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Global Forests -
Little Known or Interesting Factoids About Trees and Tree Physiology

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                     Jim Rediker - Nurseryman -  Arborist  - TDA Certified
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A LITTLE BIOLOGY


HOW TREES CAPTURE, STORE, AND USE ENERGY
LIFE PROCESSES AND ENERGY

The Basic Chemistry of Plants:

Photosynthesis: CO2 + H 2O + Energy -- chlorophyll --> sugar + O 2

In words, during photosynthesis , trees and other plants use carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, water (H2O) from the soil, and energy from the sun. Using chlorophyll in leaves as an "assembly jig," their main product is sugar. Oxygen (O2 ) is released into the air as a by-product -- which is very fortunate for people and other animals.

 

Respiration is the opposite process, reversing the arrow in the equation. The energy stored in sugar is released for growth and other life processes. The plant "burns" sugar, combining it with oxygen to release energy. Respiration:   CO2 + H2O + Energy <------------ sugar + O2

 

The carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are rearranged into materials that the plant needs:

  • cellulose for wood and the tissues of bark, leaves, flowers and fruit, etc.

  • growth regulators that coordinate the plant's activities

  • natural fungicides with which the plant protects itself

  • starch, for energy storage in a form that can be converted back into sugar,
    redissolved, and moved for use in another location

  • Sugar, the tree's basic building material, is easily dissolved in water and
    piped away from the leaves for use or storage.

The sugar may:

  • become the chemical building blocks for wood, leaves, flowers, seeds, growth
    regulators, etc.

  • be converted into starch by enzymes in living wood cells formed during the

    past few years. There the starch is "parked" where it can easily be converted

    back into sugar and moved again to where it is needed for new spring growth,

    or for the natural fungicides that trees make to fight decay after an injury.  

It is hard to overestimate the importance of plant vigor. All plants live by using the energy they have captured and stored in sugar. Everything in a plant is built from raw materials gathered from soil and air; and all of its life processes -- growth, uptake and transport of water and minerals, reproduction, defense against decay -- require energy from this sugar.

 

As with respiration in animals and combustion in gasoline engines, carbon dioxide and water are released as by-products.

 

AGING IN TREES

 

In animals, aging means that the individual loses its ability to replace damaged tissues. But as a tree ages, it loses its ability to feed and protect the tissues where it stores energy; the tree sheds the parts that are most vulnerable.

 

Dr. Alex Shigo differentiates between trees' dynamic and static mass. The dynamic mass of a tree is the sum of all the parts that are alive and participating in the capturing (photosynthesis) or storage of energy. The static mass is the remainder of the tree, which does not "pay its own way" and must be protected.

 

The balance between dynamic and static mass constantly shifts, starting out with little or no static mass in a tree's youth, and ending up with very little else. Not only the leaves, but also the bark of a seedling contain chlorophyll, and take part in converting the energy of sunlight into sugar. Practically all the wood cells in the young stem and twigs are alive, so they contain starch granules when extra energy is available. Starch is the only product made from sugar that can be converted back into sugar, to be transported and used.

 

As a tree ages, the outer bark and the earliest wood cells (covered over by more recent layers) lose their vitality and die, becoming part of the tree's growing "static mass." As long as the dynamic mass can protect it from injury and decay, no-living wood serves as the tree's flexible skeleton. But as the tree ages, it loses its ability to protect all of its "static mass." Like dead leaves, dead twigs are easily shed; and often the tree is able to keep decay out of its trunk and large branches by shedding smaller branches that have died. But eventually every tree reaches a point where its rent is more than its income, and the tree dies.

 

All this is connected closely to how trees defends themselves against injury and decay, and how we should manage trees for maximum beauty and safety.



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Contact: cell: 830.257.8871
                
email: jim.rediker@usa.net
                     Jim Rediker - Nurseryman -  Arborist  - TDA Certified
SCENIC HILLS NURSERY

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