Discover Your Tree Traits

September 7, 2018
Neil Baldwin

Discover Your Tree Traits

Anyone who spends substantial time among trees knows they can affect body, mind, emotions and soul in myriad ways. Have you found that certain types of trees affect or attract you more than others? Going a step further, have you ever wondered about the degree to which you may embody some of the characteristics of that tree in your own temperament?

Similar to the idea of power animals, consider the notion that trees can offer us energy. Trees are, after all, living organisms. They draw from their environment, they have life-nourishing fluids circulating within them, and they respire in a constant exchange with the world around them. You too are a living organism, and if you spend time in the company of trees you develop an unavoidable physiological relationship with them.

Much like identifying with a power animal that bolsters your resources, this article asks you to ponder which trees may exemplify your traits, and why. To get you started, here’s my take on some common tree types:

Cedar: Resilience

Cedar is dense and mysterious. Its branches are not long but they are many, and can make it difficult to penetrate or even see from where branches originate. A stand of cedar can appear to be a twisted and puzzling sight. Compact and utilitarian, cedar has the same basic appearance regardless of season. While not a strong wood, it nevertheless resists decay and is resilient to environmental stresses.

Cedar is a wise survivor, able to grow in harsh conditions, shallow soils or with scant nutrients. This often results in stunted development but it does keep growing, even though it may not be obvious to the naked eye. In fact, cedars often continue maturing to very old age, quietly accumulating hundreds of years of experience and exposure to the world around them.

If you have ever been called an “old soul” your tree may be a cedar; likewise if someone has said you have a tendency to be closed or keep your cards close to your chest. You may also identify with cedar if you have its tendency toward resilience, able to deal with adverse conditions yet keep on growing, even if others cannot see that progress.

If you are a cedar and find yourself in need of a boost, of if you are not a cedar but admire some of its qualities, find yourself a place where these trees can have your back.

Maple: Vivacity

Most maples, especially Sugar Maple, are beautiful, showy and colourful. Although most luminous in autumn, they are a lively presence in the forest throughout spring and summer with bold, bright and distinctly identifiable leaves. They are also very sweet. Their sap, with 2-6% sugar content, is what glorious maple syrup is distilled from.

Maples tend to be quite light-sensitive. This is most obvious in how their leaves change colour but it is also interesting to observe how leaf stalks bend and twist to position themselves upright for best exposure to light. Also, maple leaves attached to the underside of a branch will often have longer stalks and larger blades than those on the upper side. Despite being moderately shade-tolerant, Maples need good light and will orient themselves to get the most of it.

Are you a “showy” maple personality - the type of person who may stand out from the crowd and get attention? Do people tend to see you as a colourful life-force? Do you get “tapped” by others for your sweet smile, vibrant personality and cheerful demeanour? If so, perhaps your tree is a maple.

Just as maples are quite sensitive to light, people with a maple temperament are also quite energy aware. They are able to intuitively sense positive (and negative) energy in others, and are apt to be affected by those energies around them. If you are a maple, you may also have the ability to change your form somewhat to best harness the energies around you.

Maples are at their most beautiful when looking at the forest from outside. Their splendour may be less obvious from within. Life can be like that sometimes too.

Spruce: Inner Strength

Easily spotted by their conical Christmas Tree shape and their short four-sided needles, which can be rolled between the fingers unlike the flat needles of Balsam or Hemlock, Spruce provide food and shelter for many wildlife species. Spruce wood is straight-grained, strong for its weight, and used extensively as building lumber for crates, pallets, and furniture frames. It also sees more graceful applications including sounding boards for pianos and violins.

If maples are the showy extraverts of the forest, then spruces are the modest introverts. If you are a spruce temperament, you may be one who quietly stands by, ready to offer haven or sustenance whenever needed by others. Like spruce’s ability to shoulder heavy loads, you have more strength than others may presume because you tend not to groan or complain when life gets demanding. You just do what needs to be done.

In many ways, spruce is an unremarkable-looking and pragmatic tree. Yet due to its functional shape and arrangement of needles, Spruce retains a blanket of fresh snow on its boughs and enlivens a winter wonderland in ways no other trees do. If you are like a Spruce, you may sometimes see yourself as plain and practical; know that you also have the ability to bring intense beauty to the world in a way that is uniquely yours.

If you are a Spruce temperament needing to bolster inner resources, or if you wish to cultivate some Spruce characteristics, set intent to find presence among these trees. They tend not to occur in pure stands, instead being interspersed amongst other species, but can also be found in plantations.

Oak: Endurance

Oak species tend to be generally slow-growing and long-lived trees. Over the years, oaks develop wide-spreading branches that appear to be going in all directions. Especially growing in open areas, branches can keep going and going, expanding far beyond the tree’s centre, such that a mature oak might have a spread up to one and a half times its height.

Oak’s long lifespan is also reflected in the time it takes to produce acorns, typically between twenty and fifty years. The acorns themselves are hard, tough little nuggets that can withstand a lot between dropping and germinating.

Oaks have long oval leaves with distinct lobes that make them easy to identify. Unique about Oak leaves is their tendency to grow twice in a season due to the variety of insects which seem to thrive on them. While oaks do provide a good living environment for insects, they are rarely bothered by those that bore into their bark, which may in part account for their long life.

Can you identify with some of Oak’s enduring characteristics? Are you a “slow and steady wins the race” kind of person? Can you be tough and tightly closed like the acorn, steeling yourself against what the world throws your way? Do you have the ability, like the Oak’s leaves, to regenerate yourself when necessary?

If you are an Oak, you may also have a presence which is large yet looms quietly and calmly in the background. It may also be the case that you provide a nurturing and sheltering environment for others.

If you are like an Oak and need to bolster your energies, try spending time either under an Oak’s expansive branches, or perhaps cultivate presence while positioning yourself in view of the tree’s entire broad canopy. And even if you’re not an Oak but value its characteristics, these may be great opportunities to cultivate them.

Pine: Flexibility

One of the fundamental characteristics of most pines, especially white and red pines, is flexibility. Limbs have a robust ability to tolerate snow load, then eventually return to their original orientation once melted.  The tree is even flexible in habitats, preferring humid, well-drained soils yet occurring everywhere from rocky ridges to sphagnum bogs.

Though to really appreciate their flexibility is to be in a plantation of tall pines on a breezy day (always use caution near older trees when windy) and see them swaying in unison. White or red pine will mesmerize you with a lovely dance, like a company of ballerinas moving in synchrony. And as a bonus, the sound of wind moving through the needles is like the ocean breeze. (If, by the way, you have not yet noticed how each tree species has a particular sound when air blows through its leaves then pay attention, close your eyes, and you will be in for a marvellous treat.)

Can you identify with the ability to absorb load and bounce back? Can you be soft and not break even when someone is bending your needles? Do you like to move in harmony with those around you? If so, perhaps you are a pine and you may wish to seek out the company of this tree when you need to recharge. Or, even if you’re not a Pine temperament, why not see if some time spent around them might cultivate your flexibility?

Beech: Sensitivity

Easily recognizable and distinctive, its smooth grey bark looks like an elephant leg in the forest. Beech has sparsely-toothed oblong leaves that sometimes, especially on younger trees, stay attached into winter, like light-brown paper fans. Tiny, angular beech nuts, food for many animals, are often found widely scattered underneath.

Beech is highly shade-tolerant, able to continue growing beneath the canopy of other trees. As such, growth is slow and particularly affected by trees and the environment which surrounds it. Unlike other trees’ bark that gets thicker and furrowed with age, Beech bark does not change much in appearance — it is thin and retains signs of injury or distress. Bears love Beech nuts and their climbing scratches are etched into the tree’s history. Lovers who have carved their initials into a Beech tree return decades later to see them immortalized almost as clearly as the day they inscribed them.

Do you have a calm outer appearance and find you are inevitably touched in an enduring way by the people and events around you? Are you more the type to nourish and sustain others than to rise above them and deplete their light? Perhaps you share characteristics of the Beech.

Due to Beech’s ability to grow in locations overshadowed and accompanied by other trees, it is often found in the final stage of forest succession. If you are a Beech, you may be one of those people who remain quietly and steadfastly in the company of others as they grow and mature. Beech is about stillness, peace, and grace, but with that comes a deep sensitivity to what is happening around you. Like the bark which holds scars, and leaves which persist into winter, perhaps emotional experiences (and wounds) tend to stay embedded in you. If your reminiscence of feelings tends to be deep-seated, this may be another sign Beech is your tree.

Larch: Transformation

Larches (including their close cousin Tamarack) are relatively fast growing trees, rising tall with a generally slender form. It has rough, scaly bark, but its needles are soft, gentle, almost feather-like tufts on the branches. Larches are somewhat shade intolerant, so needles will typically keep growing only on the branches closer to the sky.

The defining characteristic of larches is that, unlike other conifers, they shed all their needles each autumn. If you didn’t know better, larches with empty branches appear dead, but then emerge in spring with a vibrant light-green color, usually one of the first trees to leaf out. They look different again during summer once completely filled in, and in autumn larches glow a bright bronzy yellow. It is truly a tree of many appearances.

Are you a person whose appearance, whether physical or emotional, regularly changes in the eyes of those around you? If you take on different personas, and get inspiration from the feeling of that changing, your tree may be a larch. As a larch, it is possible that the tender parts of your being, like those soft needles, may sometimes be out of reach to others. Or perhaps you have an imposing outward appearance, like the rough scaly bark, which belies gentleness to be found on closer inspection.

A mystery of larch is that the mat of needles shed in the fall seems to have all but disappeared once the snow has melted. Do you have a capacity to shed your baggage cleanly, out of sight, out of mind?

If you are a larch and find yourself in need of a boost, of if you are not a larch but admire some of its qualities, find a place where these tall but gentle trees can surround you with their unique transformative energy, on the cusp of both evergreen and deciduous.

So, have you found “your” tree yet? Or, more specifically, have you found something of yourself revealed in a tree? Perhaps you strongly identified with one of the species, or maybe you realized you are clearly a hybrid of several tree types.

Continue the conversation. Use the comment form at the bottom of this page to include your thoughts and experiences, to build on one of the tree profiles above, or to contribute your own profile of a tree not featured.