Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.
The Tree Tattoo: Meaning and History
Trees have been extremely important to most cultures throughout history. The tree has long been viewed as a symbol of life, and tree tattoos date back centuries to the origins of tattooing.
The tree is one of the richest symbols, and in a tattoo, it can symbolize many different things at once. Its meaning depends both on the tattoo and the one who has it. There are many different kinds of trees, each with its own associations, although overall, they symbolize regeneration, rejuvenation, and life.
We get these meanings from the cycles of the tree. Watching the tree over the course of a year helps us more fully understand all the things the tattoo could mean. In spring, it begins to grow leaves and flowers. During the summer, it is in full leaf. By fall, its changes are dramatic: the vibrant green leaves turn beautiful colors as if to say goodbye before they fall to the ground. In winter, the tree is bare, but as a new spring dawns, it comes to life once again. This cycle can represent the circle of life and is a powerful symbol to keep in mind (or on your body) as a reminder.
In some ancient cultures, the tree tattoo represented one's social rank or social grouping and was a symbol of nobility. Because many cultures of the past believed that the tree was sacred, those tattoos were also considered sacred. If someone who was not of a noble bloodline was caught with a tree tattoo, they would be punished, perhaps to the death.
Tree tattoos can be designed in many different ways. Some focus on the bark of the tree, while others portray the branches; some have many leaves, while others may have very few or none. Some tree tattoos may portray a forest, an orchard, or one single tree, and some include the roots. Flowers or other designs might also be incorporated.
As the twig is bent the tree inclines.
Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.
— Bruce Lee
Are you, are you, coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three.
Strange things did happen here no stranger would it be
If we met at midnight in the hanging tree.
— The Hanging Tree
Popular Tree Tattoos
There are many different types of trees to choose from: Oak, maple, and pine, just to name a few. However, certain trees are inked more than others. The trees below are some of the most popular trees used for tattoo designs.
- Tree of life
Some tree tattoos may only portray the branches of a tree, which may or may not contain leaves or flowers. One example is the cherry tree or cherry blossom tattoo. Cherry trees can be found throughout Japan and other parts of Asia, and their significance goes back hundreds of years. Because they bloom all at once in a brief yet beautiful explosion of blossoms, they have come to symbolize the transience of life. The blossoms ("sakura" in Japanese) represent life's fragility and beauty, so this tattoo may serve as a reminder that although life is overwhelmingly beautiful, it is also short. The cherry blossom tattoo can also represent fecundity and femininity. Although these tattoos are popular in Asia, they are also popular in many other parts of the world.
Some tattoos include the bark, branches, and the roots of the tree. One example of this is the tree of life tattoo, which symbolizes strength, knowledge, vitality, and reincarnation. Depictions of the tree of life can be found in many different ancient cultures and in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies: It refers to the interconnectedness of all life and serves as a metaphor for our common evolutionary descent. The term tree of life may also be used as a synonym for sacred tree or tree of knowledge which is said to connect all forms of creation and connect heaven and the underworld. The Celts strongly believed that trees have spirits, which is why this tattoo is often designed with traditional Celtic designs, which have no ending or beginning and represent the never-ending cycle of life, which is symbolized as well with interconnecting roots and branches.
Read More from Tatring
There are many other symbolic trees that may be used for tree tattoo designs:
- The cypress can symbolize remembrance and understanding.
- The beautiful willow represents mourning, insight, and healing.
- The ash (with bark that can be used for many things, from furniture to baseball bats) symbolizes sacrifice, sensitivity, and awareness.
- Palm trees are global symbols of beaches and the tropics and represent truth, honor, aspiration, and fertility.
- The sacred Bodhi tree (also known as the world tree) symbolizes enlightenment and the potential that you have within you. It is extremely important to Buddhism and is a great tattoo for anyone that needs a little encouragement, as the Bodhi tree can remind you to always follow your heart and your dreams. It can also symbolize spirituality and longevity.
- The family tree: Usually portrayed with deep roots and branches, often inked with family members' names or dates of birth. If you choose this tattoo, you may want to have your last name incorporated somewhere in the design.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
— Anaïs Nin
Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
— Warren Buffett
Tree Tattoo Meanings
Circle of Life
Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.
— Khalil Gibran
Before You Tattoo
There are several very important things you should do before you get inked.
- Make sure you take the time to do research. You want to make sure that you fully understand what your tattoo represents. You don't want to get a tattoo and find out later that it doesn't mean what you first thought.
- Don't rush to get inked! If you are not sure what you want, don't get inked. Make sure you give the idea time. So many people get a tattoo on impulse or get one they are not completely sure of and end up with huge regrets about their decision.
- Take your time, do your research, and make your choice. Once you know what you want, take the time to look at as many tattoo designs as possible. You want to make sure your tattoo perfectly represents your individual style. A tattoo artist can work with you if one of their designs doesn't fit your vision.
Getting a tattoo is a big step and a lifelong decision. If you feel that a tree tattoo is not for you or you want to look at more tattoo designs, take all the time you need until you are confident in your idea.
Thanks for your visit.
Once there was a tree... and she loved a little boy.... And the tree was happy.
— Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
© 2012 Richard Ricky Hale
Howard Steele on February 22, 2016:
Wow, to tell the truth, I didn’t even suspect that tree tattoos may have certain meanings. I thought that they are mainly for entertainment or beauty – well, not more than just a means of self-expressions. Having read the post, I realized that I was mistaken. Although, I’m not a tattoo fan and I’m not going to make the one in the nearest future, it seems interesting to read about the meanings of each part of a tree. And different types of trees have different meanings as well. That’s surprising!
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on August 09, 2013:
KJ, I send my best to you and always, a big thanks! Hey, might as well enjoy it, hey? Thanks so much for your kind words dear friend. Much appreciation and love always!
kjforce from Florida on August 07, 2013:
thelyricwriter.....was just randomly browsing and thought to myself...
Boy that lyricwriter really gets to the " root " of his subjects.......and then " branches " out from there....please forgive..I couldn't resist the humour and have always loved your writes, they are so informative...hope you are enjoying the summer....
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on August 04, 2013:
Joann, you're certainly welcome and thanks for commenting! Wow, you're a fighter. Think about the tree, everything that it represents, everything that it endures in the toughest of climates. I believe it would make for a great tattoo, hearing all you've been through. Good choice, thanks again!
joann on July 28, 2013:
Thanks for all of the info ontree tattoos. I am looking for my 3rd tattoo. My 1st is just a simple pink rose on my chest where my cancer was. My 2nd was on a mummey of a warrior priestess. She was a fighter & so she belongs with me, because I have fought to live. I am looking at the tree of life. Thank for the info & meaning of the tree.
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on June 27, 2012:
Beth, thanks for dropping by. Glad you liked the tree tats. I know how you feel, that first tattoo is a big step. Glad that you are taking the time to find the right one though. With your Irish background, you can't go wrong with these or other Celtic designs. Keep me posted.
BethDW on June 25, 2012:
These tattoos are gorgeous, I'm currently in the process of trying to make my mind up over what to get for my first tattoo, and I'm really drawn to celtic imagery (my background is Irish) so I love the celtic-style trees featured here!
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on June 17, 2012:
*Alocsin, thanks again for dropping by. It really is. I love the history aspect behind Celtic art and history. Thanks again!
*Max, glad to see you again:) Your too kind! I am glad you enjoyed it. Best wishes:)
*Fennelseed, thanks again for taking the time to drop by. I agree. I love all the art work done on these tattoos. They are very well done. Thanks again Annie!
Annie Fenn from Australia on June 13, 2012:
I love these designs, especially the mono ones as they are like subtle etchings. The meanings are very significant and fitting with the tree symbol. The swirling tree is just superb, I'm with Max, so, so cool!!
BeyondMax from Sydney, Australia on June 13, 2012:
Amazing. Breathtaking. They are mesmerizing. I just can't go away from this page. It's so cool!
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on June 13, 2012:
It's interesting that such a beautiful symbol seems to be rather rare in my neck of the woods (pun intended). I would not have recognized the Celtic version in the middle as a tree. Voting this Up and Beautiful.
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on June 12, 2012:
*Cassy, thanks for taking the time to comment and vote. Much thanks. I wouldn't mind an entire tree, as long as it was small myself.
*Lovedoctor, thanks very very much. I agree, this is one of my better articles. A lot of info on tree tattoos. I appreciate the visit:)
*LMM, that is a great idea. The tree is perfect for symbolizing your children and family. I say go for it.
*SGE, always great to hear from you. Thanks for the comment. I do like that tattoo also. I really think all of them have been done well.
*Snowdrops, thanks for taking the time to swing by. I am very thankful.
*Tillsonitan, thanks for dropping by to comment and vote:) Many women are shy when it comes to deep symbolic tattoos. If they are for show, they will let you know:)
*Frank, LOL:) I am always grateful to have you visit Frank. Thanks again. Take care.
*Kash, thanks again:) Appreciate you taking the time to drop by, comment, and vote.
*Gypsy, always a pleasure:) A tree tattoo can be symbolic to a lot of cultures all over the world. Just to have a tree tattoo, I wouldn't unless it symbolized something personal to me.
*AE, appreciate the comment. I concur, that is a beautiful tattoo. Many thanks.
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on June 11, 2012:
These are very beautiful esp. the one with the hummingbird...
Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on June 11, 2012:
I love them Ricky but I don't know why I would want a tree tattooed on me.
Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on June 11, 2012:
Hi my friend, all great tattoos, well done !
Vote up and more !!!
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on June 11, 2012:
Tree tattoos.. who would have thunk it.. actually I love it.. and thanks for the history voted up man :)
Mary Craig from New York on June 11, 2012:
There are some beautiful tattoos in this hub! You certainly did a lot of research. It's amazing how many women now have such large tattoos.
Voted up and interesting.
snowdrops from The Second Star to the Right on June 11, 2012:
Wow! Neat tattoos!
Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on June 10, 2012:
Now these, these are beautiful. I like the very first photograph and the 13th from the bottom. They are particularly stunning.
littlemarkiesmom from The hot, humid South on June 10, 2012:
Very cool! I've been wanting to get a tree tattoo to represent my kids and husband. Been researching a lot, looking a lot, and still deciding on what to get. I enjoyed reading this and looking at the pictures very much. Thanks for a great article! :)
lovedoctor926 on June 10, 2012:
This is one of your best tattoo hubs.. The information here is very well-presented and thorough. After reading your article, I have a better understanding of tattoo meanings and representation. thanks for sharing!
CassyLu1981 from Spring Lake, NC on June 10, 2012:
wow, those are some awesome tats! I wouldn't be able to get one on my whole back like that but I really like the cherry blossom ones :) Great hub as usual, voted up and shared!
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on June 10, 2012:
*Dean, thanks for taking the time to vote, read, and comment. Awesome tat! I have been wanting to get another, but I just don't know what to get. I really do like the Tree of Life idea. Appreciate the feedback. Best wishes.
*KJ, always a pleasure to hear from you KJ. Great point. That is reference and association to the body and tree, you are correct. I am very thankful KJ, take care.
kjforce from Florida on June 10, 2012:
thelyricwriter..makes sense.." Tree is the trunk of the body, arms/legs the limbs "..a great tribute for an enviromentalist to Mother Earth.....liked this tattoo hub...very interesting.....
Geofferson Dean Sexton from Nowhere Land, Ontario, Canada. on June 10, 2012:
Excellent hub, voted up!!!
My sleeve is a combination of different flowers, trees, and ivy that all have a specific meaning and correlation to someone I love. This was a great post if you're unsure of what to get!!!