Concert promoter Nick Hobbs was guiding a group of hikers through Belgrade forest, just north of Istanbul, when he stumbled upon the magnificent Octopus tree. “Everyone loved it,” he says. “We all thought it was breathtaking.”
Nick, a Briton who is based in the Turkish city, is so passionate about walking that he set up Hiking Istanbul with two friends. He often brings his hiking groups to the tree. “It fell over in its early days, branched out and has a lot of trunks,” says the 66-year-old. “It’s not a tree people would just walk past. I haven’t seen a tree like it anywhere else. I found it by chance and I’ve taken many pictures of the tree. The first time I saw it, I thought: ‘It’s fantastic something like this exists.’”
The Octopus tree, nicknamed that by locals, is actually a Platanus orientalis (oriental plane) and is located about a mile and a half from a small forest town called Bahçeköy. “It has one main trunk and at least five sub-trunks that are sort of independent. I like the way it is both horizontal and vertical.” Because of the tree’s large size, Nick has been unable to fit it into one shot. “Most of it grows along the ground. This photo gives an impression of the immensity of the whole tree with its multiple trunks and snakelike branches.”
Nick remains in awe of how intricate the tree looks. “You get the sense you are under the tree and on top of it. Sometimes, I make the pilgrimage to the tree on my own, and it never looks the same.”
Historic trees are “weakly protected” in Turkey, he says, and the Octopus tree is one of a few that have been protected from being cut down to make room for urban developments. “It’s a very well-known tree here. I don’t think the government would build anything in this particular area of the forest.”
Nick started the hiking group in 2013 after the Gezi Park protests. Demonstrators camped out at the park next to Taksim Square to try to stop the government from building over it. “It was a revolutionary moment for Turkey at the time. The police destroyed the camp and it was the catalyst for a huge nationwide protest.” Nick wanted to help Istanbul’s residents and tourists explore the city’s beautiful nature.
Visiting the Octopus tree always calms Nick down. “It’s one of the treasures of our human relationship with nature. When we go to environments that were created before us, we feel a sense of continuity with the past. This 400- to 600-year-old tree is a precious reminder of our existence.”