Patterns of within-stem variations in wood specific gravity and water content for five temperate tree species

Topical collection : Estimation of standing forest biomass

Intensive measurements of basic specific gravity and relative water content of lumens show that within-stem variations strongly depend on species and cannot be summarised through the typical patterns reported in the literature; breast height measurements are not always representative of the whole stem.

Context. Knowledge of the distribution of wood properties within the tree is essential for understanding tree physiology as well as for biomass estimations and for assessing the quality of wood products.
Aims. The radial and vertical variations of basic specific gravity (BSG) and relative water content of lumens (RWCL) were studied for five species: Quercus petraea/robur, Fagus sylvatica, Acer pseudoplatanus, Abies alba and Pseudotsuga menziesii. The observations were compared with typical patterns of variations reported in the literature.
Methods. Wood discs were sampled regularly along tree stems and X-rayed in their fresh and oven-dry states.
Results. At breast height, BSG was found to clearly increase radially (pith to bark) for two species and to decrease for one species. For F. sylvatica and A. alba, the radial variations of BSG were rather U-shaped, with in particular inner wood areas showing respectively lower and higher BSG than the corresponding mature wood. RWCL increased generally from inner to outer area but wet sapwood was clearly distinguishable only for the coniferous species. Vertical variations of BSG and RWCL were strongly dependant on the species with usually non-linear patterns.
Conclusion. The observed variations of BSG were only partially in agreement with the reported typical radial patterns. Despite the vertical variations, the mean BSG of a cross-section at breast height appeared to be a good estimator of the mean BSG of the whole stem (although the difference was statistically significant for coniferous species), whereas breast height measurement of RWCL was not representative of the whole stem.

Basic density, Relative water content, Degree of lumen saturation, Sapwood, Radial and vertical variations


Longuetaud, F., Mothe, F., Santenoise, P. et al. Annals of Forest Science (2017)
74: 64.

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