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.