Depending on the culture, there are multiple interpretations for the meanings of different types of trees. However, here are some basic thoughts to keep in mind for tree tattoos.
Apple trees: Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. They can be dual-natured: They represent evil and temptation due to the Biblical use of the apple tree in the fall of Adam of Eve, but they also represent knowledge and learning.
Ash trees: Ash trees can be huge in diameter and towering in height, some over 200 feet tall. You can imagine the root system required to support this kind of growth. Its heft, size, and deep and complicated root system can all work as metaphors: The ash speaks of growth, expansion, and higher perspective. Ash trees also often have spiritual significance and are used as offerings to the god(s) or as symbols of spiritual awareness or enlightenment.
Aspen trees: In literature, lore, and legend, you’ll find many mentions of quivering aspen leaves. Anyone who’s familiar with this tree has seen it dance in the wind. Druids went to aspen groves to watch nature dance and used aspens as auguries. Aspens symbolize a positive end of something (conquering fear or doubt, overcoming hardship), but can also represent mourning or lamentation.
Bay trees: Bay Laurel was believed to aid in communication with the spirits of prophecy and poetry. Bay trees surrounded the temple of Apollo to cleanse souls before they entered. Bay is thought to bring awareness of past lives and buried memories and stimulate psychic awareness. It’s a very positive tree that symbolizes glory and honor or rewards.
Beech trees: A sturdy and impressive tree with smooth, grey bark, a short trunk, and wide-spreading branches, the beech is often seen as a representation of lost wisdom and the knowledge and teachings of ancestors or the past. The beech may be a sign of prosperity, knowledge, or patience.
Birch trees: Another positive tree with many medicinal properties, they are often used for new beginnings, rebirth, renewal, and cleansing. With its characteristic white bark, the birch was used for protection: on Midsummer’s Eve, boughs were hung over doors to ward off bad luck, and on Mayday, birches were decorated with rags to ward off evil. The traditional witch’s broom was made of birch twig.
Cedar trees: The cedar tree has been revered my many for thousands of years, its wood used to make doors for sacred structures and burned in cleansing rituals of purification. The tree was thought to house gods and serve as a passageway to higher realms. Think of your cedar closet – these trees are about protection and incorruptibility.
Cypress trees: The Egyptians used cypress to protect mummies, and the Greeks and Romans used it to make coffins or urns to bury the dead and also buried branches of cypress with their dead. Muslims and Christians both planted cypress in cemeteries to ward off evil spirits. While the aspect of protection is positive, the cypress also represents mourning, death, and sorrow.
Dogwood trees: Prized for its delicate flowers and scent and known for its hard wood, the dogwood makes an interesting choice for a tattoo because it is said to represent indifference and apathy.
Elm trees: These show commitment and dignity.
Fig trees: A fig leaf is often used to convey the figurative covering-up of something that is embarrassing or distasteful, probably stemming from the Bible story in which Adam and Eve used fig leaves to hide their nudity after eating from the tree of knowledge. Many paintings and statues use fig leaves to cover the genitals of their subjects. Thus, fig trees, which are known for their longevity and overabundance, can represent fecundity or an attempt to hide it, but they also might represent a lack of shame.
Hawthorn trees: Another of the positive tree symbols, these are about contentment, happiness, and hope for the future.
Hazel trees: Often thought of as feminine and natural, they can represent wisdom or concealment.
Holly trees: Because of the religious overtones, they are used to symbolize faithfulness, protection, and spirituality.
Joshua trees: Another tree with biblical and religious overtones, they are used to show praise, worship, and strong will.
Laurel trees: While mostly a positive tree that symbolizes tenacity, victory, and heroism, it can also be seen as a symbol of deception.
Linden trees: Closely connected to marriage, these trees symbolize monogamy and love.
Maple trees: Used to symbolize balance, harmony, and duty.
Oak trees: Celts honored oak trees as holy things and believed they could access different psychic realms by “opening the oak door.” Oak represent durability, strength, endurance, liberty, and bravery.
Poplar trees: A tree that may be seen as negative, it is often associated with death, burial, and mourning.
Walnut trees: According to Native Americans, walnut trees are symbols of clarity and focus.
White pine trees: Native Americans believe that these trees symbolize serenity.
Willow trees: Freedom, healing, and love lost. They also take on more mystical meanings and can be seen as symbols of magic, inner vision, and dreams.
Yew trees: To some, these are positive, showing signs of resurrection and rebirth, but they also have a negative side of sadness and piety.
Alternative Meanings of Tree Tattoos
Not all tree tattoos have to have meanings. Or, sometimes, they might have a meaning that you don’t believe or ascribe to. Remember, it’s your tattoo, and, therefore, means whatever you want it to mean. It’s good to know what others might think when they see it, but it all boils down to how you want to decorate your body, and what your tattoo represents to you, individually.