Have you ever been hiking in the woods and noticed this strange anomaly: a tree bent over in the woods, fairly low to the ground and looking pretty unnatural among the other upright trees in the forest. If so, you may have just thought it a funny trick of nature, maybe snapped a picture, and moved on.

But for anyone who’s familiar with Native American culture, you might know exactly what you’ve stumbled upon. And in that case, you’ll probably want to start looking around immediately.

Why? Well, according to the national American Forests website, bent trees are clear Native American trail markers. The original residents of North American soil used to strap the trees down and allow them to grow so the bend became permanent. The bend would point Natives in the direction of a path, stream, or river.

As the website details, Native Americans would often bend trees as saplings so they would grow into this bent shape:

“Native Americans would bend young trees to create permanent trail markers, designating safe paths through rough country and pointing travelers toward water, food or other important landmarks. Over the years, the trees have grown, keeping their original shape, but with their purpose all but forgotten as modern life sprang up around them.”

However, academics point out that just because you’ve spotted a bent tree in the woods doesn’t mean you’ve DEFINITELY uncovered a piece of Native American history. There are a few qualifying factors you have to check off to determine whether or not you’ve found one of these incredibly rare trees:

  1. Are you in an area where it Native Americans previously inhabited?
  2. Is the tree old enough to have been around hundreds of years ago?
  3. Is the bend low to the ground?
  4. Is there any type of landmark in the area that would warrant a marker?
  5. Are you living east of the Mississippi River?
  6. Are you looking at an oak tree?

If you can definitively say yes to all of the above, you might have a trail marker tree on your hands. As all these qualifiers make clear, they’re a very special thing to find — even if all the boxes have been checked, experts would still be skeptical since trees CAN naturally grow in this bent shape.

Have you ever found one of these bent trees in your area? Do you think it was the work of ancient Native Americans? Make sure to share your experiences with us!