ar·​bo·​re·​al är-ˈbȯr-ē-əl How to pronounce arboreal (audio)
: of, relating to, or resembling a tree
: inhabiting or frequenting trees
arboreal monkeys
arboreally adverb

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Head to the Forest to Define Arboreal

Arboreal took root in English in the 17th century, at a time when language influencers were eager to see English take on words from Latin and Greek. Apparently unsatisfied with the now-obsolete word treen (“of, relating to, or derived from trees”), they plucked arboreal from the Latin arboreus, meaning “of a tree”; its ultimate root is arbor, meaning “tree.” That root arborized—that is, branched freely (to use the term figuratively): English abounds with largely obscure words that trace back to arbor, meaning “tree.” Generally synonymous with arboreal are arboraceous, arborary, arboreous, and arborous. Synonymous with arboreal specifically in the sense of “relating to or resembling a tree” are arborescent, arboresque, arborical, and arboriform. Arboricole is a synonym of arboreal in its “inhabiting trees” sense. (The influencers may have overdone it a bit.) Arboreal is far more common than any of these, but other arbor words also have a firm hold in the language: arborvitae refers to a shrub whose name translates as “tree of life”; arboretum refers to a place where trees are cultivated; and arboriculture is the cultivation of trees. And of course we can't forget Arbor Day, which since 1872 has named a day set aside for planting trees. Despite its spelling, however, the English word arbor, which refers to a garden shelter of tree boughs or vines twined together, has a different source: it came by way of Anglo-French from the Latin herba, meaning “herb” or “grass.”

Examples of arboreal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In Florida, the native North American green anole (Anolis carolinensis) has lived high up on tree trunks, consuming arboreal insects in the low canopy, for millions of years. Quanta Magazine, 2 Jan. 2024 High-speed video shows that ground-dwelling salamanders seem helpless during freefall in a vertical wind tunnel, while arboreal salamanders maneuver confidently. Discover Magazine, 6 Jan. 2024 In 1967, the English returned the arboreal favor, sending four tiny oak trees descended from those grown at Winston Churchill’s Blenheim estate. John Kelly, Washington Post, 2 Dec. 2023 To learn more about the city’s arboreal past—and present—connect with Talaysay Tours, which leads insightful walks within Stanley Park. Diane Selkirk, Travel + Leisure, 23 Nov. 2023 In this way, Virginia’s arboreal future would be secure — thanks in part to acorn enthusiasts who donated more than a million specimens this year as part of a state program. Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post, 12 Nov. 2023 Now Renae Simone Jarrett brings her new play, Daphne — which dances with an Ovidian transformation myth where a woman becomes a tree — to Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater (ending the Playwrights monopoly on surreal arboreal drama). Sara Holdren, Vulture, 24 Oct. 2023 Although a stump now pokes out where the imposing sycamore once dominated the undulating English moors, arboreal experts say the tree is very much alive and will probably regrow. Jonathan Edwards, Washington Post, 3 Oct. 2023 Fall scenery is nearing its peak across the U.S., and one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the season’s kaleidoscopic views is to camp right under the arboreal canopy. Olivia Young, Travel + Leisure, 26 Sep. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'arboreal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin arboreus of a tree, from arbor

First Known Use

circa 1667, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of arboreal was circa 1667


Dictionary Entries Near arboreal

Cite this Entry

“Arboreal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


ar·​bo·​re·​al är-ˈbōr-ē-əl How to pronounce arboreal (audio)
: of, relating to, or resembling a tree
: living in or often found in trees

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