The Legend Of The Circus Trees Keeps Growing

The Circus Trees at Gilroy Gardens Family Theme park have delighted and intrigued visitors for years—and were recently featured by Visit California in this fun video about the state’s “Hidden Gems”:  

Do you know the whole story behind these fascinating living artworks?

The unique grafted sycamores, box elders, ash and Spanish cork trees were originally grown by Swedish immigrant Axel Erlandson starting in the 1920s. Inspired by observing a natural graft between two trees, he began to shape his own whimsical creations.

Over time, Erlandson’s intricate grafting techniques resulted in woven wonders made from “threads” of living wood. Straight tree trunks and branches were carefully bent, rather than cut, and became complex and compound designs in shapes like hearts, lightning bolts, basket weaves, and rings. 

Erlandson claimed to be divinely inspired and spent over 40 years of his life shaping and grafting the bodies and arms of trees. He learned ways to control the rate of growth, either slowing it down or speeding it up, to blend his designs to perfection.

The Circus Trees were exhibited as “The Tree Circus” in Scotts Valley, California and gained some notoriety, including a 1957 feature article in Life magazine. But the “wooden wonders” suffered after Erlandson’s death. So, in 1985, Gilroy Gardens founder (and lifelong lover of trees) Michael Bonfante engineered a rescue operation. He carefully dug up the trees, hauled them on trucks through the Santa Cruz mountains, and lovingly transplanted them on the grounds of what is now Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park.

Today, visitors arriving at the park are greeted by ten of the original Circus Trees in Dixie Cup Plaza, including “Double Hearts,” “Picture Frame,” “Revolving Door,” and “Spiral Staircase #1.” The park’s signature “Basket Tree” is the centerpiece of the Main Plaza and is also featured in the Gilroy Gardens logo. Michael’s personal favorite, this fascinating specimen was shaped from six American Sycamore trees, all carefully grafted together to resemble a woven basket.

Other remarkable specimens include the “Arch,” “Four-Legged Giant,” “Oil Well,” and “Zig-Zag.” The park’s newest attraction, Water Oasis, even features a “junior” Zig-Zag tree grown by Michael Bonfante himself!

The Circus Trees definitely fall into the “You gotta see it to believe it” category. So plan a trip to Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park to come see them for yourself! You’ll also enjoy the park’s majestic gardens and over 40 fun family rides and attractions.


>>EXPLORE MORE: Book an affordable hotel room nearby so you can stay to explore Gilroy’s award-winning wineries, outlet stores, charming historic downtown, and more!

Source: Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, “A Circus Tree Story


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