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What Keeps a Tree Alive ?

The easiest thing to see about a tree is that it has a center trunk, branches, and leaves in most cases. What we can’t often see is how the tree’s roots and circulation system hidden beneath the ground and under the bark works to keep a tree alive.

The Tap Root

This is the main, largest root that must be kept intact for a tree to live. It provides the tree with important services – it not only holds it in the ground when it is windy, it also feeds the tree the minerals and water its needs from the soil.

The Lateral Roots

These are the root system that forms a web in the soil around the tree, keeping it grounded, and also feeding it the minerals and much f the water it needs to survive.

Interior of a tree

The Heartwood

This is the central core of the tree, it is the trees strength and allows it to grow tall and support branches. As the tree grows older its heartwood dies and hardens and forms the inner column of strength that keeps the tree strong and tall.

The Sapwood

The Sapwood, or xylem, does an amazing job. It is the layer of living tree material that surrounds the Heartwood, and it pumps hundreds of gallons a day of water UP from the tree’s roots to feed its trunk, branches, and leaves.

The Cambium

Here is another amazing partner in the tree’s life – the Cambium or phloem. It is the layer of the tree that is outside the sapwood, but under the bark. Its job is to take the food that the leaves create through photosynthesis in the sunlight, and to pump that food DOWN the tree to feed its trunk and leaves every day.

The Bark

The bark is the outer covering of the tree that protects it from many dangers. Some bark is soft and shaggy, some is brittle and peels off easily, others are cork-like chunks, some are smooth and satiny, some are rough and prickly. What ever its texture, the bark protects the tree from insects, fire, hot temperatures, cold temperatures – and from people who might carve into the tree. The Bark protects all of the inner layers, and helps keep the food coming DOWN and the water going UP.

The Leaves

Red Elderberry LeafAll trees have some type of leaf. Some are evergreen and stay on the tree year round; others are deciduous and drop off in the fall. Some are large and flat with fingers like a hand, some are skinny like a needle, some are oval with spikes on the end. Some are shiny and round, some are soft and velvety, some are striped – whatever their shape or size or texture, they all give the tree the same thing. Leaves give the tree life by taking sunlight and turning it into food for the tree. And in the process of turning the sunlight into food for itself, the tree’s leaves also respire – breathe out – clean oxygen that helps the rest of the life on earth survive.