Tree Structure

Trees are amazing plants. They grow in all sorts of different environments and the tree structure shows that difference (click link for more about trees) come in a huge variety of types and sizes. And have the advantage (for us at least) of being wonderful to work with.

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Tree Structure

So what makes up tree structure?

Below ground the root system anchors the tree in the soil. Roots can spread out as wide as the branches above ground and they can bury themselves deep underground.

On some trees however the roots are relatively shallow (surprisingly enough the giant sequoias have very shallow roots for a tree of their size). No matter the size, the roots absorb water and the nutrients in that water. Those nutrients move upward through the wood cells in the trunk out to the tips of the branches and leaves.

Next is the trunk, which provides strength and rigidity to the tree. It also gives a way for the nutrients in the sap to move up the tree.

The trunk is topped by a crown of secondary branches. These are the smaller branches and twigs that "branch off" from the main trunk. They help the tree spread out so as to increase the amount of surface area. This allows the tree more access to rain and sunlight.

Finally, gracing the branches, is the foliage, which, in the case of my beautiful tree, was the deep reddish brown that gives the copper beech it's name.


Photosynthesis, the process of translating sunlight into food, takes place among the foliage. As with the branches, the foliage increases the surface area of the tree. The foliage also shades the area beneath the tree. This keeps smaller trees from getting the sunlight they need to grow and crowd out the larger one.

Tree Categories

Trees are divided into two main categories: deciduous and coniferous. Palm trees are actually in a category of their own, as they have a different cellular structure from the main two categories. Also, interestingly enough, bamboo is actually in the grass family, so isn't actually a tree.

Generally, however, the two main types of trees are deciduous and coniferous. The technical difference between these two categories has to do with how the trees reproduce, the type of seeds they have.

For our purposes, the deciduous trees are the ones that shed their leaves in the fall. They include apple, maple, poplar and many others, while the conifers are the evergreens such as pines, fir and spruce tree.

For the woodworker, it's useful to know that the deciduous trees are the hardwoods, while the conifers are the softwoods. This is a way of labeling the different trees, not necessarily a description. For instance, balsa wood is one of the softest woods there is, yet, it is a deciduous tree and therefore is one of the hardwoods. Something to keep in mind when deciding on what to use for your next project.

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