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Tree of the month – Birnam Oak

The prophecy of the three witches of Macbeth came true when branches from Birnam Wood were used as camouflage to hide the advancing army. Could the Birnam Oak have been present when Shakespeare was inspired to write this story?

The exact age of the Birnam oak isn’t known, but with a girth of almost seven and a half metres it’s likely to be at least 600 years old.

It was probably a good size when Shakespeare is said to have visited Perthshire in 1599. It’s believed that it was during this visit he got his inspiration for the witches prophecy.

The Birnam oak and the nearby Birnam sycamore are thought to be the surviving trees of the great forest which once spanned the banks and hillsides of the River Tay. This great forest was immortalised as Birnam Wood in the Scottish Play.


Several years ago Scottish Natural Heritage took action to protect the roots of the Birnam Oak from being swamped by Himalayan balsalm.

Threats to the tree now include compaction of the soil and damage to roots. The hollow trunk has been home to a fire at least once in the past and there are fears this might happen in the future.

A Tree Condition Survey has recently looked into the health of the trees locally and the local community have been asked for feedback on the recommendations.

Hopefully the Birnam Oak will continue to be a focal point for a long time to come.

Birnam Oak