Drive down a two-lane highway in the rural Midwest and you’re likely to encounter decaying buildings, maybe a half-collapsed barn, and abandoned silos. Industrial agriculture has reshaped America’s farming communities in recent decades by consolidating resources in fewer and larger farms, leaving abandoned structures from defunct family farms dotting the landscape. And amid the ruins, the New York Times has spotted a surprisingly common sight: abandoned silos with trees growing inside them, or as they’re more commonly known, silo trees.

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In many Great Plains states, trees have trouble surviving because of the relentless winds. An abandoned silo can provide just enough protection from the wind for a sapling to sprout and survive. After the roof caves in on an abandoned silo the structure catches seeds and protects the young saplings from strong prairie winds. Sunlight and rain come through the top of the silo, and the tree continues to grow until the branches and leaves spill out over the top of the structure. They aren’t just in the Midwest, either (although most of them are found in the middle of the country); silo trees have been spotted in states from Vermont to Oklahoma to California.

According to the New York Times story, a recent shift to larger industrial farms that employ fewer people has left many homes empty. Old barns and silos don’t have much use in the new farming landscape, and they are often abandoned and left to crumble. Several amateur photographers in the Midwest have taken an interest in silo trees; the blog Tgaw has tracked silo trees in 18 states, and there is even a Flickr group devoted to the phenomenon.

Via New York Times

Photos by Flickr users , countrygirl0, alex_ford, m.gifford, and ebis 50,