A Short History of Axel Erlandson and his Tree Circus


The Tree Circus

Erlandson was born in 1884, the son of Swedish immigrants. He raised beans in Central California near Turlock. There, Inspired by observing a natural graft between two sycamore trees. (inosculence) He began to shape trees, by planting in specified patterns; then pruning, grafting and bending them. This began as a hobby for the amusement of himself and his family. 

In 1945 Erlandson's daughter and wife took a trip to the ocean near Santa Cruz. There they saw people lined up to pay to see such oddities as tilted buildings and optical illusions. They returned home and convinced Axel that his trees could draw people who would pay to see them; if they were on a well traveled tourist route. Axel bought a small parcel of land in Scotts Valley on the main road between the Santa Clara Valley and the ocean; and started the process of transplanting the best of his trees to their new home. The Tree Circus opened in the spring of 1947 (See photo at left)

The Sycamore Tower 

Erlandson planted six sycamore trees in a circle, topped them all at one foot then approach grafted them together to form the diamond patterns for the first 2.5 Meters (8')he left a opening at the top. This specimen is one of Erlandson's most balanced symbiotic creations 

Close up Sycamore Tower 


Double twist tree 

This photo was taken in 1995 

Double twist tree. 
Pictured here with Wilma Erlandson (Axle's daughter) Approximately 1952 (Photo courtesy of Wilma Erlandson) 

The ladder tree

Grown from two Box Elders. All nine rungs could be climbed 

Axel Erlandson, shaped his trees for over 40 years. He created the worlds most outstanding examples of Arborsculpture. When asked how he got his trees to grow like this, he would reply, "I talk to them." 

Erlandson died in 1964, the property changed hands and was reborn as "The Lost World." The new owners brought in large plastic dinosaurs, largely neglected the trees and went out of business more than once. 

In 1985 Michael Bonfante owner of Nob Hill Foods and a nursery in Gilroy, California bought the surviving trees and transplanted most of them to his Amusement park. Bonfante Gardens , In Gilroy California. More historic photos from Bonfante Gardens

In 1995 Architect Mark Primack, Erlandsons biographer prepared one dead sculpture "The Telephone Booth Tree" (seen at right) to be cut and sent to Baltimore MD. for the opening of the American Visionary Art Museum.


  Mark Primack has done an excellent job of recognizing, recording and preserving the artifacts and life story of the late Axel Erlandson.


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