You may have stood in awe at the majestic presence of the trees you see in our forests, but did you ever stop to think about the symbolism attached to our giant green friends? Through the ages and across all cultures, trees have always been used to represent life and growth in religions, mythologies, legends and literature. It is not uncommon for people to consider tree health carefully when it comes to the trees they grow in their yards. In some circumstances, tree removal experts have to be called in to assist in removing a dead or sick tree so as to preserve the others. Indeed, to many it’s not just a matter of having an appealing yard, instead something of deeper meaning and importance perhaps.
Take the significance of eating the ‘forbidden fruit’ from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, or the olive branch as a symbol of peace, harmony and hope. In many philosophies, trees are seen as mystical ‘beings’, imbued with energy and ancient wisdom, observers of human evolution in the context of the planet around us. Even in the context of today’s world, trees are used in company logos and brand messaging. The British Conservative Party, shoe manufacturer Timberland and cosmetics company Origins are just some examples of how the image of a tree can add meaning and significance.
Let’s take a look at some interesting examples, with six of our favourite trees and their special meanings.
An oak tree symbolises wisdom and courage, strength and longevity, and it can live for hundreds of years. Oaks are believed to be a healing tree, good for body, heart and soul. In ancient European cultures, the oak is regarded as the ‘king of the forest’ and is steeped in religious history and symbolism. The Druids, for instance, sense Nature as divine and tree lore forms an important part of their practice, even today. Even the word ‘druid’ is said to originate from the Celtic language term for oak tree, indicating the importance of this particular tree. In Christianity too, oak trees are considered to have spiritual significance – it’s where the term ‘Holy Oak’ comes from and the reason why many places of worship are surrounded by oak trees, providing comfort and solace.
A birch tree signifies hope and new beginnings. As the first tree to grow back leaves after the winter, it is typically connected to the start of spring. In Chinese culture, birch trees are a symbol of protection and rejuvenation, and in Native American culture, the meaning includes truth, purification and cleansing of the past. Closer to home, we may recognize this meaning as brooms made of birch twigs used in ancient times to beat and drive out bad spirits, be it from land or property, or for detoxifying the body. The Silver Birch is one of the most sacred trees in Celtic mythology, believed to have the power to ward off evil, banish fears and build courage.
A maple tree stands for balance, longevity, generosity and intelligence. The maple leaf is the national emblem of Canada signifying unity, tolerance and peace. On a practical level, maples have the ability to adapt to many different climates and soil types, and they provide shelter, building materials and food. Maple syrup was an important source of food for Native Americans who associate the tree with success and abundance. The striking Japanese acer symbolises the serenity of the elements and the changing of the seasons. People traditionally visit the mountains every autumn to admire the maple leaves that have turned a crimson colour – it is a sight to behold. However, if you have rotten or dying maple trees in your property, you may need to contact a tree removal company to inspect it and determine the most suitable tree removal method.
The tall, deciduous ash tree is part of the olive family, and related to privet, lilac and forsythia. Ash can symbolise strength, power and spirituality as well as productivity and endurance. Ash trees have always had mystical and religious meanings, going back as far as ancient Greece where the tree was dedicated to Poseidon, God of the Seas, and also to the sun. In Norse mythology, the ash tree is also known as the ‘tree of life’ from which humanity originates. In many European cultures, burning the wood of the ash tree is believed to have magical properties and wards off evil spirits. Witches’ brooms were traditionally made of an ash staff, together with birch twigs and willow bindings.
The willow tree is a symbol of fertility and new life. Plant a branch in the ground and a new tree will grow in its place. Willows typically have narrow leaves, bear catskins and grow near water. Their ability to grow and survive even in challenging conditions is powerfully symbolic. It is a tree that symbolises that even through great loss, there’s always hope for something new and better to emerge. Willow branches are flexible and can be bent without snapping. Its pliant branches are perfect for basketry, while the timber is traditionally used for cricket bats. Willow wood is often used in ceremonies to honour the enhancement of mental ability.
For cultures around the globe, the cherry tree blossom is celebrated because it only happens once a year and holds quite a special symbolism. Cherry trees spectacularly burst into bloom in the spring and the short flowering season can be taken as an annual reminder of the fragility of life and to encourage us to make the most of the beauty of it. While cherry trees grow throughout the world, the tree and its blossoms are unequivocally tied to Japan’s cultural identity where the Sakura tree is revered for bringing good fortune, new beginnings and revival. Usually pink or white, cherry blossoms are beautiful to behold, and they also stand for love and romance.