Trees are essential to human survival. They provide fruit, which nourishes the body, and convert carbon monoxide, a human waste product, into oxygen, essential for life. Trees provide shelter in storms, lumber for heat and construction, and shade from the hot sun, not to mention the beauty they add to a landscape.
Trees have been important and significant throughout history, from the ancient Druids and Greeks to modern society and culture. Trees are long lasting and resilient. It is not uncommon for a great tree to be thousands of years old. Trees have strong root systems and foundation that lead to strong branches and trunks. They persevere through hard winters and hot summers. They adapt to the climate and location they grow in. They are immovable and unchanging.
Tree tattoos represent all of the facets, and much more. Trees can be deeply religious and spiritual. Oak trees, for example, were sacred to both the Celts and the Greeks. The people of Germany believed the lime and linden trees were sacred, while the Lebanese favored the cedar tree. Scandinavians, on the other hand, revered the ash tree.
The tree of life is a long-standing symbol that transcends cultures. Although the specific meaning can vary from society to society, the tree of life tattoo design stands for abundance, the Creator, strength, protection, wisdom, knowledge, sustenance, beauty, forgiveness, salvation, and growth. The Tree of Life is easily the most popular tree tattoo design.
Specific types of trees, too, can have individual meanings. It is important to know the symbolism of different trees when choosing a tattoo design that features a tree or tree leaf, so that you can select the right species to best represent the exact meaning you want to portray. The following is a selection of some of the most popular trees for tattoos and their meanings.
Apple – temptation, sinfulness, magic, youth, beauty, happiness, knowledge, and learning
Ash – grandeur, greatness, sacrifice, sensitivity, enlightenment, spiritual awareness, and offering (especially to a god)
Aspen – determination, conquering fear, doubt, or scandal, lamentation, mourning, and commitment
Bay – glory, reward, honor, and deserved riches
Beech – prosperity, understanding, constructive criticism, knowledge, acceptance, and patience
Birch – rebirth, beginnings, cleansing, and renewal
Cedar – incorruptibility, protection, consistency, love, healing, and charity
Cherry – education, endurance, renewal, reawakening, new life, change, and deception
Cypress – mourning, death, sorrow, acceptance, and sacrifice
Dogwood – indifference, apathy, nonchalance, uncertainty, and questions
Elder – compassion, excitement, renewal, regeneration, whimsical, fantasy, excitement, sorrow, and change
Elm – dignity, intuitiveness, instinct, commitment, and perseverance
Fig – longevity, conflict, idleness, reconciliation, vigorousness, and overabundance
Hawthorn – contentment, happiness, hope, and the future
Hazel – wisdom, concealment, and divining
Holly – protection, edification, spirituality, faithfulness, and dogmatic
Joshua – praising, strong-willed, worshipful, and enduring
Laurel – deception, eloquence, tenacity, victory, heroism, success, and dignity
Linden – monogamy, marriage, and love
Maple – reservation, balance, practicality, harmony, and dutifulness
Oak – endurance, victory, strength, liberty, welcomeness, independence, and bravery
Palm – peacefulness, opportunity, spirituality, and contentment
Poplar – burial, death, mourning, lamentation, and the passing of time
Willow – lost love, bravado, freedom, mourning, mysticism, healing, visions, and dreams
Yew – resurrection, rebirth, faithfulness, sadness, and piety
Tree tattoos, whether realistic or stylized, can have a variety of additional meanings. Tattoo designs that feature visible roots might represent a connection to the past, a firm foundation, a grounded approach to life, strength of will, or the importance of ancestry and history. Roots provide nourishment for the tree, as well as anchoring it and keeping it secure through times of trouble or hardship. A tree must have deep roots in order to survive for any great length of time.
Tree tattoos that focus on leaves represent something more fleeting. Tree leaves of most species die every year and are reborn. They symbolize time and transitions, fragility and sacrifice. Leaf tattoo designs on a tree can show a newly budded leaf (youthfulness), a fully grown leaf (adulthood), a vibrant fall leaf (maturity and experience – positive), or a cracked, withering, or decaying leaf (maturity and old age – negative).
Leaves, branches, trunk, bark, and roots are all important aspects of trees and necessary for survival. A tree tattoo can incorporate one or all of these parts.