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Hank takes you through the weird, twisted forests of Russia and Eastern Europe, where trees grow at odd angles. What caused trees to grow into big wooden pretzels? Was it wind? Manipulation by woodworkers? Nazis, maybe? See for yourself as Hank explores the possibilities.

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Sources for this episode:
http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/2011/05/crooked-forest-of-gryfino-poland.html
http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/forests/news-dancing-forests-kaliningrad
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2047406/The-crooked-forest-Fantasy-woodland-come-straight-fairytale.html
http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/06/the-crooked-forest-of-gryfino-poland.html
http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/forests/news-dancing-forests-kaliningrad
http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/the-mysterious-dancing-forest-of-kaliningrad.html
http://www.curonianspit.net/?p=dancing_forest
http://web.archive.org/web/20070809001440/http://www.nps.gov/archive/romo/resources/plantsandanimals/ecosystem/subalpine.html
http://www.biologie.uni-hamburg.de/b-online/e32/32c.htm
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/994
(Intro)

The Dancing Forest of Kaliningrad is exactly the kind of place where you'd expect to find a werewolf creeping through the mist. Located in a place called the Curonian Spit off the Baltic Sea, on the border of Russia and Lithuania, the strange forest is known to locals by a jollier name, the Drunken Forest. Because, well, the stand of pine trees looks more than a little schnockered as they twist and curve, stretching upward in contorted loops to find their way to the sky. And here's the thing -- no one knows why these trees look like they're grinding to Marvin Gaye.

Of course theories abound, some suggesting unstable soil is the cause, or beetle damage, or even nuclear radiation. Local legends say the crawling through one of these tree loops in the right direction will earn you an extra year of life. A more popular, non-magical theory suggests powerful winds were the original shaping force. And there is a precedent for that - if you've ever hiked into an alpine zone forest, you've probably seen patches of stunted, twisted, super cool, mini trees called Krummholz. They get to thoroughly clobbered by harsh, cold winds that they end up growing more horizontal than vertical.

But, some people think that the trees in the Dancing Forest have been trained to grow that way. Humans have long been manipulating trees for commercial or aesthetic purposes. Mr. Miyagi and his bonsais - he was all about tree-shaping. Humans can train a young tree to grow in unconventional ways by laying a heavy object on its skinny trunk, sometimes for years. The tree, just like the houseplant on your windowsill, wants to grow toward the sun really bad, and no weight is going to stop it from reaching the light, a process called phototropism. And whether plants are made to bend intentionally or not, the effects of phototropism can change the character of its tissues.

In trees, the wood that forms under the pressure of weight is called reaction wood, or in conifers, compression wood. It's created when the layer beneath the tissue is bark  called the Cambium thickens the source of the pressure to support the horizontal weight of the tree. In time, the funny shape of the bend becomes permanent and it  leaves behind a record of oval or oblong instead of more circular rings. 

In the case of the Dancing Forest, local historians have no recollection of any human manipulation to create this effect but there is another forest in North West Poland called the Crooked Forest made of about 400 Pine Trees that all have uniform 90 degree bends at the base of their trunks. The trees are all the same age and they all bend North - because of this uniformity many people believe that this forest was manipulated by humans perhaps to grow uniquely shaped wood for oxen yokes, ship hulls or for furniture making. That particular theory maintains that the trees were shaped before 1930 but were abandoned before they could be harvested with the outbreak of World War II. But ultimately even the cause of the Crooked Forest's odd tree shapes remains a mystery and they could also be attributed to some powerful force like strong winds, heavy snow and ice pack or even the result of one of my favorite theories - being run over by Nazi tanks as young trees during the war. 

Now all this reminds us that while Scientific explanations of natural phenomenon are usually pretty cool and often necessary, sometimes it may be cooler for it just to be a mystery.

Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow. If you have any questions or comments or ideas for weird places we should research, let us know in the comments below or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter. And if you want to keep getting smarter with us here at SciShow, you can go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe.
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