A Brief History of Phylogenetics
The idea of a "tree of life" arose from ancient notions of a ladder-like progression from lower to higher forms of life (such as in the Great Chain of Being). Early representations of "branching" phylogenetic trees include a "paleontological chart" showing the geological relationships among plants and animals in the book Elementary Geology, by Edward Hitchcock (first edition: 1840).
Charles Darwin (1859) also produced one of the first illustrations and crucially popularized the notion of an evolutionary "tree" in his seminal book The Origin of Species. Over a century later, evolutionary biologists still use tree diagrams to depict evolution because such diagrams effectively convey the concept that speciation occurs through the adaptive and semirandom splitting of lineages. Over time, species classification has become less static and more dynamic.
Evolutionary trees depict clades. A clade is a group of organisms that includes an ancestor and all descendants of that ancestor. You can think of a clade as a branch on the tree of life.