It just seems so romantic, doesn’t it? You’re in love, so you take your penknife and carve your initials and those of your beloved in the bark of a nearby tree, perhaps engraving a heart around it for more emphasis. Then you show her…
Well, if she’s the slightest bit of a tree hugger, she’ll probably slap you.
This isn’t the 1920s and people today have more respect for nature. Trees are not billboards designed to be written on, they’re living beings and you’d shouldn’t deface living beings. If you want to give yourself a tattoo, that’s your business, but tattooing someone else without their permission is just … wrong! And tree carvings are tree tattoos.
Doesn’t Carving Actually Hurt the Tree?
You may have heard that carving a tree can harm it, allowing in pathogens that can cause rot or even lead to its death. That’s the kind of slightly false information it really does little harm to let circulate, but let’s be honest here. In fact, carving letters into a tree probably won’t hurt it.
That kind of engraving (quite unlike stripping a tree of its bark: that will kill it!) rarely goes deep enough to do any serious damage to the integrity of the tree itself. Sure, there’s a risk the wound could become infected with pathogens, but it’s very, very slight. In general, the tree will compartmentalize the wound and it will heal over. The initials that remain visible are essentially scar tissue, permanent scar tissue.
What tree carving does do is destroy the tree’s beauty for others … for as long as it lives. Unlike graffiti that can often be removed or covered over, tree wounds are permanent. There’s nothing you can do to erase them.
Also, seeing one tree with carved initials often encourages others to do the same … and repeated carving to the same tree is much more likely to eventually lead to some sort of invasive fungus or microbe attacking it. Certainly, multiplying carvings will seriously degrade the tree’s appearance!
Remember that tree probably belongs to someone. Either the owner of the lot on which it grows or, if it’s in a public place, the community. Would you want someone carving their initials on your car? Or on your arm? It’s the same thing!
And yes, you could be arrested. I don’t know that there is any specific law against carving initials in a tree, but there are against vandalism. And that’s what carving initials in a tree is.
What brought on this article was a sad situation that occurred just last week. I was touring a public garden with the manager and a small group when we came across initials freshly carved on a tree. You should have seen the look of shock on the guy’s face. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was both furious and embarrassed. You could feel the others in the group were equally shocked. “Horrible!” muttered one woman, but otherwise no one actually spoke up. We’d didn’t have to. When something is wrong, it’s simply wrong.
The tour went on… but in a subdued manner.
A Better Memorial
Do you want to memorialize your new love? Why not plant a tree in her name rather than destroy another tree’s appearance. That way everybody wins!