The Roots of Tree Carving

Posted on March 15, 2017 by April Lahti | 0 comments

For hundreds of years, people have been carving names, dates, and even pictures into trees. Not many records of ancient tree carvings have been found because the carvings usually only last as long as the life span of that particular tree.

Carvings like these are known as arborglyphs, and many were created on the bark of aspen trees, which was ideal because it could be scratched even with just a fingernail. Most aspens live to around 100 years, so relics older than that are quite rare.

Many tree carvings were romantic gestures of love, usually with initials or names, dates, and sometimes hearts. Many people would carve a message into a tree as a symbol of everlasting love, and visit it in years to come. Carving sweet messages into trees for loved ones is still common to do today.


Not every arborglyph was a message of love. Some, like this one carved in 1964, were made by lonely immigrant Basque shepherds in the western United States. These sheep herders had a lonesome job that didn’t give them any chances to make contact with people; so they carved names, phrases, and pictures into trees to pass the time and make a record of themselves.  The Basque people carved many messages into trees when they were feeling miserable and lonely, such as “Hurrah for the sheepherders and those who have the guts to stay here.”

Photo taken in Idaho by Greg Harness.

Tree carvings can even tell the stories of soldiers. Messages from WWII soldiers, for example, have been found carved into trees from the places they traveled to. The soldiers wanted to leave something permanent behind, in case they did not come back from the war. The messages on the trees were often of religious script, their own names, dates, or the names of their loved ones. The carvings done by soldiers can reveal a lot about what they were thinking and feeling during the war. Chantel Summerfield studied the effects of WWII on the soldiers, and how they communicated their feelings through tree carvings. Read more about her research here.


The tradition of tree carving is one that has stuck around, and will probably continue to do so. However, cutting into trees can lead to disturbing of the tree’s flow of nutrients that it needs to survive. Below the layer of bark there are cells in the tree that help the tree grow and stay healthy, and destruction of those cells could harm the tree. At Picture It Personal, we preserve your thoughtful sentiments without damaging the trees; every letter and number is digitally created by hand.  If you’re thinking of carving a tree as a romantic gesture, please visit our tree collection for a great alternative- a realistic digital “carving” which you can enjoy throughout the year. We hope to see you soon at Picture It Personal!

Posted in arboglyph, tree carving history