The Biology of Trees

[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet. They produce oxygen, feed us, create habitats for animals, improve the quality of the water and soil, provide us with building materials and fuel, create shade, and serve countless other functions. More than their utility, however, trees are beautiful! But how much do we actually understand the processes by which they do these things?

There is a connection between our knowledge and our ability to care for and appreciate things. As we know more of God’s creation we are better able to worship him for it. For today’s Deep Down Things we are revisiting biology class in the hopes of learning a little bit more about the Lord through learning a bit more about his wonderful creation.

The Parts of a Tree

Leaves: The most important function of leaves is photosynthesis, the process of converting Carbon Dioxide into organic compounds using the energy from sunlight. Aside from photosynthesis leaves are the place where transpiration and respiration take place. Transpiration happens as water evaporates through the pores of the leaf which creates a suction that draws the water upwards from the soil into the tree. On a warm, windy day a large tree can remove up to 100 liters of water from the soil and release it into the atmosphere. Respiration is the process by which trees absorb CO2 and releases the by-product of photosynthesis, Oxygen, into the atmosphere.

Branches: The life of a tree is a race for light. Branches spread the leaves apart as they grow towards the light and compete for space with the branches of other trees. Branches also provide balance by keeping the tree over its own center of gravity and making it more stable. In this way, branches are how trees cope with their own height. Once a branch is formed it stays at the same height above ground for the rest of the life of the tree.

The Trunk: The trunk is the main source of structural stability in a tree. It is also the main pathway for nutrients between the branches and the roots. The two main components of the trunk are the Xylem and the Phloem. The Xylem are tubes that draw water from the roots like a straw. The Phloem are living cells within the trunk that move sugars and other nutrients to where they need to be in the tree.

Roots: The roots of a tree have three main functions: providing water and nutrients to the tree, giving anchorage, and acting as nutrient storehouses. Roots do not face the pressure of the wind and therefore do not need to be thick and strong like branches do, so trees save energy and grow them thin and long. Roots spread out beneath the surface of the ground looking for nutrients and water. The roots send out shoots which absorb the nutrients. When those nutrients are depleted the root tip pushes into new ground and repeats the process.


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