When Does a Tree Stop Growing?
A tree never permanently stops growing as long as it lives. But in most countries each year’s growth is ended during the cold and dry seasons. The annual period of growth depends on the climate. In moist tropical regions a tree may grow continuously. Every period of growth is marked by an annual ring. This ring takes the form of a new layer of wood added to the width of the tree.
In readiness for the inactive period, trees form buds to protect the meristem, the zone of active growth. Before the period of dormancy, the last few leaves produced at the tip of a twig form scales. These are thick, small and closely wrapped and enclose the growing point in a waterproof sheath. Inside this bud there is a rudimentary stalk and neatly folded miniature leaves, ready to expand when the next growing season arrives.
Buds also form in the axils of the leaves ready to produce new side shoots. A few trees, such as the eucalyptus, have “naked buds” with no protective scales and some conifers, such as the Lawson’s cypress, have no buds but instead have little pockets of meristem concealed among the scale-like leaves.
When growing conditions improve, such as the arrival of warmer weather and the longer days associated with spring in temperate regions, growth starts again. The expanding shoot pushes its way out, shedding the scales in the process. These leave behind scars on the surface of the twig. The whole year’s growth may take place in just a few weeks. The new stem is unlignified at first and may be green and downy.
The Arecaceae (palms) have their leaves spirally arranged on an unbranched trunk. In some tree species in temperate climates, a second spurt of growth, a Lammas growth may occur which is believed to be a strategy to compensate for loss of early foliage to insect predators.
Primary growth is the elongation of the stems and roots. Secondary growth consists of a progressive thickening and strengthening of the tissues as the outer layer of the epidermis is converted into bark and the cambium layer creates new phloem and xylem cells. The bark is inelastic. Eventually the growth of a tree slows down and stops and it gets no taller. If damage occurs the tree may in time become hollow.