Sliced white bread on sycamore. Whole wheat bread on cherry. Toast on ash. These aren’t the descriptions of an obscure tasting menu but the contents of r/BreadStapledToTrees, a Reddit community of 315,000 enthusiasts who spend their free time traipsing through the great outdoors with a stapler and a slice of bread in hand.
Why bread? Well, it’s a staple food.
“Honestly, that joke just formed as the subreddit grew in popularity,” Charlie L., the subreddit’s 21-year-old creator who runs the group with three moderators, says. (He asked not to share his last name.) Charlie, who calls himself “the OG Bread Stapler,” started the community in March 2017, when a friend suggested the idea on the way home from school.
In 2019, Esquire described r/BreadStapledToTrees as a “baffling new meme,” while Yahoo called it a “bizarre trend.” But today, years later, it’s clear that the group is not a fad; rather, it’s thriving. Charlie and Bob Anderson, another 21-year-old moderator, tell me the subreddit saw a “huge influx” of posts over the course of the pandemic, as more people were working from home and looking for fun, affordable ways to socialize outdoors.
For its members, r/BreadStapledToTrees brings a daily dose of joy. Something about the “sheer absurdity” of the subreddit keeps drawing people in, Anderson says. Toasted sandwich bread stapled to an avocado tree is presented as “avocado toast.” A Pop-Tart on a tree trunk hides camouflaged behind a curtain of ivy. Romance isn’t dead, either: Though the moderators haven’t seen an engagement happen via stapled bread just yet, users have asked dates out to prom or homecoming via letters cut out of bread on trees. As u/Zekava recently commented on the forum, “Sometimes, things seem grim and depressing. Posts like this are excellent reminders to focus more on the magic and whimsy in life.”
The community is complete with its own set of rules: Your bread must be stapled and not taped, tied, or nailed to a tree, and you should staple no more than three slices of bread at a time. “We started instituting rules because we don’t actually want to harm trees with the staples,” Charlie says. As a result, no bonsai, cacti, or young trees are allowed either. He says conservationists told them that staples couldn’t injure large, old trees. (A shallow nail is mostly concerning for small or unhealthy trees, one landscaping expert confirms.) “We love trees,” Anderson, who recommends removing the staple once the photo is taken, says. “We don’t want animals eating the staples, either.” It’s unclear what ultimately happens to the bread.
There is also an “acceptable bread list.” Among the many approved bread-like carbs are funnel cakes, profiteroles, shaobing, and tortillas. Anderson tells me he’s seen hot dogs, eggs, and beans stapled to trees, as well as digital art or screenshots of users stapling bread to a tree in the video game Minecraft—but these are all against the rules. “We want people to actually be creative, actually go outside and staple bread to trees,” he says. “We don’t want someone to just be lazy with it.”
The moderators will make exceptions for posts that are particularly imaginative, though, like a screenshot of Google describing bread as a staple food, or a photo of Jesus (“the bread of life,” the user says, quoting the Bible) nailed to a cross.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its oddities, the group isn’t a flash in the pan. It persists as a wholesome place where members applaud their peers and even provide advice on how to improve their work for next time. “It’s a very welcoming community and everybody’s very kind to each other,” Anderson says, which makes his job as a moderator much easier. It’s a place reminiscent of something harder and harder to find, but preserved where you know to look: the early 2000s internet, when the web didn’t take itself too seriously and you could still discover fun little pockets of weirdness—and when the only thing that mattered, upon logging on, was a piece of bread stapled to a tree.