Conifer Vertical Righting Ability Questions

scotjuteJuly 27, 2011

What is it that causes a conifer to grow straight up vertically at 90 degrees from the earth?

Are they strictly following the sun at midday or do they grow against gravity?

Is this tendency more pronounced in mountain specimens? IF so is this genetic or due to elevation?

If you bring mountain specimens down to lower elevations do they lose some of their ability to grow vertically due to the thicker atmosphere shielding the sun's rays?

Does the previous slant orientation of the trunk (if at an angle) override the tendency to grow up perpendicular to the earth?

If the tip of the central leader is bowed over in direction of predominant wind, how does it overcome this to grow erect vertically and perpendicular to the earth? (observed in Arizona Cypress and Eastern Red Cedar, but other conifers also seem to have similar traits).

(All this started with a Carolina Sapphire planted at an angle with the prevailing summer wind that has not righted itself compared to ERC and AC seedling which grow perpendicular to the earth).

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The cultivar was grafted onto root-bound root-stock.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 1:55PM
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Conifers are often strongly geotropic, meaning that they will grow directly away from the gravity of the earth--spruce trees are a good example. But many other trees, in addition to their geotropic tendencies, are strongly phototropic, meaning they have a relatively strong tendency to grow towards the light, common with many hardwoods, such as white oak, especially. Relatively speaking, some trees are more geotropic, others more phototropic. I could explain in more detail with more examples, but for now, maybe that's enough.

The geotropic nature of a tree should not be affected by elevation, at least not directly. But a tree of low vigor, or which has lost vigor because it is growing in an environment not optimally suitable, will respond more weakly to its geotropic nature than a vigorous one. So if a tree that has grown at high elevation--with the conditions that often go with that, such as good moisture and cooler temps--is planted at a low elevation where the environment is not as suitable for that tree, It will be less vigorous, less geotripic, and "right itself" less effectively, if at all.

Likewise, a transplanted tree suffering from transplant "shock," etc., will not have its usual strong geotropic response, and will right itself rather slowly. Such trees should probably be staked, unless very small and young. Those will usually right themselves within a year or two with no help.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 6:42PM
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Thanks for the replies. The theoretical properties mentioned by spruceman is more what I was looking for. The tree in question appears to have strong root system and is just continuing to grow at the same angle as planted which also coincides with prevailing summer wind. Will delve into geotropic and phototropic properties more.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 9:15AM
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I am not familiar with Carolina Sapphire. Is your tree grafted? If so, it is possible that you have a side twig of a side twig grafted onto the rootstock. Sometimes it takes a long time, and some staking, for that kind of grafted side twig to start to act like a main trunk/leader. I had one such graft take--I forget--6 or 8 years to begin showing any tendency to act like the central leader/trunk. The fact that this is growing away from the wind may be a coincidence.

The geotropic powers can be completely nullified, for a time at least, if the original twig was such that it's more central genetic tendencies were very strongly "dormant," so to speak.

Well, I am sure there are others in this forum that know more about this than I do, but I have observfed that some grafts take longer to act like a leader than others, and this may be because of the kind of scion that was used. But with proper staking and patience, the genetic make-up of the twig will eventually assert itself.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 2:30PM
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It probably is grafted, I never looked. The tree was basically straight in the pot and about 42-48" high. My son planted it at an angle. I never bothered to correct as I assumed it would straighten itself out eventually, which it has not. "Carolina Sapphire" is kind of a wispy free-will form of Arizona Cypress in which the main leader just barely seems to maintain dominance over everything else. Both the "Blue Ice" cultivar and the 20 or so wild seeded Arizona Cypress I've planted, as well as those I've seen growing both in the wild and domestically, all seem to exhibit strong dominance of the central leader and upright growth.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 3:36PM
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Ah, Arizona cypress. It happens I planted four regular "species" seedlings this spring. I have never seen any seedlings of anything right themselves so effectively as these little guys. When I planted them, a couple of them were floppy, but not for long. They are now ramrod straight.

So the species should right themselves wonderfully. That may suggest that even if yours is grafted, it will not take long for a leader to straighten up. I would recommend staking for the rest of this year and into early summer of next. Then I would remove the stake and see how it does. If it flops again, I would wait a couple of months and see how it responds, but if it has not straightened itself up before fall, re-stake, and try again the next year the same way.

I have used this "stake and remove and restake" method with a couple of things before, and it has worked. But the trees I did it with had a defined leader--the whole tree just flopped over. Your cypress may be different. Anyway, I don't like to "straight jacket" trees too much--I like to see if they can use their natural tendencies, and give help only when it is obvious it is needed.

Maybe someone else has some more specific experience and help here.


    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 7:29PM
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