What’s Up With the Shell Tree?

Shell TreeThe mythical Shell Tree of Long Beach in Centerville. Have you heard of it? Think about the coolness of this: you come to Long Beach and experience its beauty, and seeing the long stretch of beach that it is, you just walk, and you keep walking, lost in your thoughts and the beautiful scenery. As you near the end of the beach almost a half hour later, you behold the magnificent sight of a tree covered in shells. “Wow, that’s really cool,” you think, and you pick up a shell while in that state of awe, and hang it on the tree with the others. You are one of the who-knows-how-many people who have hung shells on the tree over the years in that same state of awe – that is a lot of awesomeness, right there on one tree. It may be for that awesomeness that some call it the Prayer Tree.

It’s at the very end of Long Beach, where the Centerville River meets the ocean; a raggedy, twisty-looking tree which is actually long past the end of its life, and juts out from the sand in all directions. Over the years, people have been adorning it with shells, hanging them on its rickety branches; placing them in the crooks of its limbs.

When did it start? That’s a good question. I’ve been back on the Cape for almost five years now and have walked Long Beach almost every day with my dog (except in the summer, when dogs aren’t allowed on the beach from May 15 – September 15); and the tree was already fully adorned back then. It’s kind of a mystery as to when people started with the decorations, or who started it in the first place. There are some smaller trees as well, on the river side of the beach, also decorated with shells. It’s all a tribute to our creativity!

It’s been called the conch tree, as the majority of the shells look like conch, though after some quick research I have decided that those large shells are most likely whelk shells (the actual conch is found in warmer, tropical waters). But the tree is also decorated with all manner of other Long Beach shells: quahog shells, oyster shells, scallop shells, those little golden shells (called jingle shells). People put shells of all shapes and sizes on the tree, in whatever spot they can find where they will fit and stay for a while. Some people even tie shells together with string and hang them on the tree.

The parking lots for Long Beach fill up incredibly fast in the summer, especially in recent years. If you feel like making the almost-45-minute-trek (through the sand), park at Craigville Beach and walk from there. Bring lots of water and wear your sunscreen. Is it worth it? I will leave that up to you to decide, but if you want to get out to the beach, get some sun and exercise and see something cool, then go for it!

And now I’m off, to Long Beach (sadly, without my doggie, until September 16). When I get to the Shell Tree, I will place a few shells and say a prayer of gratitude for this beautiful summer day.

Freelance Writer PhotoMarina Davalos is a freelance writer and native Cape Codder who lives in Centerville with her dog, Hanita, and her cat, Elsa. She lived on Maui on and off for 15 years and has traveled the world. She can be reached at thatssoawesome@yahoo.com


  1. Steph Tarbox says

    I was told the shell tree was started by the late Mark Supernaut years ago. We love to walk out to that beautiful magical tree, it’s so special . ?

  2. A beautiful article on a very special, magical place radiating with beauty!

  3. Michelle Allen says

    Myrina! So awesome! How come after all these years, I never knew about the shell tree?

    It will have to make it a priority on my next visit and add it to “myshell” collection. lol.

  4. What a sweet concept; makes for a great story on our beautiful island known as The Cape! Thanks for sharing….

  5. I really do hope it was started by my friend, Mark…. that just brought tears to my eyes and also a smile, thinking, that would be “so him” to do that. I miss him dearly. I am going to go find that tree now. Thank you for the article and for my Joycie G. for inquiring about it.

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