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Growth Spurts

August 30, 2010

Children who eat healthy food, sleep well, enjoy learning, and get lots of love and affection, grow into smart and strong adults. Along the way, they blossom from infants to toddlers to grade-school students and high-school students and, finally, adults. It's amazing to watch.

First, they sleep, eat and vigorously grow, just nestled in your arms. Then they start to sit up and babble. Then they talk and walk.

Before you know it, they are running, jumping, speaking full sentences, asking lots of questions and becoming amazing individuals all their own.

Trees grow in a similar fashion. In fact, I find myself watching my trees and my children grow together. Like children, trees give us something to nurture and watch grow, marking the passing of time with each additional caliper of trunk and extension of green, shady canopy. Except, unlike children, they are grounded in one place. And they reward us for our tender, loving care as they release oxygen into the atmosphere for us to breathe, give us shade to rest under on hot days, and prevent the earth from washing away with their soil-binding root structure. They also provide food and habitats for many forest critters.

The main growing parts of a tree are the buds, root tips and cambium layer. Buds (miniature leaves) develop into leaves and branches, collectively known as the crown. The cambium layer adds diameter to the trunk and branches. And the root tips grow in length to support the tree's overall growth.

This all happens as a result of the roots absorbing water and nutrients from the soil and carrying them up through the sapwood or xylem to the leaves. Water and nutrients are combined with carbon dioxide from the air in the presence of sunlight to make food through a process known as photosynthesis. The food is sometimes known as carbohydrates. This food is carried by the phloem to all of the tree's parts for storage, including going back down to the root tips. During most of the growing season, leaves produce chlorophyll, which gives them their green color and enables them to produce carbohydrates.


This is the Texas Forest Service's scientific explanation of how trees grow. What you actually see are the buds, which are tiny leaves, stems and flowers located in small cases at the bases of each leaf. They are actually formed now during the summer months for the following year. So in spring, as the tree comes out of dormancy, the scales fall off and the tree's leaves, stems and flowers open and grow. You can actually watch the flowers become fruit and the crown develop a full canopy of leaves. You can also see the trees increase each year in height and crown as the buds produce new twig growth.

tree rings

Another thing that might be tougher to notice visually is that each year a new layer of wood is added around the trunk and branches. These layers are known as growth rings. And the shape and width of growth rings define what the tree went through during the year. A wide growth ring may mean the tree had a year with optimum growing conditions, while a narrow one may be the opposite, as a result of factors like drought or increased competition with other trees for nutrients or sunlight.

Now that you know how trees grow, it's time to sit back and watch them do their thing, particularly as the children run around them in circles also growing and blossoming. One big, happy family. Like Henry David Thoreau is famous for saying, "I frequently tramped 8 or 10 miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree or a yellow birch or an old acquaintance among the pines."

"Think you're a big fan of trees? We'd love to hear about it. Send your thoughts to Dave or Daphne at blog@davey.com ."

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