Tree and Shrub Plating

Characteristics of Trees

First, trees, shrubs, and woody vines are the only plants with woody growth, which makes them similar. Many people think, for example, that so-called banana trees are trees, but in fact, they are considered the world’s largest herb.

Once you know that a plant has woody growth, you can determine whether it is a tree, a shrub, or a vine. Vines are obvious for their thin stems and branches and their trailing growth. But the differences between trees and shrubs can be more difficult to pinpoint. The generally acknowledged definition of a tree, according to  is a woody plant having one erect perennial stem (trunk) at least 3 inches in diameter at a point 4 1/2 feet above the ground, a definitely formed crown of foliage, and a mature height of at least 13 feet.

Merriam-Webster agrees, defining a tree as a woody perennial plant having a single usually elongate main stem generally with few or no branches on its lower part.

The Colorado State Forest Service explains how trees work by examining their physiology:

  • A tree is a tall plant with woody tissue. Trees gather light for photosynthesis through their leaves; this process creates “food” for the tree.
  • Most of a tree trunk is dead tissue and serves only to support the weight of the tree crown. The outside layers of the tree trunk are the only living portion. The cambium produces new wood and new bark.
  • The band of tissue outside of the cambium is the phloem. Phloem transports new materials (the sugars created from photosynthesis) from the crown to the roots. Dead phloem tissue becomes the bark of a tree.
  • The band of tissue just inside of the cambium is the xylem, which transports water from the roots to the crown. Dead xylem tissue forms the heartwood, or the wood we use for many different purposes.
  • Every year, trees grow two annual rings. In the spring, usually a wider and thinner-walled layer called springwood forms. In the summer, a thicker-walled layer, called summerwood, develops. Annual rings are typical in temperate forest trees.

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