The Rustic Symbolism of Victorian-Era Treestones

Intro and photos by Michelle Sutton

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What does it all mean?

The tree collections in cemeteries and memorial parks are key contributors to the beauty, diversity, and ecological services of the urban forest. Since I was a teenager, I’ve loved wandering cemeteries and memorial parks to appreciate the mature trees, beautiful open-grown specimens, and unusual species. In New York cemeteries I’ve seen glorious open-grown cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata), Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus), and Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), to name a few.

Thanks to an article by Davey Resource Group Senior Consulting Urban Forester Jenny Gulick, I have another level of appreciation when I explore cemeteries and memorial parks—now I look for treestones and am thrilled when I find them. It’s like a reverential treasure hunt, as the “treasures” can tell such profound stories. In New York, I often will find one treestone in a cemetery—two or three if I am lucky.  Here are some highlights from Gulick’s fascinating piece on the history of treestones and how their symbolism can be interpreted. 

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