Tree Shaping

Tree shaping, a form of living sculpture, is the craft of shaping live trees into ornamental shapes and structures.


Tree Shaping (Arborscuplture) is known by several other names. It is about growing and shaping trunks, branches and roots of trees and woody plants by grafting, shaping, and pruning or guiding branches, to planned shapes.

This art has been demonstrated by the living root bridges built by the War-Khasi people of India, several hundred years before. This art was also practised as far as America, Germany etc.

Farmer Axel Erlandson shaped trees into fantastic designs and made it an atrraction called “Tree Circus”,  which brought this art to limelight.

How it is done

Trees which are indigenous to the region, disease and insect resistant, thin-barked, able to be united together, able to retain a new shape when new layers of wood form to hold a desired shape are choosen.


Main tool required is ‘Patience’ as the art deals with the growth of trees. The others include common garden tools like handpruners, pruning saw, Shears and also day-to-day things, depending on the design.


Approach grafting:  Wounding two or more parts of a tree or trees by cutting off the bark, binding the wounded parts so they grow together as one.

Pruning:  Removing unwanted branches and directing them into the desired shape. It may also redirect stem growth. A pruning cut above a leaf or node that points to the right can steer the plant to left.and likewise for left.

Pleaching:  A methodology new to buildings yet ancient to gardening, method of weaving together tree branches to form living archways, lattices, or screens.

Temporary Support:  Trees are supported for a year or more depending on the size of the design. During the supporting time, the design swells with each additional layer of wood grown.

Aeroponic Roots:  Growing roots in the air to make them soft, flexible and shape into artistic or large functional structures such as homes. Chêne-Chapelle (The OakChapel, France) houses two chapels in its the hollow trunk.


Architectural: Shaping structures such as archways, rooms, houses, tunnels, gazebos.

Around Cherrapunji in northeast India there are “living root bridges”; roots of some suitable species (Banyan, Rubber) growing alongside the gap are trained to grow across  until they take root on the other side, over 100 feet.

Living Art: Shaping trees with the intention that the design will continue to grow.This style includes abstract, symbolic, and functional designs.

Inclusion: Where an item, is positioned so the growth of the tree includes and holds the item. Examples include tabletops, stained glass, and mirrors.

Intentional Harvest: designs where the tree(s) are cut from the ground, dried and finished.


It is gaining importance with the aim of reducing the usage of plastics and cutting down of trees. These structures are naturally self-renewing and self-strengthening as the component roots grow thicker.

Contemporary designers include British furniture design Dr. Christopher Cattle, the Australian Peter Cook and Becky Northey and American arborsculptor Richard Reames, Chinese furniture designer Mr. Wu.