The Colombian scholarship was the process by which animals and plants were traded between the Old and New Worlds (the Americas) by European colonial powers. The best-known products to make the trip were food-related, but decorative plants, while often overlooked, were a crucial part of the legacy of this exchange. Some have become invasive species on their new continents, while others, like the Ahuehete in Buen Retiro Park in Madrid, have managed to become equally popular and appreciated.
Taxodium mucronatum is the scientific name for the tree, while its common names in English include Montezuma cypress and ahuehuete, which is also the common name in Spanish. The name derives from “āhuēhuētl” in Náhuatl, the language of the Aztec / Mexican people. It is the national tree of Mexico and the country has many remarkable specimens. The Buen retiro specimen is perhaps the most famous outside the country, as it is often considered “the oldest tree in Madrid”, earning it its nickname “El Abuelo” – “The grandfather “.
A plaque near the tree assumes it could be up to 400 years old, which would make it one of the first trees planted in the Parterre section of the park in 1633. More recent methods have instead dated its age to more 200 years old. It’s still old enough that one of the best-known tree myths is possible. During the Napoleonic invasions of Spain in the early 19th century, it is believed that French troops felled most of the trees in El Buen Retiro for timber, but the Ahuehuete was spared as they found it useful for support and hide an artillery weapon.
With so many legends and uncertainties about its origins, one thing is certain, the tree is one of the best known and most beloved in the Spanish capital. Whether it is 400 or 200 years old, whether French troops spared it or not, “El Abuelo” is officially listed as one of the Singular Trees of the Community of Madrid.