Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How does drought damage trees?

Some effects of drought on trees


Drought damaged tree Crowns of two trees -- one appears dead.

Some effects of drought on trees are apparent, and other effects are unseen, though just as damaging. Here are three major damages that drought can do.

1. Dead feeder roots
The fine feeder roots that collect moisture and nutrients for most trees are located within the first 15-18 inches of topsoil. If that soil dries out for a long time, the feeder roots will die. Without feeder roots, the tree cannot effectively absorb nutrients and water, even when it rains again.

2. Reduced photosynthesis
Some trees apparently drop leaves as a drought-survival mechanism. Without leaves (or with fewer leaves,) they lose less moisture through evaporation. However, photosynthesis is reduced when leaves fall prematurely, so there are risks as well as benefits to this drought response.

Photosynthesis produces glucose. The cells need glucose as they manufacture a wide range of organic compounds that sustain and regulate every aspect of the tree's life. (Many of these chemicals can be grouped under the term "secondary metabolites.")

Some of the most obvious effects of reduced photosynthesis are a slower growth rate and reduced seed production. In the long term, the tree's lifespan may be shortened.

3. Reduced resistance
In addition, trees are susceptible to invasion by pests or disease, when they lack the normal flow of water, nutrients and secondary metabolites. For example, a tree may be unable to compartmentalize a disease as effectively as normal. Though the disease may not become apparent immediately -- such as root rot -- it can kill the tree over the next decade or two.

Much information about drought damage to trees is available on the internet. Here are some readable and informative articles for non-scientists like me.

The Long-term Effects of Drought
The Effects of Drought on California Oaks
Long-term Drought Effects on Trees and Shrubs
How Drought Affects Trees and Shrubs
Kentucky Forests Respond to the Drought
The Damaging Effects of Drought (pdf)

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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