A Photographer’s Parable of the Broccoli Tree

In this day of social media, photographers have more power than they know. Unfortunately, once our work gets seen—and especially if it gets loved—things don’t always go they way we would like. Perhaps one of the most poignant examples of this is the story of the Broccoli Tree, as told in this brief but compelling video by the vlogbrothers:

The Broccoli Tree was a beautiful willow tree on the shore of Lake Vättern, Sweden that reminded photographer Patrik Svedberg of a stalk of broccoli. In May 2013, he began taking a photo of the tree on his daily commute to work. When he first posted it to Instagram it got just a handful of likes. Over the next few years though, his images of the tree began getting so many likes that he decided to create a dedicated Instagram account for it: @thebroccolitree.

The Broccoli Tree on Instagram

From there he kept on, photographing the tree through the changing seasons, weather, and times of day. Eventually the tree had thousands of followers, most of whom would never see it in real life.

The Broccoli tree through the seasons

But in this world where sharing can happen at such a huge scale, there’s always the chance that it will reach someone who will delight in tearing down that which is loved. Maybe out of spite. Maybe out of a deep need to be noticed. Whatever the reason, the more people who share in the beauty, the more likely it will be found by the wrong people, too.

What happens when too many people know about a beautiful thing

“Given enough time, such people will always cut down such trees.”

And in the end, you’ll wonder whether you should have shared at all. Should you have kept the beauty of the tree private, trying to keep it safe from the dangers of too much fame? Or was it worth sharing, since it became so much more than just about you? Hank Green of the vlogbrothers (and narrator of this clip) has this to say:

“The truth is, if we hoard and hide what we love, we can still lose it. Only then, we’re alone in the loss.”

If you’re finding yourself mourning for a tree you’ve never seen and perhaps never will, be comforted. The Broccoli Tree is a willow tree, and willows grow very fast. So fast, in fact, that cutting them down to a stump is a frequent park service practice–they quickly grow even more branches. Maybe not as quickly as we would like, and it still is a grievous crime, but if you’d really like to see it, it’ll be back in the not-too-distant-future.

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One response to “A Photographer’s Parable of the Broccoli Tree”

  1. Gary Hook says:

    Pruning is not a grievous crime. And willows get lanky, requiring trimming. Unless that was vandalism, there’s nothing wrong with what was done. And the re-growth will make for additional interesting photos.

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