Paths known as Discovery Island Trails weave around and through this homage to nature. About 325 carved animals make up the surface of the tree and its trunk, with the Discovery Island Trails allowing guests the opportunity to explore and see them all as well as numerous animal exhibits scattered around the roots.
A theater is housed in the Tree of Life root system where the It's Tough to be a Bug! show is performed. This 8-minute, 3D movie and multimedia show features Flik and Hopper, from the Disney Pixar film A Bug's Life—along with a supporting cast of insects and arachnids who provide a surprising look into the animal kingdom.
Once upon a time, no vegetation would grow on Discovery Island. There were no trees, no shrubs, no flowers, nothing. It was a barren piece of land. Then, one day, a tiny ant planted a seed and made a wish. He asked for a tree to grow – a tree large enough to provide shelter for all the animals. Magically, the ant’s wish came true and a tree began to grow -- and it kept growing until there was room beneath its limbs for all the animals from A (ants) to Z (zebras). And as the tree continued to reach for the heavens, the images of all the animals that took shelter beneath its shade appeared on its trunk, roots, and branches.
Development and construction
The Tree of Life was not the first choice of an icon for the park. Earlier concepts involved utilizing Noah's Ark as an icon. Another idea was to have a three-leveled carousel attraction featuring animals of land, sea and sky as a central icon, though this was seen as too whimsical.
When the idea of the Tree of Life was settled upon, engineers struggled on how to construct it to meet the demands of Florida's hurricane weather. A structure reminiscent of a geodesic dome for the canopy was one idea that was proposed. Eventually it was settled to utilize an oil rig as the base skeleton of the tree's trunk. It was capable of holding up the massive weight of the tree and its branches and it's wide base could hold a theater. In earlier concepts, the show inside the Tree of Life was set to be Lion King-based before Michael Eisner's suggestion of tying it into insects and Pixar's then in-development, "a bug's life".
The Tree of Life is topped with more than 103,000 translucent, five-shades-of-green leaves that were individually placed and actually blow in the wind.
A Banyan tree much like Rafiki's Tree in The Lion King, the name was adopted for Rafiki's tree for usage on the Platinum DVD release's menus.