Trees in the fall can be quite beautiful, however fall is also peak spookytimes, so there are some trees you gotta be wary of. I set out to document the scariest, creepiest, most unhinged and depraved trees in Champaign-Urbana.

However, it turns out there’s A WHOLE BUNCH of trees in this town. I couldn’t actually assess each and every one since I do also have a day job, so this isn’t a comprehensive list, just some of the creepy trees that I found while looking. I may not be a botanist, but I am an amateur tree spookologist, so I will let you know what genus of creep each of these trees belongs to.

The big tree in Trevett Finch Park at University and Prospect is so versatile! In the spring it’s a popular spot for engagement photos and high school senior glamour shots, but this time of year, it’s definitely the type of tree that will come alive and use one of its many tentacle trunks to pick you up and toss you into oncoming traffic just for fun.

A large leafy tree with low branches that stretch out horizontally. It sits in a grassy area with a sidewalk and bench in the foreground. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.
A close up of a thick tree trunk and branches that are twisted. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Ye be warned.

Busey Woods definitely has a lot of trees. In the dead of winter one might even say that all of the trees there are spooky. Right now though, this fellow right off the boardwalk is the creepiest for sure.

A large tree with mostly bare branches that are thin and reaching in every direction. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

A chaotic outbreak of black branches, this tree appears sinister even on a sunny day. This is the sort of tree that will linger in your thoughts once you’ve seen it up close.

A large tree with mostly bare branches that are thin and reaching in every direction. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

You’ll find it showing up unexpectedly in your dreams, appearing in time and places it should not be — the living room of your childhood home, a beach you once visited, the center of a busy street. Your dream self thinks this is all quite normal. Your waking self is thoroughly unsettled by its repeat appearances. You feel compelled to return to the woods and see the tree in person, but you dare not.

It’s a well known fact that human children are creepy. Well, young trees can be creepy as well for many of the same reasons. They just don’t have enough worldly experience to have any sort of coherent morality, and also they have tiny, mischievous fingers which are not to be trusted.

A small bare branched tree with reddish bark. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

“The Fields” (Carle at The Fields and the associated buildings and businesses) has a large number of young trees around. Some of these are definitely little creeps. (treeps? treepers?)

This tree on Elm Street just off of Green in Champaign has a very large and disconcerting tumor thing of some kind.

A large tree with a thick trunk and circular outgrowth from the trunk. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

There are of course many spooky trees with disconcerting growths/lumps around. This one is a particular variety that seems to vibrate or pulsate if viewed out of the corner of your eye.

A close up of a circular outgrowth on a tree. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Also, on very still nights, the growth seems to moan ever so softly.

At the corner of Foley and William in Champaign there’s this pair of absolutely classic creepy trees. Look at these two — gnarled, knotty, whimsical, and just a little chilling.

A tree with a wide, gnarled trunk with a hole on one side and bare branches sticking out from it. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.
A close up of a tree with a gnarled and split trunk. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Walking by these trees, it’s very likely that some cartoon bats or owls or something will pop out of the holes and start singing to you a jaunty song about local ghosts and how they died.

The University Arboretum of course has many many types of trees. On its far eastern edge, I found this specimen that I don’t like the look of one bit.

A willow tree with long spindly branches with green leaves that reach all the way to the ground. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Trees with leave/branches that go down to their base often hide unsavory surprises, and this one is especially overgrown.

A close up of a tangle of willow branches. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Looking at the warped and twisted leaves, it’s clear that at night this tree houses a host of malevolent fae creatures of some kind. If you’re walking by after dark, it’s best not to look them in the eyes. They may jeer at you or try to jump out and prick you in the ankles or ears. Just ignore them and above all, keep walking. Remember, it’s dangerous to engage with fae folk in any capacity.

Trees in cemeteries are automatically pretty creepy. While exploring the Mount Hope Cemetery, right near the heart of campus, I found quite a large number of dead trees still standing there. Maybe enough trees to do a whole column on one day. I assume these dead trees have never been removed because that would require digging up dozens and dozens of graves, many dating back to the 1800s.

The spookiest tree I found in the cemetery is this strikingly forked fellow. Standing tall still, but seemingly being torn in twain, slowly, by unknowable forces.

A tall thin tree with a split trunk. Each trunk has thin branches sticking out horizontally. It sits in the middle of several gravestones. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.
A different view of the same tree, looking up to a blue and partially cloudy sky. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

I’m no expert in black magics or the occult, but I’d say this particular tree would be vital for use in certain necromantic rituals. Just spitballin’ here, but I bet if you hung a small shard of glass, which had been thoroughly stained with human blood, from the center of the tree cleft, then you waited until the moon was in the right place in the sky and you looked through the shard and recited the right forbidden words, I’m guessing this tree would show you a very accurate vision of the time and cause of your own death.

The same split tree from a different angle, with the sun shining through the break in the trunk. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Again, I’m not an expert, just speculating.

Anyhow, those are all the spooky trees I found. One genre of tree I couldn't locate was the “lone tree standing forlornly in the center of a windswept field or low hill.” If you know about one of those in town, do let me know in the comments! Happy Halloween and don’t forget to vote!

Top photo by Tom Ackerman.