In fiction, if a character has to spy on another for any reason, the go-to hiding place is behind the nearest plant life. Despite all probability there will always be a sizable tree in a convenient location that the character can use at leisure to eavesdrop or gaze on the enfolding scene. The majority of the time the tree will do the trick and the spied-upon characters are none the wiser about the suspicious person periodically peeking their head around the nearest shrubbery, unless Rule of Funny applies in the onlooker being caught. This trope is very prominent in cartoons, where characters often hide behind trees that are thinner than they are.
Not so much Truth in Television, given the many practical limitations.
For instances when the onlooker brings a fake tree as a screen with them, it's Mobile Shrubbery. Occasionally utilized by a naked person trapped outside, for obvious reasons. Differs from Behind the Black in that the characters aren't invisible, just well hidden in an unlikely place. See also Behind a Stick for comic variants.
- In Spoiler's first appearance Robin skateboarded to her house and then slipped behind and hung out in a tree across the street to keep an eye on it as he and Batman were trying to discover who had been visiting her father Clumaster in prison before he was paroled. She is quite annoyed to learn that they think she might be involved in his latest scheme when she runs into Robin on her way to go foil her dad's latest scheme.
- In The Witch of the Everfree, Cadance tries to surreptitiously watch Twilight and Sunset's Ship Tease moment from a tree branch. Then she accidentally rustles it, killing the moment.
- Sunset accidentally teleports herself into the branches of the Ponyville library when she sees Celestia's guards arriving in Ponyville, and proceeds to curl into a ball and hope the guards don't notice her.
- One movie version of Romeo and Juliet has Romeo in a tree outside Juliet's room. This leads into the famous balcony scene.
- Used by the killer in the first Scary Movie, to parody the Stealth Hi/Bye.
- Jumpin' Jack Flash. When Terry goes to the British embassy, she tries to hide behind a potted plant while passing on the message from their spy, which of course only makes her look more conspicuous.
- This trope crops up in the Aunt Dimity series from time to time. Sometimes it's used for comic effect, sometimes not,
- It is revealed late in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea that Abaddon camps out in the cottage's hedgerow to directly spy on Bill's family. Lori and Bill discuss removing the hedges for safety's sake, but ultimately decide against it.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree, Raiiney Dawson hides in the bushes near Willis Sr.'s house during the housewarming party. When Lori goes outside for a breath of air, Rainey takes her by surprise. Rainey came there to secretly enlist her aid for her grandmother Sally Pyne, whose tall tales have caught up with her.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lori and Bree Pym are leaving Tappan Hall after being told Lady Barbara is just back from hospital and too ill to receive visitors when Barb herself hisses at them from her hiding place in the bushes. She's violating doctor's orders by being out of her specially-fitted bedroom (no dusty books and no ashy fires), and she invites Lori and Bree into her book-filled study, leading the way with her oxygen tank in tow.
- Warrior Cats: In The Sun Trail, the first book of the Dawn of the Clans arc, Gray Wing finds a cat hiding in a clump of bracken he had just walked by. This is very embarrassing for him, as he had just been berating his nephew Jagged Peak for claiming they were being watched.
- Played realistically and justified in Ranger's Apprentice, where the Rangers use camouflage cloaks and the shadows to blend in with the surroundings. The cloaks work best, obviously, amongst trees and foliage.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus: "How not to be seen."
- Played for Drama in Person of Interest when Harold Finch witnesses Sameen Shaw carrying out her first assassination. As Finch tries to sneak off, he steps on a twig and freezes in place. Fortunately he's behind a tree so when Shaw turns to look, she doesn't see anyone.
- One story arc on Peanuts has Charlie Brown hiding behind a tree in front of the home of the Little Red-Haired Girl, trying to muster up enough courage to knock on her door and talk to her.
- Calvin does this a lot, mostly to Suzie. More justifiable than other examples as he's only six years old and therefore small enough to pull it off.
- Parodied in Beetle Bailey — Sarge is trying to watch Beetle from hiding, but the tree can't conceal his massive girth.
- Similar to the Beetle Bailey example above, Garfield and Jon were playing Hide and Seek, but Jon quickly spotted Garfield's stomach hanging out from the front of the tree he was hiding behind.
Garfield: I gotta get on a diet.
- In Animal Crossing: City Folk and New Leaf, villagers will often do this during games of hide and seek.
- Link has to use these in Oracle of Seasons in order to sneak up to two Subrosians.
- Treant Protector in Dota 2 has the skill Nature's Guise, which turns Treant or his allies invisible when they're close by trees. In Treant's case, he can cast spells without breaking invisibility.
- In World of Tanks, parking a tank behind a bush or tree makes it harder to spot than if it's out in the open. Training the Camouflage and Green Thumb skills on your crew improves how effective this is.
- Done in two stages in Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure, "Sneaking and Entering" and "To the Manor Borne". In both cases, Raphael has to enter a heavily guarded mansion and hide behind shrubbery trimmed to resemble dancers, assuming the same poses as they do to not get caught by the guards. A variant where Raphael hides behind statues in The Louvre is the focus of two other stages, "Looting the Louvre" and "Looting the Louvre Redux".
- XCOM 2: Due to how concealment worksnote and XCOM deploying from the wilderness when assaulting facilities, during most approaches, your soldiers will be perfectly hidden behind tree trunks barely wide enough to hide their torsos, even if the enemy's close enough to see the whites of their eyes. It's even more ridiculous with Reapers, the stealth-based faction in War of the Chosen: if the Reaper didn't bring any attention to themself, the enemy has to be within two meters of them in addition to being in the same side as the Reaper's cover to spot them.
- In the last level of Shaun the Sheep: Home Sheep Home 2: Lost in London, the sheep (average Shaun, large Shirley and tiny Timmy) have to get past a sweeping security camera. Luckily, there are two trees either side of the area the camera checks, each trimmed into three rough ovals of different sizes...
- In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the title character employs this to spy on the woman of his dreams and her new boyfriend (who is also his arch-nemesis).
- Many Looney Tunes episodes. Spoofed by having one character dig a tunnel out of prison, emerge in apparent jungle foliage and creep from one plant to the next, until it turns out he's actually sneaking through the indoor plants in the warden's office.
- In the Ben 10 episode "The Visitor", Ben eavesdrops on Max and Xylene by turning into his planty form Wildvine and merging with the tree.
- The Simpsons: Sideshow Bob hides behind a potted palm, whose fronds perfectly conceal his distinctive hair.
- My Little Pony 'n Friends, "Fugitive Flowers": Masquerade camouflages herself and hides behind some bushes in Posey's garden to eavesdrop on the Flores, just in time for them to reveal their sinister true intentions of leaching all the life from Ponyland's soil.
- If you've ever played "Hide and Go Seek", "Camouflage" or any other game where you must quickly find a hiding spot in a forest, you'll find that this is never a bad decision. Unless, of course, you misjudge your own width relative to the tree in question.
- Japanese snipers in World War II used to use the tops of trees for concealment. While this had short-term advantages, namely being Crazy Enough to Work as a sniping post during the first few shots, the impracticability of the place hurt chances for an escape if the shooter was discovered, which he often was precisely because the recoil of the rifle disturbed the leaves of the tree and gave away his position. Then again, this was a risk attributed to the eccentricities of the Japanese military system.
- As shown in this training film from WWII, this doesn't always work where firearms are concerned; sufficiently powerful rounds can often go right through a tree, though it depends on the round, and the type and thickness of a tree.
- Dogs will sometimes hide behind nearby trees when playing fetch.