Tree Planting Ceremonies

Words by
Samantha van Egmond
Images by
Georgina Reid
| April 30, 2014

Long before there was talk of ‘managing’ forests, humans relied on trees in almost every facet of their lives. Food supplied in the form of berries, fruit, nuts and honey, branches used for shelter, hunting weapons or a safe refuge.

I’ve been fascinated with trees as long as I can remember; their strength and longevity, all those who’ve stood beneath their creaking branches before me and those that will long after I’m gone. Anyone who has walked in a thick, woody forest, enveloped by vital energy and a powerful stillness will recall the sense of calm and perspective that trees provide. John Muir was onto something when he said the clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

Our affinity with trees has changed over time, from a means of survival to a rich history within our culture and religion — birch, fig, oak, maple and others woven into philosophy and mythology. Tree planting ceremonies, and the planting of trees in honour or memory of a loved one, play an important part in this folklore. Legend has it that during the mid 16th century, Mary Queen of Scots inspired her Italian secretary David Rizzio to declare his love for her by planting a sweet chestnut tree on the banks of the North Esk River. Her castle did not survive, but the tree still grows proud and healthy within the castle grounds.

The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil. – George Orwell

I love the idea of having a living, breathing tree planted in my memory; it’s fallen leaves going back into the earth. It will be admired for years, inspiring an energy, courage and faith that a man-made monument might not. But which to pick? Perhaps a ceiba, the Mayan tree of life, or any that you find fitting for the departed. A breed of rose that they adored, or maybe the willow that grew along the river near their childhood home. I would quite like a redwood, to be enjoyed in its full glory by my great, great grandchildren.

Trees can be planted to commemorate births, anniversaries and just about anything else you would like a living memory of. The intention is that of an ‘evergreen’ celebration of life. In fact, it seems apt to plant a tree — a symbol of new life and growth — upon the birth of a child. Almost every tree has a certain cultural or spiritual significance, so choosing one on behalf of someone you don’t know very well yet make take a little thought.

In British folklore, it was believed Ash held protective and healing properties, most frequently related to children’s health, with newborn babies often given a teaspoon of Ash sap. Birch, symbolising renewal, is the traditional wood used to make babies’ cradles.

New beginnings are also an occasion to be remembered. A marriage may inspire commitment to something slow growing and long-lived such as an oak or sequoia — a symbol of faith and devotion.  The Elm, with its attributes of communication and relationships, may also be an appropriate choice, as is wisteria, a symbol of romance and enduring love. On moving into a new home, something practical and colourful like a citrus tree might be nice, a memory of a fresh start. If you’re leaving a much-loved family home, take a cutting from a tree or shrub to take with you and start over.

There is no excuse needed to plant a tree, nor is there a right or wrong choice of tree to plant in memoriam. But how wonderful to know that a cherished memory — person, place or occasion —will continue to grow, strengthen and bring happiness to others.


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