Arborists Warn Against Tree Carving

Arborists know it’s tempting to carve your and your beloved’s name into a tree, but they warn that it can be damaging.


The practice isn’t new; in fact, archaeologists guess that carving images into trees has been going on around the world for several centuries. However, most living trees aren’t that old, so historians need to rely on research to estimate the details when it comes to tree carvings. History shows us that carvings in trees were historically indicative of the loneliness of sheep herders.

Ranging from dates and names to explicit images and heart-wrenching passages like “Es trieste a vivir solo” (It’s sad to live alone), which was featured in Steamboat Magazine, these “arborglyphs” were especially popular with Basque immigrants who came to the U.S. to herd sheep in the 19th century. Most famously, they carved poetry into the bark.

An Arborist’s Perspective

What’s the big deal if you etch a heart into a tree?

Arborists can explain that although trees don’t feel pain like we do, carvings can still cause a lot of damage. They create wounds that let in pathogens and weaken the tree’s defenses.
Carvings aren’t like proper pruning, which is done at just the right spot and angle to control the growth and health of a tree.

Nonprofessional cuts, especially on the trunk (where carvings are popular), heal much slower than a proper pruning. While the tree heals, pests and diseases can more easily enter.
“Girdling” is the process of deeply gouging all the way around a tree with the intention of killing it, and it is still done in some regions.

When “LOVE” is a Four-Letter Word

Trunks utilize phloem and xylem — their food and water — in a system right below the bark and on the trunk. When these cells are sliced, the distribution of water, sugar and other nutrients is disrupted.

Sometimes, a tree can even starve to death if a deep or big enough cut is made in just the right area. You can’t tell immediately if this has happened, and some trees die very slowly.
Just like humans, it’s crucial that trees are wound-free and get all their nutrients. Carving isn’t the only means of bark damage, though. Dinging a tree with a car or lawnmower, or accidentally nicking one when you’re pruning the grass or plants nearby can all cause devastating effects.

A Better Option

Try gifting a tree instead this Valentine’s Day. Work with a local arborist to choose a tree that’s native and will thrive in the space where you’re considering planting. Don’t have a yard? Consider trees that can thrive indoors, such as lemon and avocado trees (even though they aren’t native to Utah).

Call Reliable Tree Care and learn more about tree care and gifting options.