The tree appears several times throughout the poem, but each time, the tree symbolizes the Christian community. One of Will’s many teachers, Anima, explains that society is like a tree whose roots (the priesthood) are rotting, consequently poisoning the rest of the tree (society). This tree is the Christian community at its present, sickly state. Later, Anima (and also Piers Plowman) introduces the idea of the tree of Patience. This tree symbolizes the Christian community in its ideal state, as its roots are made of mercy, the leaves are the laws of the Church, the flower buds are obedience, and the fruit is charity. The tree is defended by Piers Plowman, who brandishes three wooden poles (the Trinity) to strike down the evil forces that try to attack the tree and steal its fruit. Near the end of the poem, the tree becomes the tree of Truth, which is destroyed by Antichrist, representing the subsequent destruction of the Christian community.
Tree Quotes in Piers Plowman
And for an example see how on trees in the summer time
There are some boughs that bear leaves and some bear none.
There is some sickness in the root of such sots of trees;
Just so parsons and priests and preachers of Holy Church
Are the root of the right faith to rule the people;
But where the root is rotten…
Shall never flower nor fruit grow nor fair leaf be green.
…Piers’s fruit flowered and befell to be ripe.
And then Jesus should joust for it by judgment of arms
Which one should fetch the fruit, the Fiend or himself.