Santa María del Tule is a town and a municipality in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is part of the Centro District in the Valles Centrales region. It is located 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) SE of the city of Oaxaca on Highway 190, passing the city and ruins of Mitla. The town and municipality are named for the patron saint of the place, the Virgin Mary and “Tule” comes from the Náhuatl word “tulle” or “tullin” which means bulrush. The town’s claim to fame is as the home of a 2,000 year old Montezuma cypress tree, known as the El Árbol del Tule, which is one of the oldest, largest and widest trees in the World. Its gnarled trunk and branches are filled with shapes that have been given names such as “the elephant,” “the pineapple” and even one called “Carlos Salinas’ ears.”
The municipality of Santa María del Tule used to be a lake surrounded by marshes which included cypress trees. This marsh was also filled with bulrushes which accounts for part of the town’s name. The population of Tule had made their living since pre-Hispanic times extracting and processing lime (calcium oxide) for sale in the city of Oaxaca. In 1926, much of the municipality was made ejido land, and much of the population became farmers, growing corn, beans, chickpeas and alfalfa, mostly during the rainy season in the summer.