If you spend enough time surrounded by trees, you may come across some that have been marked with various colors of spray paint, using different symbols, letters, or numbers. In most cases, this is a type of code that public and private landowners use to denote the future of a tree. Here’s what to know about the meanings behind the colors.
What spray paint marks on trees mean
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The first thing to know is that the colors, markings, and their meanings aren’t always consistent. That’s because there isn’t a universal color-coding system that all states, cities, landowners, and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has agreed upon.
According to Bill Cook, a forester and biologist at the Michigan State University Extension, the paint on trees in forests often represents timber sale contract specifications. In those cases, trees sold for timber are usually marked at both chest height and at the stump, on one or both sides of the tree, he explains.
The meanings of paint colors on trees
Though the meanings of the paint colors can differ depending on the location, here are some of the most common colors and markings found spray painted on trees, and what they can indicate:
- Orange or Yellow: Trees that are scheduled to be harvested
- Blue: Can be used to mark property lines
- Purple: In many states, a vertical or square purple paint mark on trees or fenceposts is the equivalent of a “No Trespassing” sign
- White circle: An endangered animal or bird lives in the tree
- Red: Designates the boundary of USFS land; can also be used to mark the edge of the timber sale, especially on large pieces of property, like public or corporate land
- Black: Acts as an “eraser” correcting a mistake
If you come across a tree on or near your property that’s marked with spray paint and it’s not the handiwork of someone in your household, your best bet is to contact your local extension office. They’ll be able to tell you what the color and marking means, and if there are any other steps you should take.