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How long a dying tree has left to live  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Location: Montana
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It's amazing how used to looking at dying trees people are in our highly degraded landscape. People don't even notice it. But if you look around and read the book of nature you can see almost everywhere that trees are dying and the landscape is in need of regeneration.

At the workshop this spring Sepp said something that I found very interesting. You can see a dying tree from it's color, completion, and the inner areas (or when really bad outer areas) are dead or dying back, but this tidbit I had not heard before.

Conifers have growth rings and if you pay attention you can see each year's growth in the bark and growth rings. If a conifer is dying on the inside of the tree all the way out to the last 5 years of growth, Sepp said this means the tree has 5 years left to live.
 
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Wow. that is very interesting. There are a lot of pines on the property on which I am living now. The property was once a "tree farm." So if I cut one down and looked at the rings, what are some signs I would look for in order to determine that it is dying?
 
Zach Weiss
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I'm glad you asked this question Daniel because it lets me know I didn't explain this well enough. The growth rings that I am talking about are not the rings in the trunk but the different years of growth in the branches. This can be observed without cutting the tree down.

Conifers have one bundle of branches coming off the main trunk with each year of growth. This is often a way that foresters determine a rough age for a tree. You can also see each years growth in the branches of a tree, as the dormancy leaves behind it's mark and you can see each year's new green growth. These lateral signs of growth on the branches are what you are looking for. For example if all of the tree is dead other than the current years new growth this means it has just 1 year to live.

The current year's growth at the end of the branch is easiest to see. Take note of this and where the growth started. This way you can develop an eye for each years growth further down the branch.
 
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Location: Sandy Mush, NC
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Oh ok, you mean counting the annual whorls of branches vertically on the main stem and then also on lateral branches? Can you explain the "five years to live" part again? If the tree has relatively low vigor for the last five whorls then it has five years left? If I am getting that right, I am a little skeptical.. I have seen trees bounce back from near death before, but it still sounds like a useful observation that can lead to further investigations into the loss of vigor (drought year? battling insects? etc).
 
Zach Weiss
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Here is the best image I could find about what I'm trying to relay



What your looking for is the growth on the older lateral branches, I explained the vertical whorls to try to get across what you are looking for. They're not as distinct on the branches but they're more indicative. We were looking at a predominately Douglas fir mono-culture and this was the specie that he pointed it out on.

So if your looking at a big tree, maybe around 80 years old, and the inner of the tree is all dead, and the old lateral branches have died all the way out to the last 5 whorls on the branch, then as I was told by Sepp this means the tree has roughly 5 years left to live.

I don't have near enough experience to prove or disprove this, I'm just relaying what Sepp told us in the workshop and it makes good sense to me. I don't think it's the rule so much as a good tool to evaluate the health of a forest.
 
Daniel Kern
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Thanks. Now I fully understand. As I am walking through the piney woods I will observe more closely in order to see the health of the trees and to estimate the age.
 
steward
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Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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One other thing which is interesting is that sometimes you can tell that a tree is starting to develop a hole, because the base is much larger than normal.
 
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