Tree braids are derived from cornrows. Cornrows can be traced as far back as 3,000 BCE. The Nok Civilization was known to wear cornrows in around 500 BCE to symbolize religion, and as social and cultural identifiers, according to FashionWeek. In Ethiopia, according to Ebony, warriors and kings were also known to wear cornrows.
After Africans were taken to the New World in the Middle Passage, their heads were shaved, but cornrows became prevalent again amongst enslaved peoples as a way of adhering to the requirement that their hair be kept neat.
During the Black Power movement of the 1960s, cornrows again saw a resurgence in popularity as they became a way of distinguishing young militants from their older counterparts. Cornrows can still be seen today and are worn both in the United States and Africa. In Africa, they are particularly popular in West Africa and the South Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti), where they denote religion, marital status, economic status, and age among other identifiers.
Tree braids are accomplished by braiding hair into cornrows, while incorporating synthetic or human hair extensions. The synthetic hair is braided into the cornrow starting at the top. As the stylist braids the hair, a small amount of synthetic hair is left out with each portion of the braid, this is what gives the tree braid its aesthetic. At the start of the braid, additional synthetic hair should be added with each stitch to create the tree braid effect, however, as the stylist moves down the head, it will become necessary to pull existing synthetic hair from the braid without adding more so that the braid doesn't become too thick. Tree braids can be created using braiding hair such as Kanekalon, human hair or virgin bulk braiding hair.
After the hair is braided all the way down to the bottom, the cornrow can be secured with a rubber band or stitched down with a sewing needle. It is recommended that clients sleep with a hair bonnet or scarf over their hair at night and finger style in the morning to preserve the style. However, braid sprays and oils are not necessary for this braiding technique since the synthetic hair will keep its own sheen. Make sure the braids are not too tight, as excessive tightness can cause damage.
Tree braids are a very versatile style. They can be worn up or down, withstand exercise, and even swimming. If properly cared for, tree braids can last up to six weeks. Most women take them down at around the five or six-week mark. They take an average of three to six hours to install. To remove tree braids, they should be unraveled from the bottom up and it is best to have them removed by a stylist.