more and more of the truffula forest.

That’s when the Lorax appears, a mustachioed creature whose purpose is to “speak for the trees.” He admonishes the Once-ler for his greed. The Lorax appears again and again, telling the Once-ler to stop destroying the forest and escorting ailing animals out of the diminished Truffala grove. When the last tree is felled, the Lorax also abandons the valley, leaving a monument on the last stump that just says “Unless.”

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,” the repentant Once-ler finally realizes, giving the last remaining Truffala seed to the visiting child.

San Diego city spokesman Timothy W. Graham tells Sacramento Bee’s Smith that except for some termites, the Lorax tree appeared to be in good health. Arborists are currently trying to figure out why it toppled. “It’s an iconic tree, a beloved tree,” he said. “We did have a very wet winter, so we’re looking at the soil to see if that may have been a factor.”

The city has already removed most of the tree and plans to salvage the trunk and repurpose it somehow, though exactly what they will do with it has not yet been decided.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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