5 Fascinating Facts About Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life

by | Jun 23, 2020 | Animal Kingdom, WDW Blog

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The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom is the crowning feature of the youngest park at Walt Disney World.

You can’t miss it when you go, and whether or not you spend a lot of time exploring it, there’s so much more to the Tree of Life than you probably know.

Most Beautiful Oil Rig Ever

The Tree of Life is not a real tree, but a sculpture of the baobab tree, sometimes called an “upside-down tree” due to the way the branches mimic roots.

Carving close up tree of life

There was so much effort put into the design and construction of the tree. Photo by Cliff Wang

The sculpture took quite a bit of time and work to complete—three Imagineers and 10 artists worked full-time on the design of the tree for 18 months.

Inside the tree, you might be surprised to find the structure is made of an upside-down oil rig. Talk about reduce, reuse, recycle!

On the outside, the animal sculptures are incredibly detailed and truly beautiful. But each artist only had six to 10 hours to complete a single animal sculpture before the plaster was too hard to manipulate further.

Beyond the animals, there are over 102,000 leaves of five different shades of green. These leaves were attached by hand to over 8,000 branches!

A Reflective Entrance

As you walk into Animal Kingdom, you’ll see the pavement beneath your feet has swirls of green throughout.

Google Earth Animal Kingdom Tree Pavement

This Google Earth screenshot shows the tree in the pavement. Image Courtesy of Google Earth

This entrance is reflective of what you’re about to walk straight into—the Tree of Life.

Look around and you’ll notice the swirls are actually tree branches, leading you into the Animal Kingdom. This tree is supposed to be a reflection of the tree of life inside the park.

How Many Animals?

You might be wondering exactly how many animals are carved onto the Tree of Life. According to Disney, there are over 300 animal sculptures on the tree (more have even been added through the years). 

You won’t ever find an official list of all the animals portrayed, though.

Tree of Life Close Up

How many animals can you find in this image alone? Photo by Cliff Wang

Disney wants you to experience the fun and magic of trying to find your favorite animal, or spotting as many as you can! 

A fun game to play while at the Animal Kingdom (especially with kiddos) is to see who can find the most different animal sculptures on the tree!

A Very Special Chimp

There’s only one animal on the Tree of Life that has its own name: David Greybeard, the chimpanzee. 

Head into the “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” queue, and you’ll see the chimp right before you enter through the turnstiles.

David Greybeard was added after Jane Goodall, chimpanzee expert, visited the Animal Kingdom before the park opened. She asked where she could find the chimp on the tree, and the artists realized they hadn’t added one.

So, in honor of Jane, they added in the chimpanzee you see today. David Greybeard was a chimp Jane Goodall named, the first chimpanzee ever observed making a tool in the wild. 

To your left, you’ll find a plaque talking about Jane Goodall.

Giraffe tree of life

In the roots of the tree, there are some very special animals carved! Photo by Laurie Sapp

Oh, and after the show, veer left instead of right for some amazing views of even more sculptures.

The giraffe sculptures you’ll find here are commemorative of the first animals ever brought to the Animal Kingdom.

It Was All Started By … An Ant?

Within the roots of the Tree of Life, you’ll discover a sculpture of an ant. This might seem like just another addition to the tree, but this ant is the reason behind the whole tree!

Everyone knows Disney is all about intricate backstories to make the magic of each land even more realistic, and this story is no exception.

It is said that this ant planted the seed for the Tree of Life, hoping to grow a tree and attract even more animals to the land. 

As he planted the seed, he wished for the animals to come.

Tree of Life oasis lake

The animals were reflected onto the tree as they came to the water’s edge. Photo by Laurie Sapp

The ant’s wish came true, and the Tree of Life grew large, and the shade over the oasis attracted many, many animals to the water’s edge. As the animals drank, their reflections from the water bounced onto the tree, magically leaving their likeness there.

The Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom is a truly amazing work of construction and a stunning piece of art. Next time you’re at the park, be sure and take a stroll around the trails to really capture the whole story and beauty of the Tree of Life.

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Written by Leah Sikes

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Leah Sikes is a graphic designer and contributing writer for WDW Magazine and Dad's Guide to WDW. When she's lucky enough to visit the Happiest Place on Earth, you catch her hanging out with the 999 Happy Haunts. She also loves running in the parks (when it's allowed at the marathons).
Leah Sikes

Written by Leah Sikes

Leah Sikes is a graphic designer and contributing writer for WDW Magazine and Dad's Guide to WDW. When she's lucky enough to visit the Happiest Place on Earth, you catch her hanging out with the 999 Happy Haunts. She also loves running in the parks (when it's allowed at the marathons).
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