Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Ye olde wishing cork tree

A cork oak (Quercus suber) tree which formerly grew in Coombe-in-Teignhead (now usually written as Coombeinteignhead), south Devon, was reputed to be able to bestow good fortune.

A Christmas card  which contained small fragments of cork from this tree was available in the late 1980s, and, judging by the clothing of the children on it, since the late 1940s.  According to ‘The Legend of the Wishing Cork Tree’ as given in the cards:

‘For the past 350 years a fine old cork oak tree has flourished in the village of Coombe-in-Teignhead and surrounded itself with a strange power to bring good luck to those observing certain rituals dating back to the time of the Great Plague of London in 1665.  At that time, people came from all parts of the country to walk around the tree three times, to make a wish.  Some came for better health, and others for a wife or husband as the case may be.  It was said that few were disappointed.  As it powers became more widely known, many people suffering from ill-health and unable to make the journey to South Devon wrote asking for a piece of lucky cork in order that they might walk round it three times in their own home.  Others wrote for a piece in the hope that it would bring good fortune in its wake.  Even to this day people from all over the world write for a piece.  Whatever one may think of charms and lucky omens, the fact remains that this fine old tree has been the means of bringing amazing luck to many who possess a piece of its cork.  The legend runs: –

                       Fortune favours those who see                                                                                 More in me than just a tree                                                                                         Take my cork                                                                                                                 And three times walk                                                                                                   Round my girth for all to see

How such a wonderful old tree came to grow in its unusual setting, weathering the storms of hundreds of years, remains a mystery to this day.  It is  hoped it will continue to flourish and yield its lucky cork to future generations as in the past.’

Something seems wrong with the history.  Assuming the Christmas card was first produced in c.1950 and the tree was first appreciated in 1665, its fame would have extended for only 280 or so years, not 350.  In May 2012 during a short visit to Coombeinteignhead no trace or mention of the tree could be found.

Main image: undated (c.1940s?) postcard.

Edited 27 December 2021.