Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

Miles E. Richardson


The ceiba in Guatemala and the live oak in Louisiana are examples of two trees that attain great size and age within the cultural landscape. Humans have adopted both as symbolic trees; they protect, encourage and even plant them. As the trees age, they become historic landmarks, are indicators of important places, and give character to the landscape. Although each tree is native within portions of each study area, both have taken advantage of human disturbance to expand beyond their original habitats. In addition, they have been moved deliberately by humans to new areas well beyond their geographical limits. Other parallels include their presence in places like schools, public parks and plazas, along roadsides, in sacred places and in front of government buildings. The stories of how they came to prominence, however, are different. The ceiba was the tree of life among the ancient Maya. It has survived conquest to become the national tree of Guatemala. The live oak's importance in Louisiana's landscape developed rapidly in the last 150 years and is in part the result of European attitudes toward Old World oaks transferred to a New World species. Examining the everyday interactions and landscape roles of the trees reveals that while the ceiba is a formal, public tree, live oaks are often planted on private land and treated as individuals, even given human names. Other differences include the far more specialized care given to live oaks, their economic value as aesthetic objects, and their planting in large groups. Despite their differences, both trees are examples of untamed, wild creatures placed deliberately in the center of the built environment. Their physical presence and symbolic significance exert a strong influence on the experience of place. Human relationships with big old trees challenge the usual distinction between wild and domesticated species, emphasizing the importance of understanding the ongoing interaction that shapes the lived-in landscape. They suggest the unity rather than the separation of nature and culture.