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Idioms and Expressions Related to Trees

Idioms and Expressions Related to Trees

Before the big, convenient cities of modern times, people lived closer to nature. So it's no surprise that expressions and idioms related to trees and other plants became common in many languages. In English, we use expressions like the ones in this article every day and for all kinds of situations. How many of them do you know?

Put down roots

Long roots spreading from the base of a tree

The roots of a tree make it strong and stable. In the same way, "putting down roots" means "establishing a home" in a particular place, usually in order to raise a family.

After living in many different countries, I've decided to put down roots in Japan.
This town is safe, convenient and has good schools. We think it's a great place to put down roots for our family.

The opposite of this expression is "uproot," which is also a verb that means "to pull out of the ground." It's used when people leave a place where they have lived for a long time and go somewhere new.

We were worried about uprooting ourselves, but the kids have made lots of friends in our new city.

Bark up the wrong tree

“Bark” is a verb and a noun describing the sounds that dogs make. This funny expression means “to be looking in the wrong place,” "believing something that is incorrect" or “trying to do something in an incorrect way.”

If he thinks Steve is going to lend him money, he’s barking up the wrong tree.
The police are barking up the wrong tree — I was not involved in the robbery at all.

Money doesn’t grow on trees

You might be able to guess the meaning of this one. Most people have to work hard to get their money, and don't like to see it wasted. So if you feel someone is using their (or your!) money foolishly, this is a good phrase to use.

You shouldn't spend so much on video games. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know.
My daughter keeps asking me to buy her a new phone — she must think money grows on trees!

It’s most commonly used to talk about money, but this expression can be used to refer to other things that are not easy to get or are expensive.

Why haven't you replaced your old smartphone yet?
Well, they don't just grow on trees. I'm still saving money to get one.

Can’t see the forest for the trees

If someone “can’t see the forest for the trees,” it means they are too focused on a small detail and don’t notice the bigger, more important situation. Some people replace “forest” with “woods.”

He's always complaining about the lounge being messy, but the whole house is falling to pieces!
Yeah, he can't see the forest for the trees.
My manager can't see the woods for the trees — it's true that sales were down this month, but they are up for the whole year.


Green pine needles

“Evergreen” can be used as a noun or an adjective for a kind of tree with leaves that stay green all year. As an adjective, it can also be used to describe something that is always popular, successful, relevant or accurate.

Our garden looked so empty last winter, so I've decided to plant some evergreen trees.
Slang changes all of the time, but some words, like "cool," are evergreen.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

People use this expression to say that children often behave in a way that is similar to their parents. It can be used in both positive and negative situations.

She’s a successful writer, just like her father. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh?
Both he and his dad have a drinking problem. Unfortunately the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Beat around the bush

“Beating around the bush” means talking about something close to the important topic instead of the important topic itself. It’s a negative expression that people use when they are frustrated because little or no progress is being made or someone is avoiding talking about something which needs to be discussed.

I wish the CEO would stop beating around the bush and just tell us if we're losing our jobs or not.
Did you ask her out yet?
No, I was too nervous. I kept beating around the bush.

Nip (something) in the bud

A “bud” is a small part of a plant that later grows into a leaf or flower, and one meaning of "nip" is "to pinch." So this expression basically means to “remove something while it is still small.” In everyday conversations, this phrase is used to talk about stopping a problem early so that it does not become a bigger problem later.

My car has been making a strange noise. I don’t know what the problem is.
You should take it to a mechanic and nip it in the bud while you can.

Hear (something) through the grapevine

Little girl whispering a secret to a little boy

Do you know the famous song I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye? It's about a man who finds out that his girlfriend is leaving him. However, she didn't tell him directly. Instead, she told someone else, and that person told another person, and so on until he finally hears the news from someone totally different. 

You could have told me yourself

That you love someone else

Instead, I heard it through the grapevine

This connection of people who share news or rumors is sometimes called a "grapevine." So "hearing something through the grapevine" means you learn something from a different place or person than where it started.

I heard through the grapevine that the company is opening a new office overseas.
I heard through the grapevine that those two are dating in secret.


Were any of these expressions familiar to you? You may even have similar sayings in your native language. Because these tree and plant expressions can be used in so many different situations, if you learn them you will probably have a chance to use one very soon!