What Do Evergreen Trees Mean in Cemeteries?


By Tiger Steel

Have you ever walked through an old cemetery and admired evergreen trees; specifically Thuja plicata (red cedars) or Pinus strobus (white pines) growing therein?  If so, have you ever wondered why this is so?

Being a formally trained forester and botanist, I have a keen eye towards what species of trees, shrubs, and/or wildflowers are prolific in the area as I work in my yard, hike a local walking trail, or drive a back road through the countryside on a warm Sunday afternoon.  This being the case, over the years (at least 28 years to be exact) I have frequently noticed cedar and/or pine trees growing in the middle of cemeteries across the country.  Oftentimes I have noted a lone single cedar tree growing directly in the middle of many protestant cemeteries across the country.  But why?

After many years of wondering what relevance evergreens have with cemeteries, I finally decided to take the easy approach and…you guessed it….I finally took the time to GOOGLE it!  The answer which had eluded me for nearly three decades disclosed itself within the first three minutes of my research.  Moreover, it was such an easy answer I could have kicked myself.  “Of course” I exclaimed aloud as I clicked on and subsequently read several other internet links related to the topic.

The answer to why one frequently notices cedar trees (and other evergreens) in cemeteries are as easy to understand as a leaf on a tree (pun intended).  Cedar and pine trees are evergreens which mean they’re always green year round; always showing the appearance of life in all seasons.  This being the case, churches and cemetery caretakers would plant evergreens in cemeteries for the deceased as a sign of “rebirth”, “new life”, or “eternal life”.

With this yet another puzzle of my life had been solved and I no longer have to guess about this.  That being said, I am quite partial to the Liriodendron tulipifera (yellow poplar) tree due to its let’s move and gett’r done, grow up straight and fast characteristics as opposed to the take your time, procrastinate, and grow slowly characteristics of the red cedar!

Now most of you who read this will have a new appreciation for the type of trees you might plant in your own family cemetery.

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