Pines are symbolically and ceremonially important trees to many Native American people, but their meaning varies from tribe to tribe. The pine tree is a symbol of longevity to the Algonquian tribes of the northeast, and to the Great Lakes tribes, such as the Anishinabe and the Potawatomi, pine trees also represent wisdom and harmony with nature.
The Iroquois tribes saw the pine tree as a symbol of peace and burned pine wood as an incense to pacify ghosts and banish nightmares. Among tribes of the Great Basin and Plateau, pine trees were often associated with rain, and pine cones or wood were burned in hopes of changing the weather to be more favorable.
In the Southwest, the pinion pine is considered sacred by some tribes; its sweet-smelling wood is burned as incense, and its pine gum is used as protection against witchcraft. Pine pitch and bark are also used as medicine herbs in many tribes, and pine nuts are an important food source for many Western tribes, particularly in California and the Southwest. Pine needles are also used in some traditional kinds of Native American basketry.
Pine trees are also used as clan symbols in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Pine Clans include the Pueblo tribes.
Pinion trees, also spelled pinyon or piñon, are a variety of pine tree that holds a position of great importance to Native American tribes of the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Pinion trees are considered sacred by some tribes, and their sweet-smelling wood is burned as incense. Pinion nuts are an important food item to many Southwestern tribes and are still collected by Shoshone and Paiute people today.
Pinion pines also have spiritual importance in some tribes—for example, pinion nuts are given as food offerings to Apache girls undergoing the Sunrise Ceremony, and pinion gum was used by many Pueblo tribes as protection against witchcraft.
Pinion trees are also used as clan symbols in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Pinon Clans include the Pueblo tribes.
Poplar – true Poplar is actually Aspen. See earlier section
Purple Heart –
Purpleheart is a spiritual wood. It enhances energy dealing with creativity and knowledge. One of the best woods when dealing with spiritual healing and health issues, purpleheart would be especially useful in eradicating the negative energies that create strife in the home.
Spruce trees are mythologically important plants among Southwestern tribes, where they are symbols of the sky and directional guardians of the north. According to Hopi myth, the Spruce tree was once a medicine man, Salavi, who transformed himself into a tree. For this reason, spruce trees are considered particularly sacred to the Hopis, who use spruce boughs to adorn kachina dancers.
In the Pima flood myth, the father and mother of the Pima people survived the deluge by floating in a ball of spruce pitch. Among northern tribes, spruce trees (like other evergreens) are associated with peace and protection.
Spruce is a particular symbol of good luck to the Salish tribes, and spruce roots are used as fiber for weaving basketry regalia by many Northwest Coast tribes. Northern Algonquian tribes used to bundle spruce and fir needles into sachets or herbal pillows to protect against illness.
Spruce trees are also used as a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Spruce Clans include the Hopi tribe, whose Spruce clan is named Salab. The Cherokee also have a Winter Spruce Dance among their tribal dance traditions.
Copal is an important ceremonial herb of Mexico and Central America, long used as a sacred incense by the Maya, Nahuatl (Aztec), and Zoque peoples. It is not actually a plant but a plant product, being the resin of the torchwood family of trees (which are sometimes also referred to as "copal trees" in Mexico.)
"Copal" is a Spanish variant of the Nahuatl word copalli, meaning "incense." The Mayan names for copal resin are pom, poom, or poomte.
Copal played a very important role in the ancient Mayan religion; copal was considered the food of the gods and was burned as offerings to them. Today, although few if any Maya or Nahuatl people continue to worship the old gods, copal is still used for ritual purification and other traditional ceremonies and is often burned at mainstream Mexican celebrations such as the Day of the Dead.
Like the Celts, many tribes, such as the Saanich of Vancouver Island – made bows and arrows out of yew wood. The Pacific Coast Indians also utilized yew wood for a variety of sacred ceremonial objects, including masks, spirit whistles, pipes, clubs, totemic sticks, gambling sticks and ceremonial staffs. It is also noted as the Tree of Life and Death.
Recently, yew was found to produce a chemical Taxol, an experimental cancer drug effective in treating women with ovarian cancers. In may also be able to work on cancers of the lung, skin and breast.
Early Britons and the Druids regarded the yew as the symbol of both transformation and eternity.
Sacred Trees of the Midwest/Northeast
Tree Symbols –
The Cherokee call trees the Standing People and teach that all of their plant relations are the givers of the Earth providing for the needs of others. Each tree has its properties and attributes with the ability to share these with the people - tree symbols. Trees provide healing medicines, shelter from their branches, a place for burrows for the small animals and provide materials to build homes. A Tree symbolizes permanence, longevity and its firm base symbolizes the concept of ‘roots’ and an ongoing relationship with natural surroundings. Such positive characteristics and attributes of trees lend themselves to being revered.
Tree Symbols - Prayer and Talking Sticks
The people of many Native American tribes believe that the qualities of each type of tree brings specific medicine and carries a sacred spark of the Great Spirit. The wood from trees was used to create many sacred items including Talking Sticks and Prayer Sticks. The choice of tree and the wood used to make these sacred objects was highly symbolic and had meaning and relevance to the craftsman. Each type of stick was prepared with due respect and ceremony. The wood was carefully chosen for its strength and spirituality and taken from a tree that had special meaning to the person. Permission was sought from the tree spirit to make the talking stick and the prayer stick.
Native American Tree Symbols Chart
The following list provides details of each tree together with its meanings and symbolism.
Ash - The ash symbolizes peace of mind, sacrifice, sensitivity and higher awareness
Aspen - The Aspen symbolizes clarity of purpose, determination and overcoming fears and doubts
Arbutus - The sacred Arbutus symbolizes knowledge
Beech - The Beech symbolizes tolerance, past knowledge and softening criticism
Birch - The Birch symbolizes truth, new beginnings and cleansing of the past
Cedar - The Cedar symbolizes cleansing, protection, prosperity & healing
Cherry - The Cherry tree symbolizes strong expression, rebirth, new awakenings and compassion
Elm - The Elm symbolizes wisdom, strength of will and intuition
Maple - The Maple symbolizes the tree of offering, generosity, balance, promise and practicality
Oak - The oak symbolizes strength of character and courage
Pine - The pine tree symbolizes creativity, peace and harmony
Sycamore - Sycamore symbolizes ambition
Willow - The willow symbolizes inner wisdom, an open mind with the stability and strength of age and experience.
Walnut - The Walnut symbolizes clarity and focus, gathering of energy and beginning new projects
White Pine - The White Pine symbolizes serenity
Tree Symbols - The Tree of Peace
The Iroquois had two great leaders Dekanawida, the Great Peacemaker and Hiawatha who united the 5 nations to create the Iroquois Confederacy. The Great Peacemaker used a white pine, called the Tree of Peace, to symbolize the peace and friendship that had been established by creating the confederacy. The branches of the Tree of Peace represented protection. A far-seeing eagle sat upon the top of the tree to symbolizing a warning system between the tribes and beneath the roots of the Tree of Peace a weapon was buried. This symbolic act meant that there would be no fighting between the Iroquois tribes.
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