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Tree Tattoo Meaning and Styles – A Handy Guide

Tree tattoos are becoming increasingly popular among tattoo lovers becaue of their symbolic meanings and visual appeal. Trees are an important part of nature, valued for their majestic beauty and practical properties. Not only do they provide shade and food but they also give us the very oxygen that keeps us alive. What’s more, they are the epitome of stability, strenght and growth.

Different types of trees and their depictions can have various meanings. The addition of other elements can also impact the symbolism of a tree tattoo. With that said, here’s a look at the most common types of tree tattoos and what they symbolize.

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Tree Tattoo Meaning

Tree tattoo meaning

Strength, Stability and Resilience

When trees are young, they’re not very stable and can be easily uprooted by strong weather. With time, however, the roots grow deeper and become stronger. The tree trunk grows thicker and its branches grow taller, spreading far and wide. For many, this is a representation of strength. Like the tree, we grow stronger and stronger over time with the knowledge and new experiences we gain.

Some trees, such as the oak tree, are a symbol of resilience and strength since they have the ability to grow even in the toughest of conditions and last for hundreds of years. Many people choose tree tattoos to express their strength and stability.

Life and Fertility

Trees in general are symbolic of life. The Tree of Life is in itself a stunning symbol that represents many characteristics essential to life. Trees are also symbols of fertility, again due to their association with life and growth. This, of course, depends on the type of tree as well. Evergreen trees which remain green despite the climate are considered symbols of fertility. For example, when a branch from the willow tree is planted in the ground, a new tree grows in its place, making it a symbol strongly associated with fertility and bringing forth new life.

Wisdom and Growth

Trees can represent wisdom, as they’re regarded as observers, quietly witnessing all that takes place around them. This is especially true of large, stable trees like the oak which can live for hundreds of years.

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Family Ties

For some people, trees are symbolic of family ties. The network of branches represents family, showing that everyone is connected. Each branch can be traced back to bigger branches which symbolize grandparents and great-grandparents.

Someone who wears a tree tattoo (especially ones with bigger roots) may choose it because they’re closely linked to their past, their family or ancestors. A person who feels that they’re in control of their life and is well-grounded also may choose to wear a tree tattoo.

Tree tattoos can symbolize generations of your family. Like your ancestral line, it begins as a seed and then gradually grows out. From every branch of the tree, smaller branches grow out and these represent the members of the family. Each fruit that the tree produces from a branch, brings forth a new generation. 

Growth and Rebirth

In life, all trees start out the same way. However, they change as they grow older, depending on their environment and over time they develop their own beautiful, unique ways. Therefore, trees are often considered to be symbols of personal growth and development. Like the tree, we too begin life the same way and change as we grow.

The leaves of a tree represent growth and rebirth since the tree grows new leaves each year. However, for some people, the leaves represent impermanence. Young leaves most often symbolize new growth whereas full-sized, mature ones can signify aging, or the accumulation of years. Dead or dying leaves usually have the most negative connotations since they symbolize death.

Types of Tree Tattoo Designs

Man with tree tattoo on his arm

When choosing a tree tattoo, you will have to decide on:

  1. Type of tree – We’ve discussed this in detail below, and as there are literally thousands of types of trees, we can’t provide an exhaustive list. However, we’ve covered the most popular types.
  2. Life Stage of the Tree – How do you want the tree to be depicted? Trees go through life cycles, with each being symbolic. For example, a small tree represents growth, potential and the future, while a dead tree might signify a closed chapter. A tree with no leaves could indicate hope and a waiting period for the future.
  3. Other Elements – You can add other elements to the tree such as the leaves turning into birds or hearts or the roots twisted into a specific symbol. Your imagination will be the limit to how creative you can get. 
  4. Size – Most tree tattoos are large, dramatic and detailed and work best on the back, torso, legs or arms. However, smaller depictions can be incorporated onto the forearms, ankles and even fingers.

Types of Tree Tattoos

The symbolism of tree tattoos depend on what type of tree is depicted in the tattoo. Regardless of the type, however , they’re all beautiful and have a certain mystery to them. Here are some of the most popular tree trattoos and what they mean.

Ash Tree Tattoo

These are massive trees that can grow over 200 feet tall with a huge diameter. Due to their excessive height and width, they have a highly complex root system to support their growth. The ash tree tattoo speaks of expansion, higher perspective and growth. In some cultures ash trees have a spiritual significance and are often used as symbols of spiritual enlightment or awareness.

Apple Tree Tattoo

Apple trees are often seen as symbols of learning and knowledge, associated with the story of Newton and the apple. However, they also represent temptation and evil since it was an apple that caused the downfall of Adam and Eve. If an apple tree tattoo includes a serpent near it, the meaning is most likely Biblical.

Beech Tree Tattoo

Beech trees are sturdy trees that’s believed to have magical properties. As a tattoo choice, beech trees can also represent patience, prosperity and knowledge. Some people choose beech tree tattoos since they believe it will help improve their knowledge and enhance wisdom.

Aspen Tree Tattoo

Throughout history, aspen trees have been mentioned in literature and legends. These are beautiful trees that ‘dance’ in the wind and have positive connotations. Aspens generally represent a positive end to something such as overcoming difficulties or conquering one’s fear and doubt. However, on the negative side aspen trees can also represent lamentation or mourning.

Birch Tree Tattoo

The birch tree is known for its white bark and many medicinal properties. It’s regarded as a symbol of new beginnings, cleansing, renewal and rebirth. In the past, on Midsummer’s Eve, people hung birch boughs over their doors to ward off evil and bad luck. They also decorated birch trees with rags on Mayday for the same reason. Due to this, many tattoo enthusiasts believe that a birch tree tattoo will cleanse them and protect them from evil.

Sakura Tree Tattoo

These trees, also known as cherry blossom trees, are a wonderful Japanese floral symbol of beauty, love and the passing of time. Cherry blossoms don’t live very long which is why they represent the transience of life. Having a cherry blossom tattoo reminds you that life may be short but a large part of its beauty is in how you live it. Additionally, cherry blossom tattoos are considered a symbol of femininity and beauty.

Holly Tree Tattoo

Although the holly tree is now a symbol closely associated with Christmas, it was traditionally used to protect newborn babies from evil. People would bathe their babies in water from the holly leaves. For Christians, the holly tree symbolizes Christmas, its sharp leaves signifying Christ’s crown of thorns and the red berries symbolizing his blood. A holly tree tattoo, therefore, can have a religious meaning and is also considered a symbol of eternal life.

Fig Tree Tattoo

Fig tree tattoos are often worn to symbolize the covering up of something that is either distateful or embarrassing. This symbolism is derived from the story of Adam and Eve who used fig leaves to cover their nudity after eating the forbidden fruit. Although fig trees are also symbolic of overabundance and longevity, they also stand for secrecy and can also represent shamelessness.

Cedar Tree Tattoo

In many cultures cedar trees have been revered throughout history. Cedar wood was used for making doors of sacred buildings such as temples and it was also burned in cleansing and purification rituals. These trees are symbolic of incorruptibility and protection. As a tattoo, the cedar tree is believed to protect the wearer from harm and evil.

The Tree of Life Tattoo

Sometimes considered to be an ash or yew tree, the tree of life is a symbol of the afterlife and the connection between heaven and earth. It also symbolizes eternity, immortality, wisdom, knowledge, strength, protection, abundance and growth. As a tattoo, the tree is drawn with its branches and roots intertwined in a circle. 

Symbolism of Tree Tattoos in Different Cultures

tree with birds

Throughout history, trees have had various meanings and value in different cultures. Certain types of trees were revered in some cultures whereas in others they had negative connotations.

Celtic Culture

The ash tree was a highly revered tree among the Celts who saw it as a symbol of a person’s ability to dig deep inside himself to find inner stability and nourishment. They also believed that it formed a connection between the earth and sky that allowed energy to flow between the two.

The bark of ash trees was used to cure disease such as hernias and it was also used in protection and purification rituals. Therefore, in Celtic culture, the ash tree tattoo is worn to protect oneself not only from evil and harm but also from ailments.

The Celts also had the belief that all trees in general were ancestors of man and opened the gate to the spirit world.

Egyptian, Greek and Roman Cultures

There were several trees that appeared in ancient Egyptian texts since they often made use of wreaths, garlands and evergreen trees. Among these was the cypress tree.

The ancient Egyptians used cypress trees to protect the mummies which is why they view it as a symbol of death, sorrow and morning. They used the wood to make coffins and planted the trees near the tombs or around it.  Like the cypress, the sycamore tree was also a symbol of protection used by the Egyptians in the same way.

The ancient Greeks and Romans also used cypress to make coffins and they sometimes buried small cypress branches with the dead to ward off evil spirits. Because cypress failed to regenerate if cut too severely, they associated the tree with the underworld and death. In addition to this, the Greeks had origin stories for many types of trees, such as the laurel tree. They also viewed the laurel tree as representing achievement, power and potential, hence the practice of adorning victors’ heads with laurel leaves.

Native American Culture

In Native American Culture, all trees in general are revered and the people believed that each had its own medicinal properties and carried a spark of the Great Spirit. They used wood from trees to create certain sacred items such as prayer sticks.

Trees were symbols of longevity, permanence and stability. They provided shade and homes for animals to live in. Therefore, the Native Americans treated every tree with respect and the objects made from them were prepared with special care. They always sought permission from the tree spirit before they cut any tree or any part of one to make religious items. Tree tattoos were considered a way of respecting trees and nature.

Celebrities with Tree Tattoos

Tree tattoos are highly popular among celebrities, both male and female since they suit any gender. Here’s a look at some of our favorite celebrities showing off their unique tree tattoos.

  • Jess Abbott has a beautiful tree tattoo with rainbow leaves, on her forearm and a bird perched on one of its branches. Although the meaning of the tattoo isn’t clear, it’s possible she had it done simply for its beauty.
  • American actor Ryan Gosling has several tattoos on his upper body and one of them is a tree. According to Ryan, he mother used to read the book ‘The Giving Tree’ to him and his sister. When he was 11, his parents divorced and it seems Ryan had the tattoo done on his left arm as reminder of a happy childhood.
  • Sosie Bacon wears at least three tattoos that we know of, including one of a tree, waving in the wind. However, the actress hasn’t opened up about the meaning behind her tattoo so it remains a mystery.
  • Bea Miller is a fan of tree tattoos which is why she has two of them on her upper left arm. One of them is a spring maple and the other a winter maple according to her tattoo artist. The celebrity states that the tattoos represent the seasons as well as her hometowm, Maplewood, New Jersey.

In Brief

Some tree tattoos may have a meaning that you don’t ascribe to or believe in whereas some may not have a meaning at all. However, don’t forget that it’s your tattoo and you can do what you like with it. While it’s good to know what it could mean to other people and what they might think when seeing it, it all depends on what you want and what your tattoo means to you.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.