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Steve Nix

How Much of a Tree is Actually Alive?

By August 6, 2013

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Just 1% of a tree is actually alive and composed of "living" cells. Nearly all of every tree you see is a formation of non-living cells and very little of a tree's volume is "living" tissue. The major living or growing portion of a tree is a thin film or skin of cells just under the bark (called the cambium). Other living cells are in root tips, the apical meristem, leaves and buds.

This large non-living part of a tree is very important structurally.  This support wood is created by  cambial-hardened wood cells on the inner cambial layer. Sandwiched between the outer cambial layer and the bark, is the ongoing process of creating sieve tubes which transport food from leaves to roots.

Learn more about a tree and it's parts.

Angel Oak on John's Island, South Carolina - Photo by Steve Nix, Licensed to About.com


December 22, 2008 at 12:24 pm
(1) Don Peters says:

I think its misleading to imply that all non-living tree tissue is “dead”. Truly dead tissue is subject to decay, as is a fallen tree. Yet most of a living tree is not in a state of decay. Rather, there is a critically important intermediate state where tissue cells are created and then maintained indefinitely through the infusion of decay-resistant chemicals, similar to our hair and fingernails.

December 25, 2008 at 12:15 pm
(2) steve says:

Not true.

Dr. Alex Shigo has done extensive work on tree compartmentalization and found that all non-living wood, when exposed is subject to decay. So your “truly dead tissue is subject to decay” also applies to non-living exposed to the elements where a tree can’t comparmentalize it off using living tissue.

Never heard of any infusion of decay preventing chemicals in either non-living wood or hair. Love to hear more about that if you can find it…

August 6, 2012 at 9:31 am
(3) kent worey says:

Surely the leaves are alive….the 1% figure does not sound right.

January 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm
(4) Syed says:

The 1% is by <i> volume </i> I would think that the stems and branches occupy more volume than all leaves put together

January 24, 2014 at 9:52 pm
(5) Lindon says:

Did you dream all this up or where did you find this mumbo jumbo?
This “information” is just plain out wrong.

If you’ve done your research, you will find that the sapwood and heartwood is not actually “dead”. only the outer most parts of the tree is dead.

January 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm
(6) forestry says:

OK. I’ll change “dead” to non-living.

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