Trees, in their own quiet way, are truly miraculous things. They’re with us our entire lives; sheltering us under the shade of their boughs, providing fuel for our heaters and wood for our furniture, and circulating that life-providing oxygen we need most of all throughout our atmosphere. However, how much do you really know about trees?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the anatomy of trees, and most specifically the differences between heartwood and sapwood.
Introduction to Tree Anatomy #
First of all, it’s good to have a basic understanding of core tree anatomy. Trees are composed of three primary parts: the roots, the trunk, and the leaves. Roots anchor the tree to the ground and absorb water and nutrients from the soil. The trunk, meanwhile, provides crucial structural support for the tree, as well as ferrying the nutrients up from the roots. The leaves are responsible for photosynthesis, which produces the nutrients the tree needs to continue growing and thriving.
Understanding Ring Anatomy #
One of the most distinctive features of a tree’s anatomy is its rings. Cut a tree in half, and a whole bevy of concentric rings reveal themselves, radiating out from the central core. Each ring represents a year or so of growth and, by counting the rings, you can broadly determine the tree’s age.
But, there’s a lot more to ring anatomy than just the tree’s age. The width and color of these rings can also provide insight into the health of the tree, and worrying conditions it might possess. Wide rings indicate a year of healthy growth while narrow rings indicate a year of stress, which can be brought on by factors like drought, disease, poor soil, or other environmental factors.
Wood Cells & Their Functions #
The many rings inside a tree’s trunk are created by growing wood cells. Wood cells are narrow tubes that run the length of the trunk, responsible for providing structural support to the tree, as well as transporting water, nutrients, and sugars from the roots to the leaves. They also store food and water for the tree to use during periods of drought or other stress.
Difference Between Heartwood & Sapwood #
Heartwood and sapwood are two distinct types of wood found in a tree trunk.
Heartwood is the older, darker and harder wood type found at the center of the trunk. Because it is technically dead, it no longer transports water and nutrients throughout the trunk, and is instead used to provide core structural support to the tree.
Sapwood, on the other hand, is the younger, lighter and softer wood found wrapped around the heartwood, and is responsible for transporting water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves.
Hardwood and Softwood Identification #
Hardwood is a term used to describe the type of wood that comes from deciduous trees, such as oak, maple and cherry. (‘Deciduous’ just means ‘trees with broad leaves that shed those leaves each year, usually around the autumn-time’.)
One way to distinguish hardwood is to look for tell-tale pores in the wood cells. Hardwood has these visible pores, while softwood, which comes from coniferous trees, does not. (‘Coniferous’ means ‘trees and other plants that produce cone-shaped seeds’.)
Additionally, hardwood is usually denser and harder than softwood, which explains why quality lumber mills tend to prioritise supplying hardwood over softwood.
What Is Wood Composed Of? #
Wood, on a molecular level, is primarily composed of a mixture of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Cellulose is a carbohydrate that provides structural support to the wood cells; hemicellulose, another carbohydrate, helps bind the cellulose fibers together; and lignin, a complex polymer, helps to provide additional structural support to the wood cells.
Parts Of Wood & Their Functions #
Wood is fundamentally composed of several different parts, each with its own unique function. The cell wall is the outermost layer of a wood cell, and it provides vital structural support to the cell. The cell’s lumen is a hollow space through which water and nutrients are transported. The pit is a small hole in the cell wall, which allows water and nutrients to flow through one cell into another. Likewise, the ray is a thin layer of cells that runs perpendicular to all the different rings of the tree, and transports water and nutrients horizontally throughout the trunk.
Making The Pith #
The small, circular layer of material found at the innermost part of the trunk is called the pith. The pith contains no actual wood cells; it is instead responsible for transporting water and nutrients from the roots to the rest of the tree during its early growth stages, making it almost a kind of umbilical cord for the young sapling.
How Trees Grow & Develop #
Trees grow and develop through a process called secondary growth. Secondary growth occurs in the cambium layer, where new wood cells are produced. As the tree grows, the cambium layer becomes thicker, and new rings are added to the trunk. The tree’s growth rate is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, climate, and growth conditions.
Where Is the Youngest Wood and the Youngest Bark in a Tree Trunk? #
The youngest wood in a tree trunk is located just beneath the bark. Called the cambium layer, this section is responsible for the continual growth and health of the tree. The cambium layer also produces new wood cells that will eventually flesh out and become heartwood or sapwood. Within the cambium layer (just on top of it, in fact) is the youngest bark in the tree.
The Significance of Wood #
Trees have a fascinating inner life; a miniature ecosystem all to themselves, living and breathing in a way both similar and very distinct from ourselves and our perceptions of them. Within the tree trunk, you’ll find both sapwood and heartwood, two different types of wood with their own characteristics and properties. Understanding this rich inner life inherent to each tree can help us appreciate the importance of woodlands in our lives and in the environment.
If you’re interested in learning more about tree anatomy and how it impacts our world, consider visiting your local park or forest and taking a guided tour. You can also read up on the latest research and conservation efforts in the field of arboriculture. And if you’d like to spruce up your living room, or you pine for the appealing texture and visual aesthetic of wood furnishings or floorings in your home, feel free to get in touch with us at Logie Timber. Give us a call on 01309 611769, message us on Facebook or Instagram, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.