Trees feature prominently in The Lord of the Rings, from the White Tree of Gondor to the woods of Lothlorien, and the walking Ents of Mirkwood.
The enduring symbolism of magical trees originates in two magical gold and silver trees of Valinor, created and destroyed long before Frodo Baggins and the One Ring.
The Two Trees of Valinor, one gold and one silver, were two magnificent trees that gave light to Valinor. Following the destruction of the Two Lamps, the trees were the only source of light in Arda. The Two Trees were destroyed by Melkor and Ungoliant and later replaced by the Sun and Moon.
Who Created the Two Trees of Valinor?
The trees were created from a song sung by Yavanna, the Valar of fruits and all growing things.
After Melkor destroyed the Great Lamps, Arda was plunged into darkness. The Valar returned to Aman and shaped Valinor, creating the Two Trees for light.
Yavanna sang the trees to life on Ezellohar, a green hill just outside of the city of Valmar. The City of Bells, Valmar, was the primary residence of the Valar and their Maia, located in the central part of Aman. Nienna, the Valar of sadness and grief, watered the growing trees with her tears.
The golden tree, named Laurelin, was considered female. The silver, called Telperion, was male. Each tree shone for seven hours, with an overlapping sunrise/sunset. The Queen of the Valar, Varda, collected dew from the trees from which she created stars.
Interestingly, the Two Trees of Valinor can be seen in the background of Amazon’s first teaser photo of the new Lord of the Rings series. See below.
Tolkien never specifically said how tall the two trees were, but given they gave light to all of Valinor, one can presume they were enormous. His inspiration for the trees were from medieval myths of the moon and sun as two trees. In The Wonders of the East, an old English text from the 12th century, Alexander the Great travels to Paradise and sees two magical trees.
Who Destroyed the Two Tree of Valinor?
Melkor, the corrupted Valar, and Ungoliant, a giant spider, murdered the two trees. Melkor hated the elves and his fellow Valar, plotted for years to destroy the trees as he had the two lamps.
Ungoliant, an ancient being of Aman, had the unique power of ‘unlight’ – a cloak of darkness that swallowed light. While the elves and the Valar were celebrating a feat, Melkor and Ungoliant approached the trees with the sunlight.
Melkor stabbed Laurelin and Telperion with his black spear, and their sap “poured forth as it were their blood.” Ungoliant drank greedily from the trees until they withered, and she, in turn, grew to an enormous size.
The Valar and Elves of Valinor were once again plunged into darkness. They grieved terribly for the trees. Yavanna tried to sing them back to life and, with Nienna’s tears, conjured a final flower from Telperion and a fruit from Laurelin.
What Happened to the Light of the Two Trees?
The Two Trees were gone, but their light lingered on in Arda from sources created before and after their destruction.
Sun and Moon
The Valar created the sun from Laurelin’s last fruit and the moon from Telperion’s final flower. The sun (Arien) and moon (Tilion) kept the gender of their respective trees, being referred to as “he” or “she” in Tolkien’s Legendarium.
Arien and Tilion were considered less powerful than the Two Trees. However, their birth was a considerable setback for Melkor in his war against the elves on Middle Earth.
The Ñoldor elf Fëanor famously captured the light of the two trees in the Silmarils, three magnificent gems that caused many millennia of bloodshed in Middle Earth. Melkor’s desire for the Silmarils led to him murdering the Two Trees in the first place.
Of the three Silmarils, two were lost by Fëanor’s descendants in the ocean and in a pit of fire. The third was returned to Valinor by Eärendil and became a star.
Much is made in Tolkien’s Legendarium about Galadriel’s magnificent gold and silver hair. In The Unfinished Tales, the elves believe “the light of the Two Trees had been snared in her tresses.”
Her hair is possibly what inspired Fëanor to capture the essence of the Two Tree’s light in the Silmarils. Fëanor asked three times for strands of her hair, but Galadriel refused (surprising her fellow elves many millennia later when she granted the same wish to a dwarf, Gimli).
Who are the Descendants of the Two Trees?
Although the trees themselves were dead, their footprint on Ara wasn’t entirely destroyed by Melkor. Telperion had descendants that lived on as magic-imbued trees in the First, Second, and Third Ages.
Galathilion and Celeborn of Aman
The elves in Valinor adored the Two Trees, especially Telperion. As a gift, Yavanna made Galathilion – identical to Telperion, except it gave no light. Galathilion was planted in the Elf city of Tirion. It had many seedlings, one of which was planted in Tol Eressëa (the Lonely Isle) and grew into the tree known as Celeborn of Aman.
Nimloth of Númenor
Nimloth was grown in Númenor from one of Celeborn’s seedlings. It was tended (or neglected) by Kings of Númenor in the Second Age, until finally cut down by Ar-Pharazôn at the urging of Sauron. Isildur was able to save one of Nimloth’s fruits before it was destroyed.
The Four White Trees of Gondor
The first white tree was grown by Isildur from the fruit of Nimloth. He planted it at Minas Ithil, which fell to Sauron and became Minas Morgul. Isildur took a sapling of the tree with him, which was fortunate as Sauron promptly destroyed the rest of it.
Isildur planted the second white tree in Minas Anor. This White Tree lasted until the Great Plague in the middle of the Third Age. A sapling was planted afterward, and this third white tree thrived until the line of Kings died out. The Stewards of Gondor left it standing dead in Minas Tirith to symbolically await the return of the king.
When Aragorn became King, he discovered a sapling of the White Tree in Mindolluin. He removed the third, dead white tree to Minas Tirith’s Houses of Dead (a royal crypt) and planted the sapling in its place.
The fourth and final White Tree of Gondor bloomed within the year of King Aragorn’s coronation.