There is meaning in a barren or leafless tree, just as there is meaning in a tree with leaves, flowers, or roots.
Roots are symbolic signs of a connection to the past, and they also represent the deep, complicated, and invisible ways the tree supports itself and finds nourishment. Roots can indicate that the tattooed person is connected to their past, their ancestors, or their family. Roots can also show that the person with the tattoo feels well-grounded and strong.
Leaves, on the other hand, can have very different meanings. To some, leaves stand for growth and rebirth because the tree gets new leaves every year. To others, though, the leaves stand for impermanence and things that fade, the cyclic shedding of the old to make way for the new. The size and color of the leaf matters, too. Fresh young leaves are most often used to show new growth while full-size mature leaves may represent an accumulation of years. Using fall colors can also reflect maturity or growth. Decaying leaves are the most negative of the leaves as they show death or dying.
Flowers often represent literal and figurative blossoming, particularly when referring to a woman, and often represent a sexual awakening. The blossoming of a flower is an apt symbol for the blooming of a girl into womanhood. Flowers also signify innocence, virginity, tranquility, and springtime (or youth) in general. Flowers are visual reminders of nature’s bounty (as flowers are the first evolution of fruit), beauty, and also life’s transient nature (which is why you see them at funerals).
Bare branches are like the unadorned arms of the tree, the parts that reach out and upward toward the unknown. On a family tree, the branches represent individuals. There’s something rather vulnerable and eerie about bare branches, which invoke the cold and darkness of winter. To extend an olive branch represents an attempt at repairing a broken relationship and a desire for peace.
Many people use the tree to symbolize the stages, cycles, and seasons of life; with this in mind, a tree with buds might represent youth, one with flowers might represent adolescence or sexual awakening, one with fruit could symbolize maturity or fecundity, and bare branches may represent old age.