The Life Cycle of a Tree

Like all living things, trees have a finite life. Some live just a few decades while others may survive for hundreds of years; a few vulnerable specimens can claim to have seen out several millennia. However, whatever the life expectancy of a tree, it will pass through a series of reasonably well-defined stages, in much the same way other flowering plants do.

A trees life begins when a seed germinates. The first pair of leaves to emerge are simple and they are quite unlike the true leaves of the tree or shrub; they are derived from the cotyledons that contain the seed’s food store. These first leaves contain chlorophyll and can photosynthesise, supplying the tiny seedling with its first food made from sunlight energy. Tiny seedlings are vulnerable to environmental pressures such as grazing, drought and trampling for example and few make it to the next stage of life.

During their heyday years, native deciduous tree species follow and indeed mirror the four seasons experienced by Britain and Ireland. They are leafless and seemingly lifeless during the winter months, but the sap begins flowing in spring and soon fresh leaves appear followed by flowers. The leaves mature, the fruits form, in summer the foliage losing some of the fresh green colour it had in spring. With the approach of autumn, nutrients are withdrawn from the leaves, resulting in colour change and eventually in late autumn they fall covering the ground below as we all see.

In the natural course of events, all tress eventually come to the end of their lives, although in the case of Pedunculate Oak and several other native species, this can be after several hundred years of life. However, sooner or later often as the result of disease and damage the tree begins to die back. The appearance of fungal fruiting bodies on the trunk is often a sign that all is not well and that the process of decline and decay has begun, however, from an ecological perspective there is something life-affirming about this process. In the absence of man’s intervention, nothing goes to waste and all the nutrients from the venerable old tree enrich the soil, thanks to insect attack and fungal decay therefore creating ideal conditions for the next generation of trees.

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