Plants and animals play an important role in Ukrainian folklore, symbolizing everything from love and happiness to heartbreak and despair. Here are 3 common trees in Ukraine and what they mean to Ukrainian culture.
Oaks symbolize strength and endurance. After the birth of a boy, families would throw a small oak branch into the river, hoping the boy would grow up strong and solid. Additionally, many Ukrainian folktales compare men and boys to the revered oak tree.
Oaks also appear in countless Ukrainian paintings, particularly those from the Cossack era. Acorns and oak leaves are also a popular pysanka design.
Red Guelder Rose Trees
In Ukrainian folklore, the red guelder rose, or kalyna, represents love, marriage, virginity, and womanhood. The great poet Taras Shevchenko once wrote:
“Kalyna in the valley
Is bright red,
Like the smiling lips
Of a young girl…”
Countless poems and folk songs reference kalyna, comparing it to a young woman’s beauty or a budding romance. While families would throw an oak branch into a river after the birth of a boy, girls would get a clump of kalyna berries. According to tradition, this practice helped the girl grow into a beautiful woman.
The kalyna’s bright red berries also symbolize familial ties or blood spilled in battle. In traditional Ukrainian folklore, kalyna trees grow on the unmarked graves of lost heroes. Many also view kalyna as a bridge connecting the world of the living to the world of the dead.
Willows, or verba, also hold many meanings in Ukraine. In Ukrainian folklore, the tree might symbolize love and marriage, but it’s is also a powerful symbol of melancholy and despair.
A willow bending over the water often represents loneliness and grief. Many associate a bending willow with a widow who lost her husband in war. Ukrainian folklore also compares dying willows to ailing spinsters mourning their lonely fate.
On a more positive note, a bridge made of willow branches symbolizes love and hope for the future. Women who wanted to be married might cross the bridge in hopes of finding a mate. Couples who crossed a willow bridge were expected to marry soon after.
Sources: Welcome to Ukraine, Ukraine