The Tree of Life: memorializing a lost pet

Memorializing a pet is a regular topic of conversation here on the blog, and in this post, family therapist Laurel Lagoni from Vet Wisdom Cafe shares a great idea for one way to keep our memories of our loved pets alive:

Planting a Tree In Memoriam

“I’m confused about what to do now with my dog’s ashes.  He was cremated and I received his remains a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t really want to keep them, but I also don’t want to scatter them around and then have nowhere that I can “visit” him.  Help!  What do other people do?”
-excerpted from a conversation with a pet parent

This is a common dilemma for pet parents as there aren’t as many rules and customs for pet cremains as there are for human cremains.  Here’s one idea from a wonderful, little book by Daniel Butler called How to Plant a Tree: A Simple Celebration of Trees and Tree-Planting Ceremonies.

According to Butler, people have always enjoyed a close relationship with trees.  They provide food, shelter, protection, and enjoyment.  And, when planted with purpose, trees can provide meaning and comfort for years and years.  Here’s what Mr. Butler suggests for an In Memoriam ceremony combining a loved one’s cremains and a tree planting.

The ashes of our loved ones, Butler says, contain minerals like carbon and potassium.  When we line a pit with these ashes, the “physical essence of a person will be incorporated into the cells of a tree” that is planted there and can actually live on within that tree.

Butler suggests you match the personality of your loved one (pet or person) with the characteristics of a tree.  For instance, you might choose an olive tree for a person who loved to cook or an evergreen to symbolize a pet’s constant companionship and devotion.  If you live in an apartment, you might try this with an indoor tree like a ficus or Norfolk pine.

What do you think of this idea?  Has anyone planted a tree in memory of a pet?

–Laurel Lagoni,

Laurel Lagoni, M.S., is the former Director of the Argus Institute for Families and Veterinary Medicine at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University. She is the current Director of the Veterinary Wisdom® Support Center and President/CEO of World by the Tail, Inc –

Dr V’s tree in honor of Mulan: I picked it because the leaves reminded me of her ears.


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  • A gorgeous idea that has never occured to me. Thanks!

  • Aww, someone planted a tree for us after Lambchop died. It was really an amazing thing to do! What a thoughtful thing to do for someone else as well.

  • I planted a pink azalea the day my girlfriend Carol died of breast cancer. Damn Kevin! Dr V is that tree a ginkgo ? We buried Sandy under a pussy willow. Bianca & Willow are under a Redbud.

  • Lisa W

    I love this idea — but I did sort of a variation on it. Since we aren’t going to be in our house forever and I want to keep Bailey with me, I have her ashes in a beautiful urn. But I planted flowering bushes in a memorial garden next to our deck, which was one of her favorite places in the yard. There is a dog angel stake in the littel garden, and it’s also right outside of the master bedroom under a window. Itr’s very comforting to have it there as a beautiful reminder.

  • We buried Miles in the back yard in a spot that gets the most sun, so that he’s in a sunbeam the majority of the day. Next to him we planted an orange tree. The first year the tree was planted it didn’t do well at all and that made me incredibly sad but now it seems to have taken root and we have gorgeous thick leaves, if not oranges.

  • I haven’t done this idea for a pet (we live in an apartment, and before a rented home… not really possible) But I really love it for the future! I think I might choose a weeping willow. It’s my favorite tree to sit under and I think it would be a good place to spend some time to remember pets. I really love the tree you chose for Mulan! Gorgeous!

  • This is such a fantastic idea! I love the thought of the essence of the deceased growing into something beautiful. :o)