Inspired by the fictional tree of the same name, the Tree of Life features approximately 325 carvings of existing and extinct animal species carved on its trunk and surrounding roots.
Engineered from a refitted oil platform and based on the natural forms of baobab trees, the Tree of Life is located on Discovery Island, roughly in the center of the park. Its leaves are made out of kynar. At the structure's interior base is a 400-seat arena that hosts It's Tough to Be a Bug!, a 3-D film attraction based on A Bug's Life.
When the park opened, the Imagineers wrote this fairy tale to explain the tree's origins:
One day, our vegetation would grow on Discovery Island. There were trees, shrubs, flowers, and birds. It was a barren piece of land. Then, one day, a tiny ant planted a seed and made a wish. He asked for a tree to grow ― a tree large enough to provide shelter for all the animals.
Magically, the ant's wish came true and a tree began to grow ― and it kept growing until there was room beneath its limbs for all the animal alphabet from A is for (ant) to Z is for (zebra). And as the tree continued to reach for the heavens, the images of all the animal alphabet that took shelter beneath its shade appeared on its trunk, roots, and branches.
This original ant can be spotted through a knothole hidden along the paths around the tree.
Tree of Life Awakens
The Tree of Life Awakens is a series of projection mapping shows that debuted on May 27, 2016, as part of the park's new nighttime operating hours. A media preview of the show was presented on April 19, 2016. Four presentations are featured throughout the evening, which has been named on a soundtrack release:
Journey: A playful deer and a watchful hawk.
Rendezvous: A hummingbird and flowers.
Gift Giver: A red fox in a winter setting.
Jungle Jam: A bald eagle and a colorful peacock in a combined forest, desert, and river setting.
The Tree of Life is topped with more than 103,000 translucent, five-shades-of-green leaves that were individually placed and actually blow in the wind.
The carving of David Greybeard, the famous chimp studied by Jane Goodall, was added late in construction by her request, as she had asked if a Chimpanzee was featured on the Tree. Placed at the entrance to the It's Tough to Be a Bug! theater, a plaque accompanying the sculpture tells the chimp's story.
A show was originally meant to be hosted up in the tree's canopy, before being replaced with It's Tough to Be a Bug underneath its roots.
As both trees were designed as massive baobabs, the Tree of Life name was adopted for use as a name of Rafiki's Ancient Tree in some of the menus for the 2003 Platinum DVD release of The Lion King.
Another Tree of Life is featured in the 3rd season of The Lion Guard. In this series, animals from all over the world come there for protection, and sick and injured ones go there to be healed. After Kion was badly scarred by Ushari and Ono damages his eyes while saving Bunga from falling into the volcano in "Battle for the Pride Lands", the Lion Guard's mission was to journey there and help heal them. Kion and Rani would become king and queen of this Tree of Life
Though guests know the story of the ant who made a wish for a tree to grow to provide shelter for all animals, they speculated if it was Flik from A Bug’s Life since they thought it takes place within both Pixar and Disney, or a regular common ant.
Roy E. Disney standing in front of the Tree of Life in March 2003.
Primatologist Jane Goodall with the carving of David Greybeard