|Official Name||Lǎoyan Shù|
|Common Name||Ch'ien-Ji Willow, Yang-Tzu Willow|
|Common Use||Ornamental, Ceremonial|
The Laoyan Tree, literally translating to "Old Man" Tree, is an expressive willow tree found in the Yang-Tzu Isles. Historically, the tree has been a symbol of hope and good fortune to the Ch'ien-Ji who inhabit the islands. Their branches fall easily and are used as ceremonial wands in Ch'ien-Ji rituals due to their resemblance to the Loong Dragons. The rest of the population in Aloria proper regards the tree as a novelty of the Isles. They are known for their expressive shapes, and have bending trunks and twisting branches.
The Laoyan Tree was first encountered by the Shen-Ji when they discovered the Yang-Tzu Isles. The trees were seen growing along the coasts, perched atop rocky cliffs. The trees curved and bent at large angles which, coupled with their gnarled and twisted body, gave them the likeness of hunched old men looking out over the sea, hence their moniker. The trees received little attention as they seemed to lack any significant use as a resource. At most, their unique shapes made them the subject of obscure poetry about the far-off Yang-Tzu outposts in the Shen-Xi Empire.
After the Great Flight of the Ch'ien-Ji people around 500 BC, the Laoyan Tree started taking on a more significant role as a symbol of hope and fortune. Settling into the barren, rocky mountains of the Yang-Tzu Isles was difficult for the new exiles. Yet, seeing these stalwart trees, one of the few native plants capable of thriving in the face of such adversity, gave the Ch'ien-Ji hope. Even more inspiring was that their long, drooping branches resembled the Loong Dragons that the Ch'ien-Ji worshipped. It was as if the trees were living shrines indicating the presence of their benevolent protectors.
The Laoyan Tree is a spindly willow tree and its trunk and branches wind and twist in odd patterns. Few trees grow upright, and are more often found in an angled position. Older trees have gnarled, knobby trunks, weathered by the coastal winds and hazardous conditions of their environment. The actual bark of the tree has a light gray or tan color with a smoothness that is not often found in other trees. This surface may even appear sleek or shiny, as if covered in a layer of wax.
The limbs of the tree can come in many shapes, whether it be branches swept in one way by the wind, or draping down from the forces of gravity. The vegetative branches, where the actual leaves grow out, are long, thin, and very flexible, much like standard willow branches. While the trunk and central limbs are tan, these younger branches turn golden yellow, while the leaves have a pale green color. Laoyan Trees have impressive root systems that grow thicker and more expansive than their crowns. They are often visible above ground as a network that entangles the surrounding rocks or earth.
Laoyan Trees are rather short compared to other willows, growing up to twenty feet tall. They can reach full size in just eight years. Their flowers are short, fuzzy catkins that resemble caterpillars and grow alongside the leaves. Due to the lack of a winter in the Yang-Tzu Isles, the trees keep their leaves year-round, though they easily shed and regrow their branches, sometimes even whole limbs.
Uses and Abilities
The Laoyan Trees act as minor shrines to the Ch'ien-Ji and Guo-Ji people. Many of the practices performed in the past are still in use today. Laoyan Trees can be found planted near Great Loong Temples, where prayers and offerings are made in hopes of receiving good fortune, plentiful harvests, as well as protection from the elements. Further protection from the Huon-Ji who lurk over the Jade Seas is also a frequent desire. Trees near the coast have smaller shrines, sometimes as simple as a single engraved stone, where citizens living farther from the temples can make their prayers instead. The Laoyan Tree sheds its branches quite easily due to constant high wind and waves. These branches are often used as ceremonial wands in various rituals.
Laoyan Trees are only found in the Yang-Tzu Isles. They never do well and always die prematurely when grown anywhere else, even when trying to emulate the natural conditions of the Isles. Interestingly, dead trees may still be kept as sculptures of sorts due to their appearance. The waxy coating on the trees not only gives them a shine but also seems to keep them from rotting for well over a couple years. Dead tree sculptures are considered exotic items kept by nobility or very wealthy gardeners.
- Cutting or damaging a Laoyan Tree is a strict taboo in the Yang-Tzu Isles that can result in severe punishments. Saplings usually don't count, but caution is still taken to remove them if unwanted.
- Branches are often imported by Ch'ien-Ji immigrants living overseas to continue their rituals. Oddly, the leaves on these branches don't wither as fast and can retain a lively appearance for months as long as they are continuously used in said rituals.
- Laoyan bark or branches have been used as ingredients in alchemy experiments for creating longevity elixirs. These experiments are outlawed by the Ch'ien-Ji as they often require fresh bark to be smuggled off the Isles.
- The trees are often the subject of Ch'ien-Ji art and writing, providing a motif found in most Ch’ien-Ji works.