Tree tales: the legends surrounding British tree species

 Each species of tree has its own set of legends. Here are just a few. . .

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Birch

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Slender and graceful, birch is sometimes known as the Lady of the Woods, and in legends birch trees sometimes assume female human form. Brooms were often made from birch and symbolically it represents sweeping out the old and making new beginnings.

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Oak

The King of the Forest, oak is associated in mythology with masculine deities such as Zeus and Thor. It is a symbol of courage, durability and strength (as in ‘hearts of oak’), and in stories is often a doorway into the secret heart of the forest.

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Willow

Willow is associated with the moon, water and the ebb and flow of love and life. Many folktales tell of young men who find love
by a willow tree, but often end in loss. Wearing a willow leaf traditionally indicated grieving for a loved one.

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Hazel

Hazel is associated with learning and knowledge. In Celtic mythology, the salmon of wisdom ate nuts from an ancient, sacred hazel tree. Dowsing rods are traditionally made from hazel and ‘to crack a nut’ refers to solving a problem.

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Hawthorn

The tree of love and fertility, hawthorn’s flowery boughs are made into crowns, garlands and maypoles to celebrate the fecundity of spring. According to legend, a terrible fate awaits those who chop down this ‘faerie tree’.

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Elm

Elm has long been associated with death – it was once used as gallows and coffins were made from its wood. In mythology, elms mark the Underworld, and in legends, trees grow from elm stakes in corpses. Now it’s renowned for Dutch elm disease.

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