The limits to tree height

George W. Koch, Stephen C. Stillet, Gregory M. Jennings, Stephen D. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

619 Scopus citations

Abstract

Trees grow tall where resources are abundant, stresses are minor, and competition for light places a premium on height growth. The height to which trees can grow and the biophysical determinants of maximum height are poorly understood. Some models predict heights of up to 120 m in the absence of mechanical damage, but there are historical accounts of taller trees. Current hypotheses of height limitation focus on increasing water transport constraints in taller trees and the resulting reductions in leaf photosynthesis. We studied redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), including the tallest known tree on Earth (112.7 m), in wet temperate forests of northern California. Our regression analyses of height gradients in leaf functional characteristics estimate a maximum tree height of 122-130 m barring mechanical damage, similar to the tallest recorded trees of the past. As trees grow taller, increasing leaf water stress due to gravity and path length resistance may ultimately limit leaf expansion and photosynthesis for further height growth, even with ample soil moisture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)851-854
Number of pages4
JournalNature
Volume428
Issue number6985
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 22 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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    Koch, G. W., Stillet, S. C., Jennings, G. M., & Davis, S. D. (2004). The limits to tree height. Nature, 428(6985), 851-854. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02417