Uprooted from its native red soil in Georgia’s western Ajaria region, the leafy, lone, 650-tonne giant sets sail towards its new home – and along its surreal journey, it turns into an Internet meme. In March 2016 images of an ancient Liriodendron tulipifera being transported upright by a makeshift barge along Georgia's Black Sea coast went viral on social media in the country, and beyond.
The tulip tree, as it is commonly known, was not Georgia’s first floating tree, nor was it the last. Since 2015 Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s wealthiest man and former prime minister, has been buying, removing and replanting trees from the western regions of Guria, Ajara and Samegrelo, to populate a vast dendrological park he is building near his local estate, in the village of Shekvetili.
“It is my hobby and I really love big trees, giant trees are my entertainment,” he reportedly said, as the park's ancient greenery is slated to open to the public sometime between 2019 and 2020. The exact number is unknown but rumors picked up from workers who have been working on the process for years say as many as 50 trees have been replanted for the project.
Both the tycoon, who is also the founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, and the authorities claim that the process is legal and that the trees, legally purchased, will have a new life in an purposely-designed forest. Environmental activists and botanical experts, however, have criticised the practice, stating that it condemns the trees to death. They have a point: the roots of the 100-year old Internet star rejected the new soil’s green, and it dried up. As for the residents of the areas where the trees are eradicated, opinion remains divided.
Uprooting, transporting, and replanting the trees is a complex operation. Since 2016, Batumi-based photographer Irakli Dzneladze has been documenting the process. His photo essay, shot in summer 2018, provides rare close-ups of the intricate measures needed to displace two large tulip trees from the village of Tsikhisdziri and transport them to the sea - and from there to their new home.