Trees have been extremely important to most cultures throughout history. The tree has always 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 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.